Shazam! is the Scream of superhero movies
It knows the rules, so it knows how to bend and break them.
The wish-fulfillment of a boy to become a man (in this case, a superpowered man) is essentially Big on steroids (so... Very Big?), so much so that there is a scene in Shazam! (their exclamation point, not ours) that pays direct homage to the Tom Hanks comedy classic.
However, Warner Brothers' latest entry into the DC Universe has more in common with Scream's meta/self-aware DNA than anything else, as teenager Billy Batson (likeable newcomer Asher Angel) is dropped into a world where the rest of the DCU already exist, and the hard and fast rules of heroes and villains are already well-defined.
They are helpfully spelled out by Batson's new group foster home roommate Freddy Freeman (It: Chapter One's Jack Dylan Grazer) who collects tossed Batarangs and bullets that have been fired at and then flattened against the Man Of Steel's body.
When Batson crosses paths with The Wizard (Djimon Hounsou), he is granted magical powers that allow him turn into a fully grown, buffed up superhero (the offensively loveable Zachary Levi) simply by saying the name "Shazam!", which is all a bit of a last ditch attempt to stop Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) from unleashing the seven deadly sins upon the world.
It is, without putting too fine a point on it, a load of hokum, the difference here being that director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation) at least seems aware that it is hokum, and decides to lean into the ridiculousness.
When Levi and Grazer are attempting to figure out what exactly the limits of his newfound powers are, and what exactly they should do with them, Shazam! is at its best, and the DCEU has never been more entertaining. Levi gets to essentially play a teenager who has won the lottery, but instead of millions of dollars, he has won super-strength, lightning blasts, and the ability to fly.
It is exhilarating, a real joy to watch, and all the more disappointing when it gets dragged down by a third act that gets bogged down in CGI monsters and Learning Lessons About Friendship And Family. Ugh.
Still, even then, there are some great rule-bends to be found in the run-up to the finale, including a great twist on the big bad guy's last evil monologue.
While Marvel's movies are starting to all feel and look identical to each other, DC are at least trying something new in the light of the past failures. Too serious and stoic didn't work, so now, between this and Aquaman, they're going for light and breezy and, dare we say it?, actually kind of funny.
The magic formula isn't quite here yet, but they're getting closer every time.
Shazam! is in Irish cinemas from Friday 5 April.
Clip via Warner Bros. Pictures