As of late, and it’s hard coming from me, it seems it’s getting more difficult for Superhero movie sequels to surpass what came before possibly. Sometimes the primary goal when doing so is to be bigger and better, and people are still determining where that path will stick when it’s time to leave the theater. But something tells me, whether it’s from Marvel or DC Comics, nothing will compare to the greatness of favorites like The Dark Knight, Superman II, or the Captain America sequels. Even when the DCEU won’t stand for much longer, you would think Shazam! Fury of the Gods can continue the fun, adventurous spirit of what people enjoyed from the last time. Did it, though?
What’s the Story: Just a few years after being gifted with the powers of the gods from a magical Wizard (Djimon Hounsou), Billy Batson (Asher Angel) continues to fight crime in Philadelphia as his grown-up alter ego Shazam (Zachary Levi), along with his foster brother and sisters–Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer/Adam Brody), Eugene (Ian Chen/ Ross Butler), Pedro (Jovan Armand/ D.J. Cotrona), Mary (Grace Caroline Currey), and Darla (Faithe Herman/ Meagan Good)–who have also given the powers when reciting the magic word” SHAZAM!” and turning into their superhero alter egos. But as he’s nearing 18, Billy is dealing with imposter syndrome about being a superhero and fearing his family will abandon him when he needs them the most since he’s aging out of the foster system. When the vengeful daughters of Atlas, Hespera (Helen Mirren) and Kalyspo (Lucy Liu), made their way to Earth, they’re on a mission to reclaim their powers once given to them and it’s up to the Shazamily to save the world from possible destruction.
I’ve always believed that the release of Shazam! back in 2019 was one of the biggest comic book movie surprises. Never read the creation by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck, but taking a Big-inspired adventure that had a great balance of action, comedy, and unexpected heart, it’s genuinely one of the few bright spots inside the DCEU, and I still think it’s great after a recent rewatch. That alone should’ve made me excited about the sequel Shazam! Fury of the Gods, right? Not until a month before it came out. None of the marketing exactly “wowed” me, especially after the last trailer, and the company needs some kind of step up after Black Adam wasn’t that good. I wanted to go in with an open mind hoping to get an exciting time watching Shazam kick ass again. And yet, I wonder why I didn’t feel as enthusiastic about the latest installment as everyone else.
All I thought about sitting through this was it was all fine; nothing in here particularly blew me away. With David F. Sandberg returning as director and bringing on Gods as your villains, I couldn’t help but feel something was missing that didn’t make Fury of the Gods entirely pop for me. Nothing about it was harmful in keeping the experience of why most liked from before. There’s just nothing that came as a surprise with a story borrowing too much on familiarity for a big-budget superhero flick attempting to go for forgettable.
Sandberg’s style of action mixed with a few horror-essence moments from his background come into play when it calls to be entertaining, and some memorable moment or two catches your eyes that don’t need to rely on being taken over with CGI, and it doesn’t include a relatively cool looking dragon. But, mainly, the biggest fault has to do with the screenplay from Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan of Fast & Furious fame, which kind of follows the basic outline of a superhero movie without many details about what we should also be in peril of. Because of that, there’s always a perfect amount of power or stakes flowing through my overall investment to lose interest in the emotional core, despite knowing this can go far and beyond focusing on the heart of the family dynamic this time.
With Zachary Levi back, he continues to have all the fun in the world when playing the titular character once again, still carrying on being the teenager inside a man’s body with strength and likability. There’s really more of him than Aster Angel as Billy, who I wish wasn’t sidelined with little screen time. However, one of them probably needs to be on point because Levi’s Shazam is more of a goofy teenager, while Billy acts more mature. But the highlight I knew I could count on was Jack Dylan Grazer as the scene-stealing Freddy Freeman. He’s the most relatable character between him and Billy, and you can tell they attempt to grow Freddy more than a kid who still gets picked on but knows how to deal with it when the confidence of them secretly a strong hero is a part of who Freddy is. And whoever thought of casting the underrated Adam Brody as superhero Freddy is a genius because he was perfect. So much of the spotlight is on the adults, which was a surprise. I must mention Meagan Good as superhero Darla because she was having a blast on screen and knows what movie she’s in, thankfully.
The humor is in that mixed-bag part of the movie. The first had some big laughs for me and proved the recent DC movies can be funny without taking themselves seriously. Some chuckles here and there to go along with the lighthearted tone. Audiences will get a kick from a moment involving a pen named Steve, who writes everything. But a good chunk of them didn’t hit me as hard based on the writing for Shazam himself.
And when it comes to Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu, you’re doing something right when they cast an actress like Mirren as a God. They do their best to be as ruthless as they can be just in the opening sequence in the Acropolis Museum to retrieve the Wizard’s staff. But, unfortunately, there wasn’t that much development from them to get behind their ultimate motivation, even when it’s telling us the history of what they’ve been through. Hell, the more I thought about it, Mark Strong was the better villain. But West Side Story breakout star Rachel Zegler as Anne was great out of the new additions. Some of the best scenes came from the screen time she shared with Dylan Grazer, and their chemistry is legit great when they’re playing off one another. More Zegler, the better.
The action is mainly straightforward to watch the heroes not prevent danger. The only two that were the least bit memorable were of the family saving citizens from the Benjamin Franklin Bridge set appropriately to “Holding Out for a Hero” and a pretty cool fight between Shazam and Hespera. And this had to screech the movie to a halt for probably a shameless product placement to what I believe was an ad for the fruity taste of Skittles with a unicorn, almost making me want to return to the concession stand and buy a bag of them.
Even the climax of the third act was by far the weakest, and I wasn’t as entertained as I had hoped to be. For starters, the last fight was difficult to watch because it happened at night and there wasn’t much light other than the lightning. It also damaged the finale in a way that felt like a cop-out to downplay the feelings if you, too, were spoilt by one of the recent advertisements. Somebody at Warner Bros. should get fired. Was it supposed to get people to see the film in theaters? Who knows if we’ll see these characters again when this universe gets a reboot? A part of me wants to see another just so it can improve this, but it all depends on how audiences feel, especially when looking at the box office and reception, which are not on the same page as the first. Kind of surprised this is the second comic book movie so far of 2023 I didn’t particularly care about.
As a fan of the first film, Shazam! Fury of the Gods is just a fine superhero sequel where I walked away slightly underwhelmed days after I saw it. There’s fun to be had for sure with the action, and Grazer and Zegler stood out with their roles. But some of the charm from before isn’t replicated too much here. I hate being the curmudgeon for calling it average, but lightning doesn’t strike twice.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods is now playing in theatres nationwide| Runtime: 130 Minutes| Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, and language| Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures/ New Line Cinema
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