Shazam! Fury of the Gods
Apart from casting Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu and 'West Side Story' star Rachel Zegler, this sequel to 2019’s 'Shazam' is hardly magical.
March 16, 2023
Being careful what you wish for sits at the heart of most superhero movies. As advice for Spider-Man, Stan Lee even penned an oft-quoted adage about that very notion. Shazam! Fury of the Gods' caped crusaders all know that using their super skills wisely is a duty — yes, with great power comes great responsibility — and they're aware that doing just that comes with struggles. They aren't great at unleashing their magical talents, however, earning the nickname "the Philadelphia Fiascos". But the folks truly realising they should've been more cautious with their dreams are this Shazam! sequel's viewers. Another riff on Big, The Goonies, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Ghostbusters in DC Extended Universe packaging like its 2019 predecessor sounds a heap better than the forgettable superheroes-versus-gods fare that's eventuated — a movie that isn't that fussed with the powers it has and sports zero responsibility for barely managing to be average.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods hasn't completely moved on from nodding to beloved 80s flicks, though, or from referencing other films in general. Early on, it gives 'Holding Out for a Hero', which was originally recorded for the OG Footloose, a perfunctory spin. And, where the first Shazam! instalment was earnest and enthusiastic around all those winks and all that pilfering, this second effort uses E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial's Reese's Pieces product placement as a guide for shoehorning in a Skittles commercial. When it isn't having someone yell "taste the rainbow", it also likes name-dropping titles owned by Warner Bros, which owns DC Studios — or movies connected to its on- and off-screen players. So, in a picture that's about kids and teens transforming into spandex-wearing saviours when they say "shazam!", then fighting the mythical Daughters of Atlas, audiences are subjected to clunky, self-conscious Game of Thrones shoutouts and Fast and Furious gags (a dragon sparks the former, and star Helen Mirren and co-screenwriter Chris Morgan's experience with Vin Diesel's high-octane saga revs up the latter).
Speaking of F&F, Shazam! Fury of the Gods also goes all-in on family — but Billy Batson (Asher Angel, High School Musical: The Musical — The Series) and his pals are too young to knock back Coronas. Also, Shazam! Fury of the Gods isn't much concerned with Billy in his normal guise, giving his Shazam self (Zachary Levi, Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood) the bulk of the character's screentime. The time for origin stories has been and gone here, but largely ditching Angel robs this franchise-within-a-franchise of one of its main points of difference in the DCEU. None of the series' other flicks are about awkward adolescents learning to grapple with power, and understanding that their wildest dreams aren't as easy as they'd always hoped. Shazam! Fury of the Gods still manages to hit some of those notes thanks to a bigger focus on Billy's best friend and fellow foster kid Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer, We Are Who We Are), a person with disability, but sidelining the teenager who turns into Shazam is clumsy and noticeable.
Similarly plain as day from scene one: that Shazam! Fury of the Gods got as lucky as any superhero movie can with its new cast members. The film opens at the Acropolis Museum in Greece, where two of Atlas' offspring are determined to get back the Wizard's (Djimon Hounsou, Black Adam) broken staff and reclaim their dad's magic — and those two daughters, Hespera and Kalypso, come in the form of Mirren (1923) and Lucy Liu (Strange World). Despite splashing around the film's fondness for dim lighting and dull CGI early, this introductory sequence lets its big-name talents make more of an imprint standing around in their costumes and looking formidable than much that follows. Indeed, whenever Mirren and Liu are on-screen, and West Side Story's Rachel Zegler as well, Shazam! Fury of the Gods makes a case for pushing aside not just Billy, but Shazam and everyone else.
This is still a Shazam! movie, of course, and not solely a vehicle for Mirren, Liu and Zegler to play goddesses and have fun. So, returning director David F Sandberg (Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation) and screenwriters Morgan (Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw) and Henry Gayden (Earth to Echo) have motions to go through. Cue Billy aka Shazam, Freddy aka Captain Everypower (Adam Brody, Fleishman Is in Trouble), and their foster siblings Eugene (Fresh Off the Boat's Ian Chen, then 13 Reasons Why's Ross Butler as a superhero), Pedro (Snowfall's Jovan Armand and From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series' DJ Cotrona), Darla (This Is Us' Faithe Herman and Harlem's Meagan Good) and Mary (Fall's Grace Caroline Currey as both versions of the character) trying to save Philly. And, in the process, cue their efforts to work out how to be careful with their fantastical abilities.
Amid the bland jokes, The Avengers get a callout. Rather than being cheeky or funny, that quip among many flat quips acts as a glaring reminder that caped-crusader team-ups are oh-so familiar. Marvel's and DC's superhero franchises both include several, with Shazam! Fury of the Gods hardly distinguishing itself from any apart from its magic utterances. The pixel-frenzy battle scenes definitely don't dazzle, whether or not they involve Skittles. That said, some might've if the monster menagerie conjured up by Hespera and Kalypso had boasted a Ray Harryhausen-style approach. Yes, there's a lot of woulda, coulda, shoulda about the Shazam! films' second outing, which might be its last depending on what new DC Studios heads James Gunn (the director of The Suicide Squad) and Peter Safran (a producer on the same flick, and on this, the first Shazam! and Aquaman) summon up.
New head honchos, new era: that's where the DCEU currently stands, with Gunn and Safran taking up their jobs in late 2022. Changes have sprung swiftly, including badging what'll come after 2023's The Flash, Blue Beetle and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom as just the DC Universe. Henry Cavill has been scrapped as Superman, but the Man of Steel will get a new flick helmed by Gunn. Also, more Black Adam is off the cards. The Batman will score a sequel, but there'll also be a Batman who isn't played by Robert Pattinson (and not just because The Flash co-stars Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton). It's little wonder then that Shazam! Fury of the Gods doesn't just feel routine — rarely has a big-budget franchise entry felt like it matters less. At least it gave us Mirren, Liu and Zegler, a trio that everyone should wish for, livening up a by-the-numbers affair.
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