‘IT’ standout Jack Dylan Grazer is fanboy Freddy in ‘Shazam!’

Popularly known for starring as the Losers Club’s asthma-afflicted Eddie in the global horror blockbuster “IT,” Jack Dylan Grazer now stars in New Line Cinema’s action-adventure “SHAZAM!” in the role of Freddy, a geeky foster kid who has had a tough young life but who definitely hasn’t lost his sense of humor…or mischief.  

In the film, superhero enthusiast Freddy helps out his bunkmate, Billy (Asher Angel) who’s freaked out by what’s just happened and who—or what—he’s become.  By shouting out one word—SHAZAM!—Billy can turn into the adult Super Hero Shazam, courtesy of an ancient wizard.  

If anyone can figure out this superhero thing, it’s the superhero super nerd, Freddy.  Director David F. Sandberg feels a lot of the funniest moments in the movie come from our superhero just hanging out with the ultimate fanboy.  “Freddy is just the expert that Shazam needs.”

“Freddy lives at the foster home, and he lives with a disability that has to do with his leg and his spine and his foot, so he walks with a crutch.  He gets bullied for it, but he doesn’t really let it affect him.  He lets it roll off his back and, rather than feeling sorry for himself, he laughs about it and makes fun of himself.  He’s confident, which I really admire.”

Freddy may exhibit a fair amount of bravado, but he’s not invulnerable…he just hides it well.  What he doesn’t attempt to hide is his collection of superhero memorabilia or the fact that, as Grazer notes, “He’s a total superhero fanatic, like extraordinaire.  He knows everything.  So, when he finds out that Billy is a superhero, it blows his mind.  This is a dream come true.  At first, I don’t think it even crosses his mind to think, ‘I wish I could be in his shoes.’  I think he’s just so caught up in being in the presence of a real superhero.  And he knows exactly what to do.”

“Freddy has to act as Shazam’s how-to manual,” Sandberg offers.  “He immediately knows what to test for: super strength, invisibility, super speed, and so on.  So, we get to see the two of them having a lot of fun with that but also really discovering the abilities Shazam has.  Of course, because they’re kids, they’re going to film it and put it on YouTube.”

Grazer says he found the story “empowering, because usually it’s grownup superheroes fighting crime or bad guys.  But this time it’s a kid; at least on the inside he’s still a kid.  And he’s scared, but he still wants to help save the day.  And Freddy is another kid who, by being friends with Billy, gets to help in his own way.”

Zachary Levi (Shazam) and Grazer spend the better part of the movie together.  “Jack was awesome, the dynamic was great,” he says.  “And I think story-wise, their friendship really helps to sell the idea of an adult who’s a kid on the inside, because if you don’t have that other kid to bounce back and forth with, you’d just have an adult pretending to be a kid in a bubble.  You need that exchange to make it work.”

When Freddy isn’t mentoring/managing Shazam, he’s often with the hero’s true self, Billy.  The relationship between those characters, though at first a prickly one, was equally important to conveying the story.  Just as they both did with Levi, Angel and Grazer hit if off right away.  “Jack was exactly how I imagined Freddy,” Angel states.  “He’s such a cool guy and loves what he does, and I knew he would be perfect and that we’d have a lot of fun.”

“Freddy is really the proxy for the superhero fans in the audience,” Sandberg says.  “And the way Jack plays him—this fast-talking, funny kid who walks with a crutch and seems to be as far from a superhero as you can be—just proves what I like about this movie: that everyone can be a hero.”

Now showing in Philippine cinemas, “Shazam!” is a New Line Cinema production, and distributed by Warner Bros., a WarnerMedia Company.  #SHAZAM

About “Shazam!”

David F. Sandberg (“Annabelle: Creation”) directs New Line Cinema’s “Shazam!,” the origin story that stars Zachary Levi (TV’s “Chuck”) as the titular DC Super Hero, along with Asher Angel (TV’s “Andi Mack”) as Billy Batson, and Mark Strong (the “Kingsman” movies) in the role of Super-Villain Dr. Thaddeus Sivana. Peter Safran (upcoming “Aquaman,” “The Conjuring” and “Annabelle” films) serves as the film’s producer.

We all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In Billy Batson’s (Angel) case, by shouting out one word—SHAZAM!—this streetwise 14-year-old foster kid can turn into the adult Super Hero Shazam (Levi), courtesy of an ancient wizard.  Still a kid at heart—inside a ripped, godlike body—Shazam revels in this adult version of himself by doing what any teen would do with superpowers: have fun with them!  Can he fly?  Does he have X-ray vision? Can he shoot lightning out of his hands? Can he skip his social studies test? Shazam sets out to test the limits of his abilities with the joyful recklessness of a child. But he’ll need to master these powers quickly in order to fight the deadly forces of evil controlled by Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Strong).

“Shazam!” also stars Jack Dylan Grazer (“IT”) as Billy’s best friend and ultimate superhero enthusiast, Freddy, part of the foster family that includes Mary, played by Grace Fulton (“Annabelle: Creation”); Darla, played by Faithe Herman (TV’s “This is Us”); Eugene, played by Ian Chen (TV’s “Fresh Off the Boat”); and Pedro, played by Jovan Armand (TV’s “Hawaii Five-O”).  Cooper Andrews (TV’s “The Walking Dead”) and Marta Milans (TV’s “Killer Women”) play foster parents Victor and Rosa Vasquez, with Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou (“Blood Diamond”) as the Wizard.

