Released: 16th March
Seen: 18th March
In 2019, DC released one of its few good films, Shazam. At the time it felt like somewhat of a revelation, after years of a dark and dour DC universe being built with several below-average films that refused to even try to have a little fun, we finally got a film that seemed to understand why this genre is so popular while also having one of the biggest heartfelt stories in all of Superhero media (The Billy Batson story with his mother is still heartbreaking, I will die on that hill). It might not have been the biggest box office hit, possibly because the DC well was basically poisoned even by that point but somehow it got a sequel that got somewhat delayed by the recent plague but is here now… it’s fine, I guess.
Shazam! Fury Of The Gods picks up a few years after the last film with the new family of superheroes trying to understand their responsibilities, in particular Billy (Asher Angel) AKA Shazam (Zachary Levi) who is doing everything he can to make sure his family stays together since he is fast approaching 18 which is when he should age out of the foster system. However, this personal drama takes a back seat when the daughters of Atlas, Kalypso (Lucy Liu) and Hespera (Helen Mirren), come to earth and reclaim the wizard’s broken staff (from the first movie, the wizard that gave everyone their powers had a staff and Shazam broke it in the climax… it’s back) and with that staff, they can do evil god shit and take over the world but can only possibly be stopped by the family of superheroes… oh, and the daughters of Atlas can also take away the superpowers that this family has, so that’s one of the big threats of this film.
Shazam! Fury Of The Gods takes the villain story of the original and supersizes it, exchanging one asshole and bringing a bunch of demons to life for fun with literal gods played by a pair of godly actors and as a pure spectacle, it’s fascinating. Everything here has been seriously increased in terms of the action set pieces and the stakes for the world in general which makes for a more exciting climax that’s filmed brilliantly. It’s clear that this film had more of a budget to work with and worked with it well, giving us some pretty fantastic scenes of our family of heroes being heroic both in their full Superhero garb and out of it.
What particularly helps make these villains so much more impactful is just who plays them, the addition of Lucy Liu and Helen Mirren to the Shazam universe is an inspired choice and the two of them basically devour any scene that they’re in. They manage to toe the line between chewing the scenery and being gloriously intense dramatic villains and it’s truly captivating to witness both of them. It’s actually a little surprising that it’s taken until now for someone to ask either Lucy Liu or Helen Mirren to play a villain in a movie like this because they both just know how to be captivating and intimidating in a way that’s undeniable. Adding to those villains’ impact is that this film really has let director David Sandberg return to his horror roots for some powerful moments that really can get under the audience’s skin… or, in Shazam! Fury Of The Gods case, under the audience’s nails.
Unfortunately, Shazam! Fury Of The Gods can’t just be following around a pair of superpowered gods and that’s kind of where things start to falter. The thing that made the first Shazam so great was that underneath all the superhero bluster there was a serious story about a boy who went through the foster system who never felt like he fit in with his foster family, even learning about how his mother abandoned him and having to deal with that. It gave the film an intense emotional weight that made the superhero stuff mean a lot more, in particular, the finale which was made more impactful because it was Billy getting his own superfamily… this film doesn’t really have that, at least not as much as it would like.
A point that’s brought up maybe twice in the film is that Billy is about to age out of the foster system, being 5 months away from turning 18 means that he spends some parts of the film thinking that means he’ll be thrown out… problem is that it’s such a minor part of the film that it has no emotional weight, especially when there are two older siblings that prove this to be false. Billy’s family trauma is the emotional core of the character, it’s what explains why he was so resistant to accept help in the first movie and why he holds on so tight here but because of how it’s handled it doesn’t pack the emotional punch it should, they certainly try but it just doesn’t resonate. There are really next to no scenes with normal Billy dealing with his family issues, it’s all just the superhero stuff, and sure that’s fun but it means when they try for an emotional moment it doesn’t work as well.
Most of the actual emotional focus this time is put largely on Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) and his personal journey of growth, which includes a flirtation with new character Anne (Rachel Zegler) and at times it works but it also doesn’t have as much impact as the first movie did in the emotional relationship stakes. Both the actors play it well, Zegler in particular kind of confirms what everyone assumed after they saw West Side Story (that she’s destined for greatness) but it’s just a very standard romance and at no point does it have the punch this film needed.
Any other big possible storylines that could give the film the punch it needed to be as great as the first one are all kind of pushed in the background, big things like more stuff about Pedro being gay (a thing I called when the first movie came out, very much confirmed here in two small bits) or about Mary wanting to go to college. These are important storylines that could’ve been explored but really aren’t, again leading to a lack of emotional punch that the film sorely needed to work at its best.
Now, this is not to say that Shazam! Fury Of The Gods is bad, it’s not. It’s still fun, the set pieces are great and these are some great actors to be with for a few hours… however, this is definitely a big step down from the first film. The emotional throughline isn’t anywhere near as strong and because we don’t get to see the kids in their normal form as much, some of the magic is lost and the film kind of feels a little more generic because of it. For the DC cinematic universe, generic is still pretty damn good but Shazam had something special and this just doesn’t have that.
Shazam! Fury Of The Gods is fine, a fun thrill ride with some entertaining villains and set pieces to really take advantage of the screen. It’s still a good time at the cinema, no doubt about that but god damn it would’ve been nice if it had the same special spark as the first one. We can only hope this film does well and maybe the third time around we can get back to that human connection that made the first one so powerful, but even without that at least this is a relatively enjoyable film.
Also, there are two credits scenes, both of which set up potential future stories that might not happen now there’s been a complete reshuffling at Warner Brothers… but they’re also funny scenes so just enjoy them for that element.