David F. Sandberg’s 2019 Shazam! felt like a breath of fresh air in the grim, dark world of the DC Extended Universe. The tale is about Billy Batson (Asher Angel/Zachary Levi), a kid rejected by his family, the foster system, and the world in general. He finds a family and gets superpowers from a mysterious wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who gives him a quick rundown on what to do and then disappears into dust. It was rife with humour and pathos. Sandberg described the projects as Big with superpowers, and to an extent it was, but it was also about Billy coming to terms with his past and seeing how he had an opportunity to shape his future.
In the diegetic world of Shazam! Fury of the Gods, two years have passed. Billy and his superpowered foster siblings; Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman (Adam Brody as ‘Captain Everypower’), Mary Bromfield (now old enough to play both versions), the irrepressible Darla Durley (delightfully acted by Faithe Herman and Meagan Good), Eugene Choi (Ian Chen and Ross Butler) and Pedro Pena (Jovan Armand and D.J. Cotrona) are now more proficient with their powers but have been dubbed the ‘Philly Fiascos’ because of their haphazard way of protecting the city.
While the first film dealt with Billy’s immaturity in a fairly charming way, the second becomes somewhat tiresome. Asher Angel is rarely seen on screen (which is to the movie’s detriment) and Zachary Levi is quipping his way through the role as if he is still fifteen, not almost eighteen (which is a plot point because he’s afraid of being forced to leave his foster home). He’s desperately trying to keep the Shazam family together and it’s causing issues with Freddy.
A new threat emerges when, freed from their prison, the Daughters of Atlas come after the Shazam family hoping to reclaim the powers gifted by the wizard (who is not dead after all) and revitalise their dying world by any means necessary. Hespera (Helen Mirren) can control the elements, Kalypso (Lucy Liu) is an agent of chaos, and Anthea (Rachel Zegler) can rearrange matter. The three are working in tandem to find the Golden Apple (hidden somewhere in the Rock of Eternity which is now the Shazam family’s ‘crib’) to plant the Tree of Life.
As far as plot goes, that’s about it. The sheer predictability of it all makes the tedium of dealing with Zachary Levi and his consistent jokes exhausting. Some jokes do land – there are some clever lines – but most of them are annoying to the point that even one of the Shazam family suggests that perhaps he should start using the wisdom of Solomon a little more. Sandberg does make the astute choice of using Jack Dylan Grazer’s Freddy Freeman (who has been depowered by Atlas’ staff) more and gives him a chance to show that Freddy, in which ever form, is a hero.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods is unnecessarily bloated. It starts out setting up the characters adequately, has a repetitive and floppy mid-section, and rounds out with a big CGI battle that involves Kalypso riding Ladon, a dragon made of wood, and filling the city with mythological creatures (Cyclops, Harpies, Chimeras, and… unicorns).
At one stage the young Darla says, “It’s called ‘speculative history’ look it up,” to the young Eugene. That indeed covers how mythology works in the film. There is joy to be gleaned from Darla’s belief in the power of Skittles and Freddy’s coming into his own, including a romance. The foster family dynamics remain strong with the parents, Rosa and Victor Vásquez, once again providing unquestioning support of their kids.
Helen Mirren acquits herself well and has some fantastic lines. Lucy Liu is excessively one-dimensional, and Djimon Hounsou gets some good “I’m too old for this shit” moments. However, as the film almost entirely rests on Zachary Levi as Shazam (yes, he finally gets his name and works out due to a sentient pen named Steve who runs a Hogwarts-like library in the Rock of Eternity), it’s up to Levi to make Billy Batson someone who the audience can unequivocally root for. Without Asher Angel’s teen Billy around, it’s difficult to see how the character has grown at all.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods is too shaggy to be a worthy successor to its predecessor. There remains some good messaging in the film, especially around Freddy Freeman and Anthea with the “You are what makes you. Not your powers,” theme, which is important as the Shazam family keeps losing their powers. Shazam needs to prove (his) he is worthy of the gift bestowed on him by the Wizard and he does that because he genuinely needs to protect the people he loves. A leaner and more effective version of the film that drops a lot of the padding would be an improvement.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods has its moments of amusement, but they are swallowed up by sequences that run too long and by trying to shoehorn the natural wackiness of the first film into the second without allowing us to see any growth in Billy until the end. With James Gunn already proving that the DCEU universe can be funny with The Suicide Squad and Peacemaker, Shazam! Fury of the Gods needed to do more to make it worth the audience’s time and with Black Adam essentially dead in the water as a character, it’s not clear if the series has given itself a reason to continue.