via Warner Bros.
As the first DCU blockbuster to be released since James Gunn and Peter Safran assumed power, Shazam! Fury of the Gods finds itself in an unwanted position. It was shot long before the Warner Bros. Discovery merger, and well prior to DC Studios deciding that it needed another freshening up, meaning it effectively feels inconsequential right off the bat.
There are no guarantees that any of the characters are even part of the plan moving forward, which instantly stigmatizes David F. Sandberg’s sequel as being inessential; a burning ember of the old DCEU before it drops the “E” and moves onto pastures new. Of course, one of the many problems of modern fandom is that the target demographic is so interested in what comes next that they end up looking too far beyond the film that’s right in front of them, but the downside of focusing on the present is that it doesn’t take long to realize Fury of the Gods won’t be a patch on its predecessor.
Shazam! remains one of the best-reviewed and most profitable entries in the shared universe’s back catalogue, and while the excitement levels for the second chapter could generously be described as lackluster, it would be supremely beneficial to all involved were Sandberg and his cast to knock the sophomore adventure clear out of the park. While there are entertaining moments, decent character work, and several standout performances, the Shazamily can’t elevate their latest outing above mediocrity.
Even at 130 minutes, Fury of the Gods feels way too overstuffed for its own good, which admittedly comes with the territory when there are so many moving pieces in action all at once. However, there’s a borderline irritating reliance on aiming for the most obvious joke every time out, to the extent that it comes across as the figures onscreen transparently trying to beg for your acceptance and approval. The opener was very easy to like for a multitude of reasons, but here it’s more cloying than anything else.
That problem is never more profound than with the title hero himself, who was an endearing and heartwarming presence first time out. On his second go-round, though, Levi is more annoying than charming, and it wouldn’t be stretching the truth to breaking point to say that both the leading man and Asher Angel are comfortably upstaged by Jack Dylan Grazer and Adam Brody as Freddy Freeman and Captain Everypower (yep, that’s his superhero name).
Having embraced their newfound abilities with a little too much zeal, the Shazamily have been dubbed “The Philly Fiascos” by the local press, but schisms are beginning to form. Mary (Grace Caroline Curry) wants to go to college, Pedro (Jovan Armand) spends a great deal of time watching baseball for reasons that soon become clear, and Faithe Herman’s Darla Dudley is just kind of… there.
Their enhanced alter-egos exist largely to prop up the set pieces (with the exception of Grazer and Brody), and while that’s an expected casualty of a superhero sequel, it would help if the machinations revolving around them were interesting and engaging enough to hold attention. Don’t get us wrong; there’s an awful lot going on at any given time in Fury of the Gods to ensure something is always happening, but the world-building, exposition, and constant barrage of gags gets tired very quickly.
You’ve got what’s basically a Skittles commercial, a magical pen called Steve, goth unicorns, the three daughters of Atlas who descend upon the narrative with outpourings of dialogue about wizards, spheres, a golden apple, dragons, and all the rest, but it’s either difficult to keep track of what’s going on at any given point, or impossibly challenging to even care.
That being said, seeing the delightful Helen Mirren chew on the scenery is as wondrous as you’d expect, with her reading of a letter from Billy comfortably the comic standout. Lucy Liu knows exactly what kind of movie she’s in and pitches her performance as such, while Rachel Zegler offers more heart than perhaps her sorely underwritten and transparently plot-propulsive role deserves.
At the end of the day, Fury of the Gods is strongest when it focuses on family first and foremost, which is incredibly ironic when the script was co-authored by Fast & Furious stalwart Chris Morgan, never mind the gag that sees Shazam reference the franchise in an exchange with longtime star Mirren’s Hespera. Billy knows that he’s edging closer and closer to the day he gets pushed out of the foster system, and even though he’s been fighting crime alongside his nearest and dearest for years, he’s wracked with worry and guilt that they’re all going to end up drifting apart.
No amount of CGI-assisted showdowns and end of the world MacGuffins can match such a simple-yet-effective throughline regardless of how hard Sandberg and the cast try to deliver a worthy sequel that holds the entire future of the Shazam! saga in its hands, but oodles of charm and a few beats of genuine heartfelt emotion fail to paper over the many cracks on display, almost all of which will be very familiar to those with a knowledge of how comic book-derived sequels tend to operate.
Not to dive into spoiler territory, but the post-credits scenes indicate that there may be plans afoot for the Shazamily further down the line, but a threequel is beginning to seem like the least obvious option given the underwhelming nature of Fury of the Gods as a whole, which isn’t strong enough as a standalone epic to make it apparent to Gunn and Safran that the DCU can’t do without Levi headlining at least one more solo effort.
‘Shazam! Fury of the Gods’ is a substantial step down from its predecessor, hardly ideal when the future of the entire franchise likely depends on it.
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