OK, so maybe “Shazam!” didn’t need to involve a toy store and a giant piano mat (though it does, in a throwaway moment) to tell us what’s abundantly clear: This movie is basically “Big” with a superhero. Need I say anything more? That premise already has you in the popcorn line, right?
A rare charmer from the DC Comics universe, “Shazam!” has at its center young Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a 14-year-old foster kid in Philadelphia who one day finds himself at someplace called the Rock of Eternity being offered superpowers by a wizard (Djimon Hounsou), as one does. (“Lay your hands on my staff,” intones the wizard, offering an ornate scepter. “Gross,” says the kid.) Just one word — “SHAZAM!” — and the kid becomes a grown-up, buffed-up superhero (Zachary Levi).
Directed by David F. Sandberg (“Lights Out,” “Annabelle: Creation”), “Shazam!” doesn’t break much fresh ground in the superhero genre, occasionally looks faintly cheesy (that glowing lightning bolt on the wizard’s chest looks decidedly low-rent, like he just found it somewhere and stuck it on) and is longer than it needs to be. But it’s nonetheless irresistible, for the happy-puppy joy Levi finds in Billy’s transformation — a surly, barely-into-his-teens boy who suddenly realizes he can fly, zap lasers from his finger, and buy beer, not necessarily in that order.
With the help of foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), who acts as his manager and advises him to “Superman it!” when attempting flight, Billy finds his way into his new identity; one that he can flip on and off like a switch, merely by shouting “SHAZAM!” He often has to be reminded to be a superhero — some of the movie’s funniest moments are when this grinning caped crusader senses trouble and panics, like a normal person would — but eventually rises to the occasion, triumphing over a villainous foe (Mark Strong) and sweetly connecting to his new foster family along the way. “Your phone’s charged! Your phone’s charged!” a thrilled Shazam trills in the mall, sending zaps to the phones of unsuspecting shoppers with the flick of a finger. Like Tom Hanks in “Big,” he’s having a ball — and so are we.
★★★ “Shazam!,” with Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, Faithe Herman, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Marta Milans, Cooper Andrews. Directed by David F. Sandberg, from a screenplay by Henry Gayden, based on the DC Comics characters created by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck. 132 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action, language, and suggestive material. Opens April 5 at multiple theaters.