Synopsis – The film continues the story of teenage Billy Batson who, upon reciting the magic word “SHAZAM!” is transformed into his adult Super Hero alter ego, Shazam.
My Take – Released in 2019, the David F. Sandberg directed and Henry Gayden written Shazam! added a dose of much-needed levity for the DCEU. An extremely fun ride that leaned into the cheese factor and presented a bubbly story with a hint of grit and a solid emotional core that earned its laughs as well as its emotional beats.
Hence, it is quite surprising that despite the same creatives returning for this anticipated sequel – director David F. Sandberg, its winning cast and screenwriter Henry Gayden, their second round with DC‘s class clown of a superhero is not as tidy as the first. As per sequel standards, the film expands the scope of the original in almost every way but stumbles in the process, spending as much time tumbling on the ground as it does soaring, undermining all the good work that was done before.
There’s simply just a lot going on for 130 minutes, with too many generic characters and plot threads introduced that often feel like they grind the momentum to a halt without adding anything substantial to the proceedings.
However, I must admit despite the information overload and occasionally more-miss-than-hit story beats, there are also enough laughs, cool comic-book moments and heartfelt performances to make it a decent fun, frivolous watch. But most thankfully, the film retains its previous ensemble that you can’t help but root for.
Set two years after the events of the first film, the story once again follows Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a teenager, who is still living the superhero life as Shazam (Zachary Levi), alongside his foster family, Mary (Grace Caroline Currey), Pedro (Jovan Armand), Eugene (Ian Chen), Darla (Faithe Herman) and Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), gaining the unwanted collective nickname ‘The Philadelphia Fiascos’.
But most importantly, Billy is nearing adulthood, which could mean leaving the foster system, making afraid about losing the family that he found. As a result, he is trying to keep them together as they all are moving on to different things with age with much difficulty.
However, everything takes a back seat with the arrival of the Daughters of Atlas, Hespera (Helen Mirren), Kalypso (Lucy Liu) and Anthea (Rachel Zegler), who are determined to take back their father’s powers from Shazam and use it to restore their own realm.
At the core of this sequel are the insecurities that linger in Billy’s mind and drive his actions and reactions. In the first film, Billy’s focus was on the mother who ditched him at a winter carnival to unburden herself. While he made huge steps in that film by confronting her and by accepting his adoptive family, the ways those things shape your worldview don’t just go away overnight.
Throughout the film, though, we see this stuff manifest in other ways. Any signs of independence from his siblings send Billy into a full-blown panic, and his imposter syndrome weighs heavily on him until he gets a better grasp on his battle. The predecessor’s winning Superman-meets-Big formula is perfectly intact here, now with a whole family of supers ready to spread more of the fish-out-of-water love. The film clearly knows this is its secret weapon, and it spends far longer in the family’s oversized superhero suits than the first outing.
However, much of what made the first film feel so fresh and vibrant wasn’t just the superhero noise of it all but the relationships, the tension of the family dynamics and the quieter, pithier moments that gave it its unique energy and welcoming nature. Here, whilst much of that is retained to a degree and there are timely narratives on broken homes, parental pressures, and the importance of finding your own path, it feels hugely overshadowed by the excessive, overwhelming nature of a story that focuses on the end of the world shenanigans rather than those on the ground. Thus much of its original charm is jettisoned.
The sequel’s main issue is the sheer amount of stuff writers Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan (Fast & Furious) have added. There’s a certain charm to some of the fantastical invention on display, but most of it feels messy and disjointed. A pretty standard issue problem for superhero films nowadays.
Another aspect where the film seemed to fall flat was in its villains. The previous villain, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), had a fully fleshed-out backstory that laid out his motives bare for audiences. No exposition was necessary. And also saw some great parallels could be drawn between Sivana and Billy. However, in this film, there is none of that. Nevertheless, the film works at least well as a comedy, as most of the scenes are more interested in being funny than cool or serious. Mirren’s completely straight-faced reading of a ridiculous letter is the film’s biggest laugh-out-loud moment.
Performance wise, Zachary Levi continues to be the PG-13 Deadpool with his imposter syndrome and childlike ability to deal as a superhero with Shazam. Here, Levi lends himself quite effortlessly to Billy’s vulnerability and hesitation to call himself a superhero because by his own admission he’s not all that macho and brooding. On the flip side, Asher Angel doesn’t get very much screen time this time around, which at times makes it a little harder to dig into Billy’s issues.
Jack Dylan Grazer brings the same fearless energy to Freddy Freeman and manages to make his interactions with Rachel Zegler’s character feel organic and believably awkward. Zegler is charming, but gets involved in one of the most dragging tracks of the film, not getting much to explore despite having a good amount of screen time. The same goes for Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu, who despite their efforts needed more attention than they got. Djimon Hounsou is reduced to more of a comic relief this time around.
Meanwhile, Grace Caroline Curry, Adam Brody, Ross Butler, Ian Chen, D. J. Cotrona, Jovan Armand, Meagan Good, Faithe Herman, Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews are decent in their roles. On the whole, ‘Shazam! Fury of the Gods‘ is a decent family friendly superhero flick despite being overstuffed and convoluted at the same time.
Directed – David F. Sandberg
Starring – Zachary Levi, Helen Mirren, Rachel Zegler
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 130 minutes