They say misery loves company, and it looks like Marvel isn’t the only comic book property struggling with quality control lately…
“Shazam! Fury of the Gods” is the sequel to the 2019 film, and the 12th installment of the (soon to be defunct) DC Extended Universe. It features Zachary Levi reprising his role as the titular superhero, who must work with his superpowered siblings to defeat the Daughters of Atlas (Rachel Zegler, Lucy Liu, and Helen Mirren). Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Adam Brody, Ross Butler, Meagan Good, and Djimon Hounsou all return from the first film, as does director David F. Sandberg.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the first “Shazam!”, I think it struggled to find a consistent tone (everyone praised its comedy, though I thought it was at its best when it was a horror film, Sandberg’s roots). This sequel is much more streamlined in that it plays mostly as a comedy, however the problem is almost none of the comedy works. There are fleeting moments of joy or nonsense action to be found, but mostly it’s just another in a long line of big-name actors sleepwalking though roles in front of a horribly rendered green screen, and I’m just counting down until new DC exec James Gunn gets to officially reboot these things.
Zachary Levi is charming enough as our center hero, and he clearly enjoys playing the character of Shazam. He has some boyish whimsical charm about him, and he can be convincing in the action scenes when he has to be. This time around Levi is the main character, not Asher Angel’s human teenager alter-ego Billy, and I did appreciate that. It is kind of silly that Billy has had his powers for some four years and remains shocked (no lightning pun intended) every time he uses them, but that’s here nor there. The scene-stealer of the first film, Jack Dylan Grazer, also retains some of his comedic timing, though because he’s going from superhero fanboy to actual superhero, he loses some of that innocence and wonderment that we the audience connected to the first time around.
Lucy Liu is pretty much phoning in her performance as an evil goddess, but in her defense much of her screentime is spent pretending to ride a CGI dragon and shouting nonsense magic words. Dame Helen Mirren continues to simply take any big budget role that comes her way (she’s basically a featured player in the “Fast and Furious” movies at this point), but at age 77 who am I to tell her what parts to take? If she wants to buy a new beach house, I support her!
This has a smaller budget than a typical superhero film (around $110 million), so it was never going to be as big and impressive in scale as an “Avengers: Endgame.” However, while some of the effects are awful and the green screen is obvious, it still manages to look better than recent $200 million MCU outings like “Ant-Man: Quantumania” and “Thor: Love & Thunder.” The problem is, you know that these are just actors on wires who are talking to tennis balls; there is seemingly no “you will believe a man can fly” wonder left in these movies anymore.
The script and editing are the real problem, however, as this film commits many cardinal sins of not only blockbuster filmmaking, but writing in general. So much of the plot is advanced through coincidences and convivences, like the group having a magic pen that knows the answer to everything and a library with the historical exposition of Mirren and Liu’s characters. There is no research or work needed to be done by the heroes, and we seemingly skip over anything resembling a second act, jumping from “introducing the bad guys” to “here is a nonsensical 90 minute final fight that drags.” I’m not expecting Oscar-worthy writing in my big silly superhero movies, but in a world where “The Batman” and “The Dark Knight” could work without the cape as crime dramas and “Thor: Ragnarok” would still be an effective comedy without the magical lightning, I think we’ve moved past the genre simply being explosions and pretty colors (which may be part of the reason it could be on its way out similar to the gangster or Western).
I tried to go into “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” with a turn-my-brain-off mentality, but it became quickly apparent that the film had no brain of its own, and one of us had to be the adult in the room. I can’t say I was ever completely bored, but more just found the entire ordeal tedious. It is likely this is the last time we will see many of these actors and characters in their current DC iterations as Warner Bros. is set to hit the reset button following a middling(?) 10 years of films, and at this point I’m all for it. In a world where theaters’ savior appears to be Tom Cruise and his Boeing F/A 18F, the superhero genre needs a messiah of its own; and it’s certainly not Shazam.
Critics Rating: 4/10