In the generally dour, dark and morose tone the DCEU has had with films such as Man of Steel, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, among others, one film that was a beacon of light and fun, rightfully so, was David F. Samberg’s Shazam! (2019). It was always seen as a jovial take on the god-like superheroes showcased in the DCEU, which makes sense, since Shazam! was a literal teenager playing as a god. Now fast forward to the newest entry into the franchise, Shazam! Fury of the Gods. Does it still hold its charm and unique approach, or does it just become another cog into the big superhero genre machinery?
Shazam! Fury of the Gods follows Billy Batson (Asher Angel) on the cusp of turning 18 years old, grappling with becoming an adult and dealing with imposter syndrome. But all of that will have to wait as a vengeful trio of godly sisters, Hespera (Helen Mirren), Kalypso (Lucy Liu) and Anthea (Rachel Zegler) have come to Earth to strip our heroes from their powers. It’ll be up to Shazam (Zachary Levi) and his family to stop them before they destroy the whole world.
The best distinctive element these Shazam movies have from the others in the DCEU is how they handle tone and characters. From the relationship Bill Batson has with Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), to the whole dynamic with the Shazam family, to the lighthearted and almost self-aware nature of its premise and stakes. It injects these films with a type of levity that contrasts nicely with the rest of the DCEU library. Thankfully these elements stay true in its sequel, although the film suffers a bit from doing the cardinal sin of going bigger for its follow-up. In this instance, we are dealing with gods threatening Philadelphia and consequently the whole world. Which in turn makes the plot more bombastic, losing a bit of the internal character struggles faced in the film. For instance, the movie opens with Billy Batson grappling with the fact that he’s about to be 18 years old, and feels he’ll just have to leave his foster home and actually have to be an adult, a choice he’s not ready to face. On top of this he believes he’s not worthy of being a superhero, nor being the leader to his family. Finally he’s grappling with abandonment issues, fearing everyone will abandon him like his mother did, and he manifests this by detaching himself from Rosa (Marta Milans), his foster mom. The issue is that most of these character problems don’t see much of a natural story progression, and most of them get magically solved at the end of the movie, with no real cathartic or emotional weight behind them. All of this happens because of the choice to detach the narrative from a more grounded, simple story into a more elevated magical adventure with the three Atlas sisters. It’s not to say this new element doesn’t work, since there’s a fascinating contrast with the Shazam family and Atlas sisters and how they both are dealing with harsh decisions of who’s doing the right or wrong thing in any given circumstance.
Interestingly enough, the film plays like a kid-friendly version of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The film establishes that the Shazam family, even though they are helping Philadelphia, are rejected by the Philadelphians, for causing so much chaos and destruction. Sound familiar? The parallels continue since Shazam’s new foes come from his world, like Superman having to face Doomsday which was a reanimated Zod. These similarities continue until the end scene, which I won’t spoil, but you get the idea. I think it was an interesting approach, since Shazam! (2019) in part feels reminiscent of Man of Steel, but again, in a kid-friendly way. This all goes back to David F. Sandberg’s understanding of the DCEU’s DNA. It’s clear Sandberg has a love of the DCEU and it’s innerworkings, and even though it’s always felt somewhat disconnected from the other films in this universe, it’s clear he understands it from a meta-textual level.
The supporting cast have their moments in the movie, but I don’t think they shine as much as they did in the first one, but there’s at least some great jokes and sequences with them, especially one key scene with Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman) which will make you laugh out loud. The film is pretty funny and charming, some of its best moments come from how absurdist Sandberg’s humor gets, which includes a magical sentient pen called Steve.
Zachary Levi is still pitch perfect as Zahzam, and Asher Angel gives you enough range in his limited sting as Billy Batson. Jack Dylan Grazer has a bit to do in the film and he’s also a stand out, especially with his developing relationship with Rachel Zegler’s Anne. Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu are fun to watch and kick some ass, even though their characters aren’t complex or deep, they embody their godly characters all the way through.
The CGI is surprisingly great and very polished, which is shocking considering the budget for this movie. The action sequences are serviceable, but aren’t memorable or even creative enough. The story moves at a pretty brisk pace and never falters, although it doesn’t thoroughly explore the issues Billy Batson is internally facing.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods is a serviceable sequel that raises the stakes, but loses a bit of its own identity along the way. While its charm and quirky humor is not at all forgotten, it’s the characters that suffered a bit in the transition to its more bombastic follow-up. Nevertheless, it’s still an enjoyable and fun superhero film that people of all ages will enjoy.
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