‘Shazam!’ review: Another home run for DCEU

David F. Sandberg’s ‘Shazam!’ is an ode to all those kids (and kids at heart) who have wild dreams of becoming a superhero.

It seems that DC Extended Universe really takes these two constructive criticisms to heart: 1.) Most of their movies are too dark and brooding; and 2.) There are no shortcuts in finding both commercial and critical success for ensemble films (ehem, Justice League), other than banking first on stand-alone origins. Coming after Wonder Woman and Aquaman – two origin films that use a lighter approach compared to Zack Snyder’s style, Shazam! turns out to be the most amusing and most family friendly DCEU offering to date. Oddly enough, it features the best aspects of a Marvel film: the maturity that comes with great responsibility in Spider-Man, the groundedness and familial bond in Ant-Man and the meta-humor of a PG-13 Deadpool. Who would’ve taught that such combination can be a key to combat superhero fatigue?

In it, an orphan teenage boy named Billy Batson (Asher Angel) gains the ability to transform into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi) upon uttering the titular incantation. Technically, the premise sets up to saving the world (again), but when you’re a kid who’s bestowed with a full spectrum of superpowers, do you go on and do it immediately? Of course not. You get to have some fun first. The best thing about Shazam! is that it’s buoyant, innocent and unpretentious in nature. At its centerpiece is a hilarious montage of Billy, along with his geeky friend Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), testing out his newly acquired powers in a series of YouTube videos – all set to the tune of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now.” If you’re that kid who has (or once had) a wild dream of becoming a superhero, I can guarantee that you’ll be “having such a good time” here.

Fun fact! SHAZAM is an acronym that stands for the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury.

Channeling the enthusiasm of a thrilled teenager, Zachary Levi (of Chuck TV series) is a perfect fit in this role. Most viewers are quick to judge on how downright cheesy his costume looks and it’s quite true – his red spandex suit pops like a sore thumb, his cape looks like a tablecloth, his physique seems slightly over-inflated, and his hair is ridiculously dark and lacquered. But the film quickly tells what we are clearly missing in that presumption – Shazam has to look that way for he is the embodiment of a superhero in a kid’s eyes. Levi is an electrifying and magnetic movie star who fully owns the absurdity of his act. By now, I’m expecting that Shazam! will skyrocket his movie career, much like what Guardians of the Galaxy did for former TV star Chris Pratt.

Showing off Superman’s crushed bullet: Billy Batson (Asher Angel) and Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) in ‘Shazam’

Also, thanks to IT’s casting discovery, Jack Dylan Grazer is sensational here. Freddy never gets defined by his disability alone, rather he’s a snarky idealist who has deep scars to hide. The heart here rests in Grazer’s natural and irresistible rapport with both Levi and Asher Angel. Likewise, Angel’s Billy, despite being a slightly morally ambiguous child, is an appealing and root-able protagonist. The rest of his foster siblings are also memorable enough to elevate from mere background characters. As they band together to stop the threats against their family, the mission feels deeply personal. Saving the world refreshingly seems like a side objective now.

Billy’s foster family (L-R): Jovan Armand (Pedro), Ian Chen (Eugene), Zachary Levi (Shazam/Billy), Jack Dylan Grazer (Freddy), Faith Herman (Darla) and Grace Fulton (Mary).

Director David F. Sanderg, whose previous works include Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation, uses his horror sensibilities to bring out the film’s nightmarish themes into fruition. Sometimes his propensity for terror escalates to a fault: for a PG-13 film, there are shockingly violent scenes here and the monsters (a.k.a. The Seven Deadly Sins) can be terrifying for younger audiences. Leading these grotesque looking minions is Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), a misunderstood kid with daddy issues himself. He’s also into world domination, but the film paints him more than a standard cardboard villain by rooting his motivations to a childhood traumatic experience. Strong brings pathos and a sense of wounded vulnerability to the character.

Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) harnesses the power of the Rock of Eternity.

While Shazam! has plenty of fantastical action and visual gags, it also has a lot of heartfelt stuff to say on the notion of family and friendship – that such bond isn’t predicated by blood alone. In a time where Billy feels lost and alone, he finds solace in the company of a foster family who wholeheartedly accepts his flaws. He thinks that his journey is about finding her biological mom but along the way he is set up to profound realizations of acceptance and forgiveness. It’s heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time.

Flight test: Zachary Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer in ‘Shazam’

With its bouncy pacing, goofy yet poignant theme, and a story that plays on an eye level, Shazam! is a solid step towards DCEU’s new direction. It serves as a powerful reminder that superheroes are created first and foremost for kids – that they should reflect their values, aspirations and wonder without the need to dumb down the narrative. It encapsulates the comic spirit – heart, humor and heroism. What a lightning bolt of joy.

4.5 out of 5 stars
Directed by David F. Sandberg and written by Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke, ‘Shazam!’ stars Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Faithe Herman, Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans. Characters based from DC Comics. Run time: 132 minutes.