‘Shazam! Fury of the Gods’ Review: The Magic Starts to Wear Off in Busy Sequel
2019’s Shazam! delivered a charming origin story of the DC Comics character Billy Batson, a teenage boy who meets a wizard who bestows on him the ability to become a grown-up superhero upon uttering the magic word. Now, Billy is back, along with his foster siblings, who have similar superhuman alter-egos, in the sequel. Shazam! Fury of the Gods. But like some children who aren’t so cute anymore after they’ve grown up a little, this follow-up lacks much of the appeal of its predecessor. While the film provides the elaborate action set pieces, colorful villains and save-the-world plot mechanics expected of the comic book movie genre, some of the magic is missing.
The story’s villains are the Daughters of Atlas, a trio of ancient goddesses who have come to Earth to reclaim the magical powers that the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) took from them. (Why they need them, since they seem to still have plenty of magical powers left over, is another question.) Naturally, defeating the villains is up to Billy aka Shazam (Asher Angel/Zachary Levi), along with his extended family/fellow superheroes Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer/Adam Brody), Eugene (Ian Chen/Ross Butler), Darla (Faithe Herman/Meagan Good), Pedro (Jovan Armand/DJ Cotrona) and Mary (Grace Caroline Currey, playing both the regular and superhero versions of her character with a change of hairstyle).
Shazam! Fury of the Gods
The Bottom Line
The goddesses Hespera, Kalypso and Anthea — played by Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu and, in her first film since her breakout role in Spielberg’s West Side Story, Rachel Zegler, respectively — are a formidable lot, with a wide variety of mythological creatures at their disposal, including a giant wooden dragon that looks like it came from a ’60s-era Japanese monster movie. They’re a tricky bunch, too, with Anthea, the youngest at a mere 6,000 years old, posing as a new girl at school who expresses an interest in the innocent Freddy, whose voice cracks every time he speaks to her.
The film begins with a lavish, well-executed sequence in which Shazam and his fellow superheroes rescue scores of people from a collapsing bridge. Unfortunately, they fail to save the bridge as well, resulting in their being derisively saddled with the nickname the “Philadelphia Fiascoes.” Shazam seems to be wrestling with his superhero identity himself, pouring out his anxieties and self-doubts to his pediatrician (PJ Byrne). He also has a nightmare involving a dinner date with Wonder Woman, who turns out to have the wizard’s head on her body.
Those are the sorts of gags provided by screenwriters Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan, which fall flat more often than not. (There’s also a shameless in-joke reference to the Fast & Furious movies, several of which Morgan wrote and Mirren appeared in). There are still funny moments, to be sure, many of them provided by Grazer’s amusing if slightly over-the-top geekiness and Levi’s fast-paced timing and enjoyable mugging. And the scenes depicting the budding relationship between young Freddy and Anthea, who can’t help falling for this insecure human despite the importance of her mission, are charming.
But as so often is the case with these sorts of films, Shazam! Fury of the Gods becomes tedious with its excessive spectacle relying, in this case, on not-so-spectacular CGI effects that make you long for a little Ray Harryhausen-style stop-motion. By the time an army of unicorns are recruited by young Darla with a fistful of Skittles, you’re ready to throw up your hands. (The Reese’s Pieces product placement in ET was endearing; here not so much.) Yes, the Shazam films are geared to a younger comic book movie audience, but this seems more like Saturday morning cartoon territory.
To their credit, or perhaps not, Mirren and Liu play their villainous goddess roles perfectly straight. (You can only imagine how often they dissolved into giggles during takes.) Unfortunately, their characters are not very interesting other than their ability to wave their arms and cause all sorts of mayhem to happen, with nary a single wittily snide wisecrack between them. Levi is thus forced to take up the comic slack, and you can feel his efforts beginning to strain.
On the plus side, Hounsou is given more to do here than in the previous film, and his pleasure in letting his comic freak flag fly is infectious. Zegler is as appealing here as she was as Maria, and the young performers playing Billy’s foster siblings are both literally and figuratively growing into their roles. And DC fans will be treated to a late-in-the-game cameo appearances by a marquee headlining character who will, of course, go unnamed here.
Production companies: New Line Cinema, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros.
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Cast: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Adam Brody, Ross Butler, Meagan Good, DJ Cotrona, Grace Caroline Currey, Faithe Herman, Ian Chan, Jovan Armand, Marta Milans, Cooper Andrews, Djimon Hounsou, Rachel Zegler, Lucy Liu, Helen Mirren
Director: David F. Sandberg
Screenwriters: Henry Gayden, Chris Morgan
Producer: Peter Safran
Executive producers: Walter Hamada, Adam Schlagman, Richard Brener, Dave Neustadter, Victoria Palmeri, Marcus Viscidi, Geoff Johns
Director of photography: Gyula Pados
Production designer: Paul Kirby
Editor: Michel Aller
Composer: Christophe Beck
Costume designer: Louise Mengenbach
Casting; Rich Delia
Rated PG-13, 2 hours 10 minutes
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