SHAZAM! (12A, 132 mins)

Starring:. Zachary Levi, Jack Dylan Grazer, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Grace Fulton, Jovan Armand

SINCE Marvel Comics launched its ever-expanding cinematic universe with the muscular blockbuster Iron Man, rival DC Comics has largely played catch-up.

Were it not for Christopher Nolan’s Oscar-winning Dark Knight trilogy and Gal Gadot’s gravity-defying acrobatics as Wonder Woman, a stable of superheroes including Superman, Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg could have flatlined past the point of reinvention.

David F Sandberg’s hugely entertaining romp marks a welcome shift in tone for the DC Comics brand, swaggering away from dark, brooding seriousness into the irreverent territory of Deadpool, albeit with family-friendly humour and a nostalgia for body swap fantasies including Big.

Shazam! plays to the strength of leading man Zachary Levi, who channels the naivete and nervous energy of a 14-year-old boy trapped inside the hulking frame of a spandex-clad saviour of the universe who initially goes by the moniker Captain Sparklefingers.

There are plenty of in-jokes for comic book aficionados and a crowd-pleasing reveal towards the end, plus two additional scenes fashionably concealed during end credits that tease future instalments.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is placed into care as a young boy after he becomes separated from his mother in crowds at a state fair.

The teenager is resolved to reunite with his birth parent and steadfastly rejects the love of foster guardians in six counties, adamant that “families are for people who can’t take care of themselves”.

After his latest brush with the law, Billy is relocated to the loving home of Victor and Rosa Vasquez (Cooper Andrews, Marta Milans), who already have five children under their roof.

Billy closes his heart to the Vasquez clan but he is compelled to intervene when one of them is attacked by bullies outside the school gates.

This uncharacteristic act of selflessness leads Billy to the lair of an ancient wizard, Shazam, who is searching for a human champion to inherit his powers.

The lad transforms into a musclebound hunk (Levi), whose abilities could prove decisive in mankind’s battle with power-crazed archvillain Dr Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).

Shazam! is engineered to delight in broad strokes, poking fun at conventions of comic book origin stories without sacrificing emotional connections to the tormented characters.

Laughs are plentiful and action sequences retain a light touch.