The biggest surprise of 2019 was Shazam! A delightfully charming superhero movie from DC, which managed to bring a mix of Tom Hanks’ Big with the usual formula found in most movies of this genre. A moderate success, it was inevitable that a sequel would happen. After several scheduling issues, Shazam! Fury of the Gods is finally with us. Bigger, louder, and more expensive. Sadly, these elements don’t necessarily make for a better film, and the charm and wit from the previous film have been drained by the usual array of smash, crash nonsense that most superhero films now seem to think is what audiences want.
The Daughters of Atlas have escaped from their prison and want to get their magic staff back and to get their powers from Billy Baston and his family, all possessing superpowers but sadly named The Philadelphia Fiascos by the press. Having to cope with issues among his foster family, as well as coming of age for the foster system, Billy’s head isn’t in the game and so when the Daughters regain their powers, it’s an all-out war that only Shazam can stop.
Returning director David F. Sandberg tries to keep the overall feeling of the original film, but ups the ante with even weirder and stranger elements, from a pen called Steve, a mass of Greek creatures that wouldn’t go amiss in a Ray Harryhausen film, and, what can only be described as an extended advert for Skittles. Where this film struggles is juggling so many plot devices among the chaos of a film already stretch to the brink. There’s the complex backstory of the Daughters of Atlas, the coping with the Shazam extended superhero family, including best friend Freddie wanting to be independent of the group, and finding an alley from school bullies in the form of Anthea, not knowing who she really is.
All of the time this is leading to the effect-ridden finale that seems to go on forever and never seems to be anything but the same thing we see in all these movies. This is a shame as the first film while having that final showdown, was more of a simple tale of a young man grappling with turning from a boy to a superhero and not coping with the change. The trouble with this film is that the teenager turning into an adult and all that it brings has moved on, so the humour has been watered down. Shazam! was very funny. This isn’t. Sure, there are gags here but they miss more than hit.
Having said that, there are a few nods to other cinematic forms. A doctor is called Dario Bava (a possible nod to the Italian Gallo directors Dario Argento and Lucio Bava), an Annabelle doll sits in his office and at one point one of the characters is wearing a Goonies tee-shirt, which is similar to the ragtag heroes who are teenagers. All of these little easter eggs work for those in the know but may have been missed by many others. The scenes between Freddie and Anthea are well delivered, with an air of sweetness that is often lacking in these kinds of movies, and Shazam! himself is still a delightful goofball, even if the boy inside isn’t there anymore.
as for the rest of the film, tonally it is like riding an uneven rollercoaster, with leads to some shocking and surprising death scenes, in which the general public is caught up in this battle of the Gods. The opening, set in a museum and having daughters Hespera and Kalypso causing havoc looking for the staff, is surprisingly brutal, while the attacks from the various Greek creatures really turn the shock factor up and some younger viewers may be disturbed by how graphic these scenes are.
The cast seems to be having the time of their lives. Zackary Levi, returning to the lead role, is just as joyful as he was in the last film. a big kid in a man’s body. He still has the best moments, with plenty of slapstick scenes and decent one-liners. Dame Helen Mirren as Hesperia gets her acting chomps into a role that is like playing the panto villain. Lucy Liu plays Kalypso with plenty of attitudes, while Rachel Zegler, Maria from Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, brings a sense of maturity to the role of Anthea.
Whether or not there will be another Shazam! film (after the James Gunn take-over, which does seem like the post-credit scenes are a little pre-functionary) this never hits the high notes of the first film and you do find yourself wondering where superhero movies can go as everything has been done now. Are we getting bored with the genre? Do we need to move on? The future will only tell but for the time being, we have movies like this that some will enjoy, others won’t but we know will be forgotten about in time.
3 out of 5
Director: David F. Sandberg
Starring: Zackary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Rachel Zegler, Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, Djimon Houston, Adam Brady, Grace Caroline Currey
Written by: Henry Gayden, Chris Morgan, (based on Shazam! created by) Bill Parker and C.C. Beck
Running Time:130 mins
Release date: 17th March 2023