Shazam! Fury of the Gods (United States, 2023)

March 18, 2023
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Shazam! Fury of the Gods Poster

The second Shazam! movie, sequel to the 2019 modest success, is an undercooked casserole of cliched narrative elements, underdeveloped characters, juvenile humor, and a deus ex machina cameo. It embodies all that’s bad about modern superhero movies and exists for two simple reasons: (1) its predecessor turned a profit, and (2) at the time of its creation, Warner Brothers was invested in extending the brand. (Reason #2 has since changed.) Even though I saw the first movie, the introduction and presentation of the characters in this one is done is such a random and haphazard fashion that I felt as if I had never previously encountered them. The film also includes one of the most egregious product placements in recent cinema. “Shameless” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods transpires not long after the first film. The “family” of superheroes – Billy Baston (Asher Angel/Zachary Levi), Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer/Adam Brody), Eugene (Ross Butler), Pedro (D.J. Cotrona), Mary (Caroline Grace-Cassidy), and Darla (Meagan Good) – have been spending their time doing minor superhero-type things while dealing with the usual problems of young adulthood. Their focus is altered with the arrival of the three daughters of Atlas – sunny and cheerful Anthea (Rachel Zegler), nasty and vengeful Kalypso (Lucy Liu), and authoritarian Hespera (Helen Mirren) – who have stolen the staff of the Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) and intend to use it to strip the current superheroes of their powers and create a haven on Earth. They form an impenetrable force-field around Philadelphia and begin their nefarious plan.

One of the pleasures of the first Shazam! was the way in which Director David F. Sandberg and screenwriter Henry Gayden managed to craft a superhero yarn that simultaneously gave birth to a recognizable superhero (at least for longtime DC fans) and poked fun at the tropes of the genre. That’s not exactly new territory – Deadpool and pretty much everything made by James Gunn have done it better – but it made for an enjoyable romp. But, at the end of the day (and the film), it was pretty clear this was only going to work once. For Sandberg, lightning didn’t strike twice. The sequel has a more straightforward narrative trajectory than the original, the CGI-saturated action scenes are tedious, the character interaction (a high point of Shazam!) is muted, and the humor often feels forced and artificial.

Some of the production’s choices are strange, to say the least. When one signs Helen Mirren to play a villain, it’s expected that she’ll be given something more substantive to do than stand around with a sour expression. Lucy Liu fares a little better, primarily because she’s given a role fit for a campy approach. The heroes all feel like afterthoughts. The first film’s exploration of the duality of Shazam/Billy has been mostly jettisoned. Focusing on the entire “Philly Fiasco” family means there’s minimal time for any of the individuals to stand out. The Big Name Cameo feels like grandstanding and allows magic to undo the film’s strongest element. It also poses more questions than it asks. Then again, with the DCEU being dismantled and tossed into a dark closet, does it really matter whether inconsistencies in the superstructure are brought to the fore?

In this type of film, the weaker the story, the more CGI is employed to camouflage the problems; Fury of the Gods exemplifies this maxim. Special effects animate a veritable Monster Manuel of hideous creatures and allow Philadelphia to join the honor roll of cities destroyed in Hollywood movies. (Although I’ll admit that the computer recreation of Citizens Bank Park is quite good both before and after the infield gives birth to a giant tree.) The setting feels more like Philadelphia than it did in the first time, although neither movie was actually filmed there. (Toronto was the stand-in in Shazam!  The sequel was lensed in Georgia.)

Perhaps Fury of the Gods would have been less disappointing if the first movie was worse because (rightly or wrongly) one has a tendency to expect something close to the same level of quality from series entries when the same creative team is involved. Taken as a whole, the second Shazam! is an overlong mess with an awful ending that feels like it was assembled as a result of reading focus group responses.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods (United States, 2023)

Run Time: 2:10
U.S. Home Release Date: 2023-05-23
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Genre: Action/Adventure
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1