Shazam! Fury of the Gods, 2023.
Directed by David F. Sandberg.
Starring Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Adam Brody, Grace Caroline Currey, Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, Rachel Zegler, Meagan Good, Faithe Herman, Ross Butler, Ian Chen, D.J. Cotrona, Jovan Armand, Djimon Hounsou, Cooper Andrews, Marta Milans, P.J. Byrne, Patrick Reidy, Kelvin Hodge, Rizwan Manji, Derek Russo, Diedrich Bader, Gal Gadot, Lotta Losten, and David F. Sandberg.
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.
Unexpectedly, the first act of Shazam! Fury of the Gods somewhat pleasantly shifts focus to handicapped teenager Freddy Freeman (once again played by witty backtalker Jack Dylan Grazer with Adam Brody reprising his adult superpowered alter ego), curious about occasionally fighting crime by himself, further exploring his identity as a disabled superhero, and sweetly crushing on new student Anthea (West Side Story breakout star Rachel Zegler).
There are also small moments in Jack Dylan Grazer’s performance, tapping into Freddy’s insecurities over his crutches and using comedy as a coping mechanism. At one point, he brings forth his superhero identity to Anthea (as a means to impress her by having superhero friends), with a subtle implication that he feels more comfortable and confident around her without his physical baggage. That personal struggle of figuring out who he wants to be and what makes him a remarkable person deserving of the time and company Anthea chooses to give him over violent bullies makes for fascinating beginnings to what could have been a highly special character arc.
It’s not necessarily unfortunate that Shazam! Fury of the Gods also has to dedicate time to its titular goofy superhero, especially considering that returning director David F. Sandberg (alongside screenwriters Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Bill Parker and C.C Beck) has a firm grasp on what to explore within Billy Batson/Shazam (Asher Angel/Zachary Levi), which is mainly imposter syndrome (regarding his family, friends, society, and far more popular DC superheroes) and abandonment issues stemming from his past detailed in the first film, compounded with almost turning 18 and set to age out of the foster home (still run by Victor and Rosa Vasquez, amusingly and lovingly played by Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans). Even during an overlong bombardment of CGI destruction and chaos, the filmmakers remember to return to those themes and grow the character.
However, attempting to explore both characters simultaneously severely hampers the overarching narrative, which involves Anthea secretly being the third sister to goddesses Kalypso (Lucy Liu) and Hespera (Helen Mirren), a trio that has, due to an honest mistake by Shazam during the first film’s climactic battle, have broken their way into the human realm and are searching to take over in differing ways. It is monumentally deflating watching a lighthearted blossoming friendship between a disabled teenager searching for his identity and his crush morphing into something associated with the sealing of magic and destroying an entire world. Anthea remains the most levelheaded of the power-hungry sisters, even willing to assist Freddie for being kind to her in his world, but aside from giving Rachel Zegler more to do than be a love interest, their subplot loses all momentum and loses its distinct personality.
Falling apart is something Shazam! Fury of the Gods does across its bloated running time. The proceedings began with the sense of fun and self-awareness that made its predecessor one of DC’s very best films, showing the entire team (Megan Good’s Darla, Ross Butler’s Eugene, and D.J. Cotrona’s Pedro, with teenage versions of themselves played by Faithe Herman, Ian Chen, and Jovan Armand) saving civilians from a collapsing bridge, winkingly set to “Holding Out for a Hero.” The jokes and humor are present and mostly land thanks to some gifted comedic performers (Zachary Levi consistently has great line delivery and timing), complete with abundant chemistry outside and inside battles. Some wrongs from the first installment are also corrected, such as giving Djimon Hounsou’s original Shazam a larger role in shaping these characters as superheroes.
Sabotaging fun and intriguing character dynamics isn’t enough, as Shazam! Fury of the Gods also grants the villains the ability to take away the magic are protagonists possess. It’s a step backward, especially since it’s a given that they will regain these powers anyway. Perhaps it would be forgivable if the third act didn’t devolve into all-out mayhem involving everything from shoddily rendered gargoyles and minotaurs and winged demons and, yes, unicorns (setting the stage for a product placement gag that is pummeled so hard into the ground you might never want to eat Skittles again).
These shortcomings could also be overlooked if Shazam! Fury of the Gods‘ emotional ambitions didn’t get lost among all the weightless special effects and no meaningful consequences. The story eventually teaches and evolves Billy to a degree, leaving everyone else out to dry, which is doubly frustrating considering there is an early heavy focus on Freddy. None of the destruction is particularly memorable, and outside the novelty of having older women playing superhero villains, there’s not much to note about them. If there’s something to be furious about, it’s how the filmmakers torpedo their decent ideas in favor of occasionally funny but mostly generic extended action.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com