Principal Cast : Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Adam Brody, Rachel Zegler, Ross Butler, Ian Chen, DJ Cotrona, Jovan Armand, Grace Carolyn Currey, Meagan Good, Lucy Liu, Helen Mirren, Djimon Hounsou, Marta Milans, Cooper Andrews.
Synopsis: The film continues the story of teenage Billy Batson who, upon reciting the magic word “SHAZAM!” is transformed into his adult Super Hero alter ego. Together with his adopted family, Billy must thwart the world-destroying machinations of the Daughters of Atlas, who
Loud, sporadically amusing superhero antics run roughshod over glimpses of the original film’s gleeful joy, as this cacophonous visual effects showreel rapidly runs out of puff as quickly as a gasping Helen Mirren, appearing here as Hespera, one of the daughters of Atlas. That’s not to say Shazam: Fury Of The Gods isn’t without some pleasing entertainment value, thanks to its cute cast and effortlessly charismatic turns from Rachel Zegler (West Side Story) and co-star Jack Dylan Grazer, but when your titular hero turns into a bit of a dickhead throughout the story, the plot’s emotional cohesion really does dissipate quite quickly.
A few years after the events of Shazam, Billy Batson (Asher Angel) and his foster family, including the crippled Freddy Freeman (Grazer) and bigger sister Mary (Grace Caroline Currey), have turned their magical-powered alter-egos into something of a laughing stock in their home city of Philadelphia, with unintended damage caused by their “rescues” causing the media to continually put them down. Meanwhile, stuck in a magical prison, the Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) is trapped by the three Daughters of Atlas – Hespera (Helen Mirren), Kalypso (Lucy Liu) and Anthea (Rachel Zegler) – who seek the mysterious Seeds of Life from an ancient hiding place in order to restore their world. Obtaining it through the failures of Billy and his super-powered foster siblings, Kalypso proves to be the rogue agent when she decides to take control of the human world instead, forcing Hespera and a love-lorn Anthea, who has fallen for Freddy, to fight against her. Unleashing an incredible dragon upon Philadelphia, as well as a horde of mythical creatures to swarm the city, Kalypso’s plan seems destined for victory as one by one Billy and his family find themselves powerless to stop her.
On the surface, Fury of The Gods ticks all the superhero tropes and expectations. It’s got plenty of action, loads of humour (most of which works, some of which is pretty bland), and a feverish directorial job from returning helmer David F Sandberg, who seems to understand the childlike aspects to the Shazam family (sorry, I struggle with them not calling him Captain Marvel, but I get the brand confusion potential), but there’s a feeling of benign generic writing at play here with this colourful and enthusiastic sequel. There are a number of key problems that entrench Fury Of The Gods firmly in the middle-tier pantheon of the genre’s flooded market. I do, however, want to make it clear that despite finding fault with plenty of this late-stage Snyderverse DC entry, I did have a good time watching it, and found myself cackling and surprised several times throughout – so my negativity is more objective rationalisation than emotional wretchedness.
One of the film’s big missteps is the emotional link between Zachary Levi’s adult-Billy Batson and Asher Angel’s teen-on-the-cusp-of-adulthood younger version is a total dichotomy. Angel’s take on Billy seems, in the few scenes he’s afforded, quite taciturn and mature of thought, accepting that he’s stepping into adulthood and worrying about his future. Levi’s older Shazam, however, is a complete dickhead, lacking any sense of mature thinking and feeling more like the immature embryonic hero of the earlier film. I like Levi as an actor, and he gets that comic humour well, but neither he nor Angel ever feel like they’re playing the same character, and that’s an egregious mistake for this film. Shazam is a bit of a thoughtless asshole – and if I have to hear the word “Fam” again this year it’ll be too soon – here which turns his likeability into more of a detestability, and that’s anathema to a comic book film sold on fun adventure.
The second thing I found lacking here was the stakes, or more specifically the motivation of the antagonists to procure adequate stakes. In fact, I found the arc of the Daughters of Atlas quite confusingly written – Hespera seems to be evil, but then isn’t quite, Lucy Liu’s Kalypso is the primary Big Bad in a twist everyone can see coming, while Rachel Zegler’s Anthea seems to find her sister’s actions deplorable but never stands against them. Even worse for this subplot, you never get the sense that there’s any grounding in mystery for this villainous aspect of the film, and other than some half-baked dialogue indicating a past, unseen slight, you never get the full story on why Hespera and Kalypso want to ruin the world of the humans. And given they take quite a dominant place in the overall story it’s unfortunate that this aspect of the film’s stakes is so poorly developed. It all just comes across as noisy screaming and pretentious sermonising amidst a CG lightshow, which may entertain some but confound others.
The third unfortunate thing about Fury of The Gods‘ uneven and atypically unsatisfying outcome is that the best part about the first film is undeniably the worst about this one – the extended Shazamily serve less as emotional backdrops for Billy’s growth as a hero and kid, and more of a collection of faces with limited effect on the film’s shallow depth of motivational urgency. Billy’s foster parents and his fellow siblings are mere window dressing and have almost no discernible individuality in this film, partially because the story overall is so cluttered with noise and nonsense, and partially because there’s so many characters to work into the plot – Sandberg does a good job trying to give each of the various Shazamily and Gods a moment or two to shine, but with a limited time to develop most of them with any credibility, one might argue that paring back the roster could have been advantageous.
There are, however, some shining lights here. Jack Dylan Grazer’s hobbling Freddy Freeman is still the franchise’s MVP, and the actor once more turns in a layered, subtle performance threaded neatly through the superheroic shenanigans. He’s ably abetted by a wonderful Rachel Zegler as his on-screen love interest, and the pair have a terrific on-screen chemistry when they’re sharing the frame. I love Zegler as an actress and she’s afforded the most fully-rounded character in the script, and makes the most of her time with breathless beauty. Grazer’s enthusiastic Freddy draws the biggest laughs and emotional heart of a film oversaturated with stimulatory impetus, and he does well to root the hyperpowered action in humanist realism.
Shazam: Fury of The Gods is entertaining nonsense that elicits plenty of laughs and makes me sorry we won’t get to see this iteration of these characters again. There’s a freewheeling charm churned by tropes and generic comic book storytelling that makes for engaging, if somewhat predictable sky-beam plotting. Fans of Shazam won’t find anything to be too concerned about, and it’ll sure give your television speakers a solid workout – there’s a lot of action in the film’s second half – but it’s still a pretty decent step down from the original film.