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Film reviews: Shazam!, Pet Sematary, The Keeper

Magic: Zachary Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer put the fun into the superhero universe



12A ★★★★✩

THOUGH it comes bearing a ‘!’ in its title, a ‘?’ would be more appropriate for a blockbuster about a superhero most of us have never heard of, starring an actor most of us have never heard of. Still, those things prove among Shazam!’s many strengths: unlike most hyped-to-the-hilt blockbusters, you feel like you’re discovering it for yourself, which makes for a blast of fresh air.

The plot is an origin story in which a 14-year-old foster kid called Billy (Asher Angel) finds himself transported to an underground lair. Here he encounters an old wizard (Djimon Hounsou) with a stick, who commands Billy to ‘lay your hand on my staff’. ‘Eww, gross!’ responds Billy. Undeterred, the wizard imbues the teenager with mysterious powers that mean whenever Billy says ‘shazam!’ he transforms into a fully grown, muscle-bound superhero (Zachary Levi). So what will young Billy use his new identity for? Well, buying beer is clearly a good start.

Marketing posters of a superhero in red spandex, tapping on his smartphone and blowing bubblegum, instantly recall Deadpool. However, Shazam!’s appeal is actually skewed towards a younger audience. It’s like a great 1980s family movie, with a disarming vibe of naivety and innocence that’s entirely adorable yet not dumbed down — the fostering theme is tackled with unschmaltzy authenticity.

Mark Strong (Kingsman, Sherlock Holmes) provides the most familiar face as Dr Thaddeus Sivana, the token villain/spoilsport grown-up whose CG-heavy antics over-extend the running time to an unnecessary 132 minutes. However, the lesser-known ensemble cast bulges with exciting new discoveries. Levi is goofily convincing as a teen trapped in an adult’s body, while Jack Dylan Grazer, as Billy’s best buddy, proves himself one to watch.

Kid-friendly without straining to be too down with them, Shazam! is a film that finally injects the F-word into DC’s dark and angsty universe: fun.

The verdict

Superhero fun for all the family in a bouncy body-switch comedy

Pet Sematary

15 ★★★✩✩

THE tagline ‘Some things are better off dead’ seems inadvisable for a horror reboot. Fortunately, Pet Sematary just about justifies digging up Stephen King’s 1983 bestseller for yet another on-screen airing.

A cautionary tale for relocating to the country, the plot sees a traumatised Boston doctor (Jason Clarke) and his even more traumatised wife (Amy Seimetz) resettle with their two kids into a suspiciously large house in the woods. But their bargain home comes with two major downsides: a non-fenced-off highway (populated by speeding monster trucks) and a pet ‘sematary’ where beloved dead dependants are buried via a creepy Wicker Man-like procession of children. The only neighbour, meanwhile, is an over-friendly old widower (John Lithgow) who holds a dark secret about an ancient Native American site.

It’s all deeply Stephen King, from the opening Shining-esque shot of a highway bisecting a forest to the blood gushing through doors and, of course, the remote home where a parent goes loopy. Solid, generic entertainment that’s out to make you both laugh and scream, its unremarkable jump scares are lifted by good acting, including an awesome turn by a very, very bad kitty indeed.

The Keeper

15 ★★★✩✩

IF YOUR knowledge of Bert Trautmann, Manchester City’s legendary goalkeeper, amounts to nil, then you’re best placed to enjoy this uneven biopic based on his remarkable true story.

A Luftwaffe officer decorated by the Nazis, Trautmann (The Reader’s David Kross, pictured) was a PoW in England just as World War II ended. However, his footie skills quickly caught the eye, first of a local team manager (John Henshaw) and then of a Manchester City recruiter. The football action, however, takes second place in a story focused on forgiveness, as a war-battered Britain struggled to embrace a man they would previously have considered an enemy.

Given the amount squished into its final half hour, The Keeper’s slow start seems perverse — it might have worked better as a TV miniseries. The script has clunky moments but, still, this is a fascinating story whose complexities are not soft-pedalled.