Released in 2019, Shazam introduced mainstream audiences to foster child Billy Batson (Asher Angel) and his titular superhero alter ego (played by Zachary Levi). Fun, breezy, and packed with a knowing sense of humor, Shazam was a welcome hit for the DC Extended Universe. With the sequel arriving on the eve of a franchise-wide reboot from writer-director James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, Peacemaker), can Fury of the Gods replicate the first film’s magic and go out on a high?
Billy Batson, in the form of Shazam, is the leader of his superhero family, comprised of his (equally-superpowered) foster siblings. Unfortunately, their teamwork leaves a lot to be desired, leading them to be dubbed the “Philadelphia Fiascos” for their multiple mistakes.
While Billy tries to balance his leadership responsibilities with the thought of aging out of the foster home looming, his best friend Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer, It), is falling for the new girl at school, Anne (West Side Story’s Rachel Zegler). At the same time, the Daughters of Atlas, Kalypso (Lucy Liu, Charlie’s Angels, Kill Bill) and Hespera (Helen Mirren, Calendar Girls, Hobbs & Shaw), have retrieved the staff of the Wizard (Djimon Honsou, Amistad, Guardians of the Galaxy) and are hellbent on using it to reclaim the powers of the so-called Fiascos.
The gang’s all here
As the “Shazamily’s” secret identities, the child actors are charming as ever, with their only real flaw being that –much like the leads in Netflix’s Stranger Things — they’ve aged a LOT since the last time we saw them. Of course, this isn’t their fault, and the film does a good job of addressing Billy’s pending adulthood, but it does make for something of a disconnect when the kids are in their super forms. At times, it feels like the adult actors are trying a bit too hard to be goofy and childlike, while the ones playing them as kids — Asher in particular — aren’t acting anywhere near as broad or silly. It’s entirely possible that some of this came from shooting over the Pandemic and the actors weren’t able to compare notes, but it’s definitely noticeable.
The exception is Grace Caroline Currey’s Mary, who plays both her “child” form and her superhero alter ego (replacing Michelle Borth), which brings up the question of how her foster parents (or, anyone, really) never noticed the resemblance, but that’s a question for another time. In any case, we’re just glad that Levi’s muscles no longer seem to be comprised of Styrofoam, and it’s fun seeing everyone in action.
Freddy loves Anne
All things considered, the disconnect between Asher and Levi isn’t as bothersome as it could have been, as the story focuses more on Freddy, expanding upon his sarcastic character and fleshing him out in a way that feels altogether organic. When he sees Anne in the hallway at school, he’s immediately smitten, with Grazer nailing his character’s awkward confidence. At the same time, Zegler sells her wide-eyed — but in no way naïve — Anne, who is taken by Freddy’s sincerity. All in all, they make a cute couple, and the story’s young love angle is most welcome to the point that it would have been totally fine if Freddy never transformed at all (into The OC’s Adam Brody).
Hail to the queens
Maybe it’s because we haven’t seen Lucy Liu in a while, but she is pitch-perfect as the unrepentantly evil Kalypso. When she goes full Khaleesi on our heroes, it’s a definite thrill. As Hespera, Mirren is a sharp contrast to Kalypso’s full-on baddie – she’s no less evil, but the restraint in her performance makes for an eminently watchable antagonist and one who isn’t above throwing hands with the Shazamily to achieve her goals. To be honest, it’s all pretty predictable, but the joy is in the execution, and these two are able to elevate the material through enjoyably evil performances.
It’s funny (in all the right places)
This is a funny movie, full of funny actors doing funny things, but the unexpected MVP of the piece, by far, is Honsou as the wizard. His character may have died in the first movie, but he’s back here, and seemingly hellbent on stealing the show. From his deadpan delivery to his exasperated eyerolls, the man is a gem, and it’s downright criminal that nobody’s asked him to be this funny before.
Midway through the movie, he gets paired with Freddy, which results in an odd-couple duo that we never knew we needed. With all due apologies to Zegler’s Anne, Djimon Honsou’s snarky, sardonic wizard is Freddy’s real bae.
It tells its own story, while setting up more
Not being based on any preexisting comic book story arc, Fury of the Gods feels like a refreshing break from the sagas, multiversal crises, and self-congratulatory nonsense that these films have been wallowing in as of late. Indeed, the filmmakers were smart enough to let this film tell its own story, without the need to bombard the viewer with set-ups for umpteen sequels, spinoffs, and/or ancillary TV shows. This isn’t to say that there aren’t references to the larger DC Universe, but they’re organically integrated here, as opposed to, say, the shamelessly cheesy shots of Black Adam repeatedly punching through posters of Justice League characters.
Now, we love an interconnected cinematic universe as much as the next guy, but equal care needs to be given to individual films for them to stand on their own, with their own stories and characters, while also contributing to a bigger picture – the moment that franchise maintenance takes precedence over character-based narrative and motivation, films become little more than white noise — one need only look at the bulk of Marvel’s post-Endgame output for the sad proof, and Quantumania for its absolute nadir.
Long story short: if we’re on the way to superhero burnout, Fury of the Gods won’t have contributed to it.
The DCEU’s best. cameo. ever.
Inexplicably spoiled in a TV ad shortly before the film opened, the DCEU’s latest cameo is the icing on the proverbial cake, and it works beautifully. As opposed to the last few Marvel Cinematic Universe post-credits character intros — which ranged from pointless to self-congratulatory — or even Henry Cavill’s (M:I Fallout) last-minute addition to Black Adam, this character’s appearance here is an organic extension of everything the story sets up.
Yes, it’s ridiculous (and maybe a touch too convenient) but it’s well in line with the earnest, goofy tone of everything that’s come before. To say that it brought the house down at the premiere screening would be an understatement – as with Cavill’s aforementioned appearance, the audience affection for these versions of the characters is very real. Whatever faults their individual films may have had, these actors are inextricably linked to these iconic characters, and it would be wonderful if Gunn and his team could find a place for them in the reimagined DC Universe.
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The bottom line
A fast-paced romp that proves there’s a lot of life left in the beleaguered DCEU, delivering loads of superhero action balanced with character-based humor that never takes itself too seriously. With The Flash movie set to introduce alternate realities in much the same way that Marvel’s No Way Home did, the franchise-wide reboot is imminent. When the dust clears, one hopes that there’s room for Billy, Mary, and the rest of the Shazam family, because a Shazam VS Peacemaker movie would be hilarious.