[Watch the video review above and read the complete review in written form below]
Shazam! Fury of the Gods is the second film focused on this DC Comics superhero, who’s also gone by Captain Marvel in the comics – but, you know, the Marvel of it all.
This is a follow-up to, in my opinion, one of the better chapters of the incredibly bumpy screen universe that has been DC. The first film was enjoyable. It wasn’t perfect, but I found it to be a charming family adventure, with a nostalgic, throwback tone, and a good amount of heart. So, I was looking forward to this one. Alas, the sequel… (sigh) it isn’t great. Now, the review ahead will be pointing out a lot of negative factors, but I do want to say that this isn’t a film that I absolutely loathed or was left enraged by. It was… generic meh. Something that you could pass the time with, and just forget immediately.
Zachary Levi is back as the titular adult-superhero alter ego of teenager Billy Batson (played again by Asher Angel). On the regular life side of things: Billy is now approaching the age of eighteen and is worried about being kicked out of his adoptive family home after he ages out of the foster system. He’s also worried that he and his siblings, who also have adult superhero alter egos following the first film, are drifting apart. They’re getting older, so things like collage are popping up. On the superhero side of things: The “Shazamily” aren’t doing all that great either – particularly in the public eye, due to all the destruction they leave in their wake. Superhero-caused public damage: I think we’ve more than covered that over the last few years, amirite? But there’s a bigger problem at hand than their public image. The Daughters of the Titan Atlas have arrived on Earth looking to recoup their powers and get sweet revenge.
It’s a simple plot, but it’s as though the film doesn’t want it be, trying to layer it up by obsessively and needlessly laying out awkward exposition at every turn – even when it’s not earned. Characters stop to explain every plot development and emotional beat, no matter how inconsequential it is by the time we get to the end of the CGI mayhem in the last act. I know kids will be watching, but don’t worry about explaining so much – I mean, there’s a sentient pen named Steve here. It is what it is.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods wants to focus on the ‘superheroes vs baddies’ strand of its narrative, which is understandable, that’s the crux of the plot after all. But when the tropes are heavy, the motivation lacklustre, and the action, unfortunately, derivative, it becomes apparent that more care needed to go into other areas of the story. Namely, the elements of family drama that gave the first film its heart, and the overall world-building and character-development requirements that a sequel like this need to engage. Sadly, it doesn’t quite captivate on all counts.
Seeing as the small potential of heart-tugging comes from what teen Billy Batson is going through, it’s a shame that we don’t get much of him in round two, with most of the character’s screentime going to his older alter ego. That should be fine, although Zachary Levi’s hero and Asher Angel’s younger Billy continue to feel like pretty different people. While there’s less of a chasm between the two sides of this one character this time around, I found that Levi’s relentlessly energetic, wise-cracking persona crowded Billy’s character development and the emotional peaks – what little amount there was.
The film’s early nods to family and sibling drama are mostly forgotten as the action kicks in around what feels like halfway. There are some basic reminders here and there with a line or two, but, as with so much here, nothing really adds up to much. You could say that there’s some character-driven fuel for a final-act sacrifice to hit hard… but that also doesn’t really matter, thanks to sidestepping rules established in superhero movies.
I will say that it was nice to see a spotlight on Billy and Freddy’s friendship again, and Jack Dylan Grazer again nails it, delivering a charming and more emotional performance as Billy’s ride-or-die buddy Freddy Freeman. Grazer gives, perhaps, the best performance here, which may be surprising, considering the film features the likes of Helen Mirren and Djimon Hounsou. Really, though, I think it mostly comes down to what everyone was given to work with. You’ve got Mirren and Lucy Liu as your villains – they should have more to bite down on than what feel like copy-paste antagonists we’ve seen a million times before. They’re not engaging or interesting, these baddies are just… dull.
And that’s an issue that expands to the film as a whole. Dull. Honestly, I didn’t expect that. You have the first film’s director back at the helm, David F. Sandberg (I’ve enjoyed all three of his previous films by the way, including Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation); you have a colourful array of characters and a joyful tone to revisit; and you have the potential for original epic fantasy action – scenes that involve a dragon wreaking havoc in the city of Philadelphia. Even the digital-heavy action doesn’t do much to drive excitement, although there’s a bridge sequence early on that’s fairly entertaining. There’s also a certain character with reality-warping powers that provides a couple of neat Doctor Strange-style shots.
The humour, again, dull, often consisting of pop-culture references that will date this adventure rapidly. And there’s a scene involving Skittles that was maybe meant to be funny, but it’s up there among the cringiest examples of product placements in film. And if it isn’t a paid marketing moment… what?
Shazam! Fury of the Gods is a disappointment. A generic superhero film that does little to expand on the first film, misses a lot of what made that film a standout in the DC screen world, and, perhaps its biggest sin, it had me increasingly bored as it progressed. Oh and, as if this review needed more jabs, I’ll mention that it has a few nods to the expanded DC universe, including mid and post-credit scenes. Considering what’s been happening on the studio side of this cinematic universe, it’s sad how useless and uninteresting they feel.