Generic Sequel Full Of Heart & Humor
During the 1940s, Shazam (or Captain Marvel) was one of the most popular superheroes in the United States. And now, all these years later, the DC hero gets to join the pantheon of characters who have an entertaining sequel that doesn’t quite reach the heights of the original movie. Shazam! Fury of the Gods has strong performances and solid emotional arcs for the main characters, but it’s ultimately held back by a story that feels generic and forgettable.
Just like the first movie, Fury of the Gods opens with a horror-influenced sequence that immediately sets the plot into action. The villainous Daughters of Atlas are introduced in a fun and dark scene set in a museum that quickly explains their desire to reclaim the universe’s magical power and establishes why they must cross paths with Shazam. Director David F. Sandberg, who started working on Fury of the Gods right after Shazam! wrapped, once again nicely balances the chaotic consequences of magic in a human world with the sense of wonder the young members of Billy Batson’s (Asher Angel) foster family feel about wielding such awesome power.
Zachary Levi returns as Billy’s superhero counterpart and gives another charismatic performance as the “adult” leader of the Shazamily, but it’s really Jack Dylan Grazer’s Freddy Freeman who serves as the heart of this film. Out of all of Billy’s foster siblings, Freddy is the one who has the most desire to step out on his own and experience life as a superhero. It’s this need for recognition and to prove that he’s capable on his own that inadvertently puts him right into the middle of the Daughters of Atlas’ plans, as he ends up becoming bait to lure the rest of the Shazamily into action.
Each member of the family gets a moment to shine, and their distinct personalities are on full display during fight scenes or when the family is just passing time in the newly-decked out Rock of Eternity. An entertaining action sequence at a crumbling bridge near the beginning of the film highlights just how powerful and capable the heroes are, but it also explains why the local news have deemed them the “Philly Fiascos.”
Stepping away from the Shazamily for a second, the villains also share a familial connection. Unlike the first film, which saw Shazam take on the singular threat of Mark Strong’s Thaddeus Sivana, Fury of the Gods sees the gang take on a trio of scorned goddesses named the Daughters of Atlas. Each sister has their own power and outlook, but it’s really Helen Mirren’s Hespera who steals the show. Watching Hespera square off with Shazam can feel goofy at moments, but Mirren’s weighty performance ensures that each time she is on screen her presence feels menacing and imposing. Lucy Liu’s performance as Kalypso feels a bit one-note throughout thanks to the middle sister’s single-minded focus on vengeance, but Rachel Zegler turns in a compelling performance that perfectly matches the complicated decisions her character Anthea has to make.
The story of Shazam! Fury of the Gods is simultaneously confusing and generically simple. If the Shazamily doesn’t stop the villains and their big bad dragon on their quest to avenge the gods being stripped of their powers, the whole world could be destroyed. Despite all the noise, the film is at its best when it goes small and focuses on Billy’s newfound relationships with his family and Freddy’s desire to prove his independence.
The bond between Billy and his foster siblings feels significantly stronger now than in the first film, so when viewers see him and Mary (Grace Caroline Currey) bicker, we know that it comes from a place of brother-sister love and not just a defensive desire to isolate himself. Similarly, when audiences see Freddy hit the town as a superhero by himself despite the family’s “all or none” rule, the film makes it clear his behavior is emblematic of a larger desire to be perceived as heroic on his own rather than a strike against his family. Jack Dylan Grazer’s performance, full of vulnerability and cockiness, is probably the best in the whole movie and helps display why Freddy Freeman is such an interesting character in the first place.
Tucked into the core of Fury of the Gods is a cute buddy adventure that follows Freddy and The Wizard (Djimon Hounsou), who originally gave Billy his powers. Imprisoned together by the Daughters of Atlas, they slowly forge a bickering-laced friendship and rely on each other to try and subvert the goddesses’ plans. Whether the two of them are arguing in their cell or trying to evade detection while sneaking around, the unique humor that stems from their relationship is definitely one of the best aspects of Shazam! Fury of the Gods. Not only does the pairing bring up a lot of natural humor, but the ability for Freddy to develop this relationship helps him overcome his own inner-struggle and recognize his worthiness.
Instead of re-mining the humor in what it is like experiencing life in an adult body for the first time, the best jokes in Fury of the Gods revolve around how the superhero family comes together before and after a mission. Whether they are awkwardly walking out on their foster parents, analyzing their performances as a group post-skirmish or getting information from a magical pen named Steve, the way the Shazamily interacts with each other brings a lot of levity to the serious situation these kids find themselves in. Beyond that, quippy one-liners about everything from Billy and Freddy’s tendencies to fall for older women to The Fast and the Furious references felt thrown in just to change up the pace of a given scene. Nevertheless, Zachary Levi once again does a good job finding the humor in tense moments and turns in another believable performance as a teenager trying his best to overcome his doubts and save the day at the same time.
It’s hard to accurately place Shazam! Fury of the Gods in the DC Universe. Set aside the cameo that a recent trailer spoils, and some other Easter Eggs that are thrown in for DC fans, and it’s unclear what will happen to the Shazamily as James Gunn and Peter Safran’s DC Universe comes into view. Co-CEO of DC Studios Peter Safran is an Executive Producer on Fury of the Gods, so if any characters were to make the leap into the new fray, it makes sense that it could be one that he is already familiar with. Either way, despite this film’s weaknesses, I still left Fury of the Gods hungry for more on-screen adventures for Shazam and his growing superhero family.
Overall Thoughts: Shazam! Fury of the Gods feels a bit long at moments, but it is worth watching if you’re looking for a family-friendly, exciting action movie. Parts of the story are somewhat forgettable, but the entertaining interactions between all of the characters, general quirky tone and focus on the child-like wonder of being a superhero exemplify exactly why Shazam deserved another movie in the first place.
Final Score: 6.5/10
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