Sunday, May 19, 2024

“SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS”

THE STORY – Bestowed with the powers of the gods, Billy Batson and his fellow foster kids are still learning how to juggle teenage life with their adult superhero alter egos. When a vengeful trio of ancient gods arrives on Earth in search of the magic stolen from them long ago, Shazam and his allies get thrust into a battle for their superpowers, their lives, and the fate of the world.

THE CAST – Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Rachel Zegler, Adam Brody, Ross Butler, Meagan Good, Lucy Liu, Djimon Hounsou & Helen Mirren

THE TEAM – David F. Sandberg (Director), Henry Gayden & Chris Morgan (Writers)

THE RUNNING TIME – 130 Minutes


When the first “Shazam!” movie first hit theaters in 2019, it was part of a record-breaking year of the blockbuster subgenre of action movies. Unlike its fellow DC counterpart that year, “Joker” starring Joaquin Phoenix, “Shazam!” recaptured the fun of what it could be like becoming a superhero that still tackles heavy subject matter, such as abandonment and finding one’s own family. Though not every comic book movie could be an “Avengers: Endgame,” the DC movie was proof to audiences in 2019 that there’s still fun to be had and more engaging stories to be told that didn’t need to have the same grit as the DC Universe’s reputation up until that point.

“Shazam! Fury of the Gods” thematically is a natural progression from the first movie. Since discovering and accepting a new family, Billy’s struggle is maintaining this new family and moving forward without the fear of being abandoned again. After three years of Billy and his foster brothers and sisters fighting crime in Philadelphia together, the team is ready to move on to their own adventures… everyone except for Billy. As he approaches his eighteenth birthday, Billy is gripping onto his newfound family so tight that the closeness the Shazamily once had is slipping through his fingers. He’s trying to hold on to the fun times, but playtime is over when the daughters of Atlas make their way to Earth.

In the “Shazam!” movies, Billy Batson’s arc takes him from being an abandoned, lost boy to a hero worthy of the powers bestowed upon him. The sequel really questions whether or not he deserved these powers. As much as Zachary Levi captures Billy as he wrestles with his imposter syndrome, seeing Asher Angel’s Billy struggle makes the journey more relatable. The lack of balance between Levi and Angel in “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” throws Billy Batson off kilter.

Due to this imbalance, the execution of the sequel’s themes falls flat. Like Billy in the movie, there’s a lack of commitment to exploring some relational conflicts, almost dragging its heels towards making growth until necessary for the plot. One such instance is between Billy and his foster mom Rosa (Marta Milans). Billy’s fear of abandonment keeps him from calling Rosa “mom” like the rest of the foster kids. After being abandoned by his own birth mother (Caroline Palmer), it makes sense that there’s hesitation for him; yet once this is introduced, it’s not brought up again until right before the big third act battle.

For the rest of the Shazamily, the standouts of the first “Shazam!” continue to shine in the sequel. Both Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), Darla (Faithe Herman), and Adam Brody and Meagan Good, as the superhero versions of their characters, bring a sincerity and a spark to the screen without being too sarcastic or self-aware. While Pedro, Jovan Armand, and D.J. Cotrona have fleshed-out arcs of self-discovery and self-acceptance, his brother Eugene, Ian Chen, and Ross Butler seem to bide time until the plot needs him. Mary (Grace Caroline Currey) is treated as a leader from the sidelines and doesn’t get many opportunities to be the leader Billy looks to her as. In the sequel’s effort to spread the love for each character, only a few are seen as worthy.

As for the antagonists of “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” the addition of Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, and Rachel Zegler is a welcomed one. Like Billy Batson’s family, these sisters have their own complicated relationship. With the rapport between Mirren, Liu, and Zegler being so strong between them, it would’ve been great to have at least one more scene between the three of them where audiences could get more context to their sisterhood. For what we do get, Mirren brings an imposing presence, while Liu captures the unpredictability of a goddess with chaotic powers.

In her second movie, Rachel Zegler (“West Side Story“) proves once again that she’s a young star worth watching. As the Daughter of Atlas with the most empathy for humanity, she does much of the emotional heavy lifting for the goddesses. Plus, she has excellent chemistry with Jack Dylan Grazer’s Freddy. From their initial meet-cute in high school, Zegler and Grazer capture young love as awkward yet endearing romantic interests. Throughout a movie filled with dragons and mythological realms, Freddy and Anthea’s connection to each other grounds the movie for more authentic emotional beats.

In the first “Shazam!” movie, there was a charm to the humor. Two teenage boys are discovering how superpowers work in the ultimate wish fulfillment. However, the jokes don’t always hit the mark in this sequel. Where Zachary Levi perfectly captures the gullible, almost goofy wonder of a teenager trapped in his body in the first movie, his dialogue in the sequel doesn’t work in his favor the same way. In his attempts to convey a seventeen-year-old in the body of the Wizard’s champion, Levi gives off more cringe than charisma (or as much charisma as a seventeen-year-old would have).

While some of the pop culture references still work for comedic timing, the meta humor at play could open its own Pandora’s box. For instance, Billy references “The Fast and the Furious” franchise to emphasize family. If Billy had really watched all “The Fast and the Furious” movies, he’d noticed how Hespera resembles Magdalene Shaw. Then again, we’d fall into a downward spiral of multiverse/multi-studio madness, so let’s stop before we get too into the weeds here.

Regarding the action set pieces, “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” features some inventive action scenes and fight choreography. Anthea’s axis powers manipulate environments very similar to Doctor Strange’s magic in the mirror dimension in the “Doctor Strange” movies. The action scenes tend to be primarily well-paced, yet sometimes feel incomplete. For example, during the third act battle, one of the groups looks for a mythical creature in order to help tame the monsters wreaking havoc in the City of Brotherly Love. We see them charge forward toward the monsters with their new allies, only to see the aftermath of the monsters defeated and no action in between.

“Shazam! Fury of the Gods” releases during a reconstruction period of DC Studios. James Gunn and Peter Safran, now leading the division at Warner Brothers, have recently announced their Chapter 1 slate of new movies and series, which don’t include many of the staple DC actors that “Shazam!” was deemed a part of. The movie plays in the sandbox of both the old and the new, featuring a significant cameo during the climax. While there is a post-credit tease for a third installment, it’s hard to be hyped with Shazam’s future in flux.

If this is the last we see of Billy Batson and the Shazamily, then “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” offers a two-movie arc about Billy growing up that has the wisdom of Saruman, not Solomon. There’s a playful innocence and degree of fun to be had with the “Shazam!” movies; the message of family’s importance in going through life’s struggles continues to be its greatest strength but this film falls short of developing the entire Shazamily to the godlike heights of Mount Olympus.

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Meredith Loftus
Meredith Loftus
Digital Producer at Paramount. Features Writer at Collider. General cinephile waiting for the Mamma Mia cinematic universe to take off.

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