A Theatrical Feature Film Review
Lightning strikes twice in the sequel to the 2019 superhero hit based on the DC Comics character that surprised audiences with its family-friendly appeal. Zachary Levi and Asher Angel return in the duo role as Shazam! and his family faces off against magical creatures and vengeful gods!
It literally is all about timing. When Shazam! first came to theaters in 2019 the DC cinematic experience was in drastically different shape. The more light-hearted film that director David F. Sandberg released after the string of darkly haunting Zack Snyder films, and even Gal Gadot’s first Wonder Woman feature, made the more colorful “big red cheese” of a hero seem somewhat out of place from its contemporaries. In fact, Warner Bros. was facing the overall grave challenge of making any of its tentpole blockbusters gel as cohesively as their longtime rival, Marvel Studios appeared to make it all happen so effortlessly.
Given that Warner Bros. and DC had the industry head-start in dominating at the box office, this is still today extremely perplexing, but I digress…
Shazam’s mythology itself set it apart immediately from its established predecessors, especially since its lead characters were all teenagers. Asher Angel is cast as Billy Batson, the teenaged alter ego to Zachary Levi’s magically-enhanced costumed superhero, but who retains all of Billy’s personality traits and youthful enthusiasm even though he wields the power of mythical gods. Billy is bestowed their awesome power, by simply uttering the name of The Wizard, Shazam! played by Djimon Hounsou.
And as with any good origin story, Shazam! was based on the more modern take of the hero, by super-comic book scribe Geoff Johns even though the hero has been around since the 1940s (and bore the mantle of “Captain Marvel” which has since been a bone of contention with fans due to the obvious copyright), and brought audiences up to speed on the lovable orphan, who lands the greatest foster family ever. It isn’t long before BBFs Billy and Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) are putting Shazam’s newfound superpowers to the test, in the hopes of perhaps even drawing the attention of other superheroes like Superman or Batman!
By the end of the first film, in order to defeat the power-hungry Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) Billy shares his newfound gifts with the rest of his foster family (just as he does in the comics) thus endowing them with superpowers all of their own. It’s our first glimpse of the Captain Marvel Family or the Shazamily! (as they must be known, again because of copyright laws), but they are all on full display in the sequel Shazam! Fury of the Gods is still in theaters, but perhaps due to its less-than-electrifying box office has already begun to circulate for sale on digital platforms (with bonus content to boot)!
And contrary to public sentiment, the sequel is charmingly entertaining! Sandberg and his team have definitely taken advantage of the bigger budget; how else could they have afforded to wrangle in Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu to play this film’s headlining adversaries? The pair play Daughters of Altas, Hespera, and Kalypso, and along with Rachel Zeglar who plays Anthea, the trio is determined to return the power that is rightfully their own. Upon defeating Sivana in the original, Billy unknowingly disconnects magic, and when he shares it with his family, he diminishes power in the realm of the gods!
The Daughters of Atlas are on a mission to set things right, and at least one of the trio is willing to stop at nothing! Billy and his family of Shazams must now gather their inner strength and save their world. Although Freddy (Grazer) has adapted very easily into his own superheroic alter-ego (as Captain Marvel, Jr., or is it: Shazam, Jr!), Billy can’t help but shake his own inadequacies and doesn’t feel that he deserves to be this realm’s chosen champion. His Shazam-family rallies around him especially when our villains unleash all-manner of mythological menaces on Philadelphia.
The film jazzes up the super suits, and dazzles with much bigger and brighter special effects calamity (we’ve got a dragon in this one, as well as several beasties, and the various doors to multiple dimensions that the Shazam-family inhabit), but not at the cost of losing in the script (it’s quite witty) and the story structure is pretty hefty, but filled with authentic emotion.
The film is every bit as enjoyable as is expected, but in a world that has become cynical to the whims of infinitely more cosmic consequences or multiverses that come undone or asunder with every installment, Fury of the Gods may only feel epic in its title. The “small-niss” of the film is actually extremely gratifying. It’s nice to have our local troupe of do-gooders left to depend on one another and protect the heart and soul of their hometown, rather than feel as if the fate of the entire planet is on their mighty shoulders — it’s also nice that they are all still trying to figure it all out.
For all their godly might, they are all just kids, growing up and discovering who they are — they just happen to have superpowers. Shazam! wins most of all because it’s at its core about family, even our villains face that compromise. It’s a fine line character-wise in that Levi is basically playing the 18-year-old alter ego of Asher Angel, but must be convincing as the champion chosen to save the day. Grace Caroline Currey is also a stand-out as the film’s lead superhero Mary Marvel, who is every bit the loving big sister that this team needs to lead in the fight.
To Be or Not…
If you recall, we opened up this review with the statement on how “timing is everything” and the Shazam! film franchise falls on the sword of its studio’s lack of knowing what to do with itself! Although there are multiple mentions of how this film fits into the same cinematic universe as the previous DC ventures, with notable nods to those heroes, and even some cameo appearances, after the recent (re)launch of DC Studios under James Gunn and Peter Safran, where it fits in the overall scheme of things is anyone’s guess. The pair at the helm of the “rebooted” DC Cinematic Universe is promising big changes, many of which look forward (with a lot riding on the upcoming The Flash movie) and not to what’s come before.
That means that Billy Batson and the rest of his thunder squad may end up a consequence of the studio “refresh”; it’s also unfortunate that Black Adam star Dwayne Johnson proved too big for his britches and sabotaged any mention of Shazam from his star turn as the character’s antithesis. Johnson cited that the tones of the films did not “add up” and replaced Shazam with Henry Cavill once again suiting-up as the Man of Steel (only to have the studio immediately announce that Cavill will not return as Superman in Gunn’s upcoming Superman feature film). It’s not a secret anymore, but Gal Gadot appears as Wonder Woman in Shazam! 2 although the fate of her returning for a third feature as the Amazing Amazon is unlikely.
It’s disappointing that DC just can’t get it right, even when it does a pretty decent job at it. Shazam! Fury of the Gods would have done nicely had Warner Bros. stood by it. Instead, they’ve once again abandoned support and almost immediately disassociated themselves from this film, which is completely serviceable, especially considering its track record. What hurts most is that the filmmakers and the cast that have clearly poured themselves into making the film (not to mention their super suits) and realizing all our hopes and dreams of leaping over tall buildings in a single bound aren’t being supported by the fans.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods isn’t going to win any awards (and it doesn't have to; it doesn't have anything to prove), but it's exactly the film of its season, that fills a bucket of popcorn and brings families out to the multiplex. It’s a fun frolic, big on spectacle and even bigger on heart!
Get your #FansEyeView of the trailer to Shazam! Fury of the Gods here:
SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS | starring Zachary Levi, Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, Djimon Hounsou, and directed by David F. Sandberg is now in theaters now and available to purchase on digital download.