“Shazam! Fury of the Gods lacks the charm and appeal of its predecessor. It's a zombified DCEU movie that has no real purpose or sense of fun.”
- Jack Dylan Grazer is still great as Freddy Freeman
- The Shazam Family is entertaining to watch
- It's not as bad as Black Adam
- Bad villains
- Terrible special effects
- Lifeless direction
- Derivative story
The superhero movie genre is at a crossroads right now. While the dreaded “comic book movie fatigue” hasn’t quite set in just yet, there are some signs that it’s coming. Last fall’s Black Adam largely disappointed critics and WB studio execs, failing to deliver on star Dwayne Johnson’s promise to change the “hierarchy of power in the DC Universe.” Even Marvel is feeling the lack of audience enthusiasm, with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania becoming the worst-reviewed MCU movie ever and failing to entice moviegoers into its newly inaugurated Phase Five.
It’s in this uncertain time that the sequel to 2019’s Shazam! — unimaginatively titled Shazam! Fury of the Gods — debuts, with its broader universe, the DCEU, in jeopardy of being completely jettisoned for something newer and more Marvel-like. James Gunn and Peter Safran are now the co-heads of the newly created DC Studios, and they haven’t fully committed to bringing anyone from the previous regime over, and that includes famous actors like Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck.
This makes Fury of the Gods something like an old dog without a home. Unwanted by its owners, it still soldiers on, performing the same tricks that had previously pleased people in the past. But what worked in 2019 won’t necessarily work in 2023, and instead of changing for the better, Fury of the Gods doubles down on what people liked in the first film. Want more Shazam-like heroes? Then here’s the “Shazamily,” a five-member team who all share the same powers as the titular hero. Want more villains? Instead of one, there are two, the Daughters of Atlas, who command an army of ogres, cyclopes, and yes, unicorns.
More doesn’t mean better, and Fury of the Gods winds up being far less enjoyable than its charming predecessor. Tired and instantly outdated, the Shazam sequel won’t reverse the downward trend of superhero movies, and it doesn’t make a strong case for the DCEU — and Zachary Levi’s now-annoying hero — to be saved at all.
Fury of the Gods picks up three years after the events of the first film. Now almost 18, Billy Batson still lives with his adopted siblings, who now have similar powers thanks to the events of the last film. This team of heroes, dubbed the “Philadelphia Fanatics” by the press, consist of foster brothers Freddy Freeman, Eugene Choi, and Pedro Peña, and foster sisters Mary Bromfield and Daria Dudley, who, like Billy, turn into grown-up versions of themselves when they say “Shazam!”
After a display of their powers and teamwork in an extended rescue scene on a collapsing bridge that has been done in almost every superhero film, Fury of the Gods sets up its main villains: the Xena: Warrior Princess-rejects the Daughters of Atlas, played by Helen Mirren (as the leader Hespera), Lucy Liu (as the untrustworthy Kalypso), and Rachel Zegler (as the not-really-bad Anthea). They all want to retrieve the golden apple, which functions as a seed that, when planted into the ground, will grow the Tree of Life.
Unbeknownst to Shazam, the golden apple lies in the lair he shares with his family. Since the Daughters of Atlas also have a murderous grudge toward the human race, the good guys are quickly pitted against the bad women in a clash to see which godlike being can smash each other into walls hard enough for one of them to attain the golden apple.
Are the Daughters of Atlas victorious? No spoilers, but the movie’s last act involves lots of poorly rendered CGI fantasy creatures inspired by Ray Harryhausen, a betrayal that’s telegraphed very early on in the film, an underdeveloped love story, multiple scenes of a dragon flying in downtown Philadelphia, and the most egregious product placement in cinematic history (it involves a unicorn, a little girl, and Skittles, and it stops the movie dead in its tracks). There’s an appearance by another DCEU superhero too, which doesn’t count as a spoiler since DC already gave it away in one of their marketing spots. Fury of the Gods doesn’t have anything you haven’t seen before, but it’s been done better and with more style in other movies that are more worth your time than this one.
The first Shazam! wasn’t that original either, but it had a sweetness and gravity to it that separated it from other comic book movies. That charm is all but gone in the sequel, which focuses more on building up its second-rate villains than caring about its central cast of heroes. As the Daughters of Atlas, Mirren, Liu, and Zegler all look lost or bored with the inane dialogue they are asked to speak. Liu by far fares the worst, delivering her lines in a monotone that suggests the actress was over it before shooting even began.
The heroes fare a little bit better. As the teenage Freddy Freeman, Jack Dylan Grazer once again shows why he, and not his bland co-star, Asher Angel, should have been cast as Billy. Every time he’s on the screen, the movie comes briefly alive due to his live-wire, improvisational energy. His scenes with Djimon Hounsou, whose role as the once-dead-but-now-better ally is borderline unforgivable, are the best in the movie because they cackle with the giddiness of being a kid caught up in a comic book world.
As the “Shazfamily,” the child and adult actors playing Mary, Pedro, Darla, and Eugene aren’t given much to do, but have enough presence and likability to make you wish they had. The standouts include D.J. Cotrona as the adult Pedro and Faithe Herman as young Darla, who both share Grazer’s ability to be awestruck at the fantastical world they inhabit. They all have the right amount of sweetness to their portrayals that doesn’t make you gag.
The same cannot be said for Zachary Levi’s portrayal of Shazam. This critic wasn’t a fan of his take on the character in the first movie, but it still made sense. He wanted to communicate Billy’s joy at escaping into a world of capes and spandex, and at that, he was successful. In Fury of the Gods, though, he comes across as an alien who has studied how teens act by watching a lot of TGIF sitcoms like Full House and then plunged his head into a pile of cocaine like Tony Montana did in Scarface. His performance is weirdly manic, desperate, and tonally way off; no 17-year old acts likes how he behaves, and it takes you out of the picture.
What’s also jarring is the sheer amount of CGI the film has, and how poorly it frequently looks. The director, David F. Sandberg, obviously wanted to go bigger with his sequel, but he doesn’t have an eye for striking visuals. The invasion of Philadelphia by Lord of the Rings-type creatures doesn’t pop as much as you want it to, and even simple scenes of heroes flying in the sky lack the grace and beauty of Richard Donner’s Superman movies — and those came out over 40 years ago! Special effects aren’t everything, of course, but for a movie that leans too much on them to compensate for what it lacks, they are essential in providing at least a minimal degree of escapism, but Fury of the Gods fails to even pass that low threshold.
The best you can say about Shazam! Fury of the Gods is that it isn’t as bad as Black Adam. That movie was a groaner, a cheap and cynical parade of one-liners and pose shots that were all centered around propping up Dwayne Johnson’s charisma-free hero. In contrast, Fury of the Gods attains enough of its predecessor’s sweetness to be, at the very least, passably inoffensive.
But is that enough? Leaving aside the many options the streaming age affords us, or even sequels like Creed III and Scream VI that turned out to be better than expected, Fury of the Gods serves no real purpose as either a standalone movie that offers nothing unique or as a piece of a cinematic universe that is all but dead. It’s insistent inclusion of DCEU Easter eggs, including the two now-useless end credits scenes, come off as sad and frustrating. What’s the point of all this anymore?
Remember those zombies in George Romero’s 1978 classic Dawn of the Dead, who, despite having died, still go to the mall because that’s all they really remember? They have no souls and no real brain activity, but they still go through the motions of behaving like they didwhen they were alive. Fury of the Gods is a lot like those zombies — it still walks and talks like a standard-issue DC movie, but it has nowhere left to go.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods is now playing in theaters nationwide.
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