Cinema Dispatch: Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Shazam! Fury of the Gods and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures

Directed by David F Sandberg

The announcement of James Gunn taking over the DCEU has certainly put this and a few of their other recent projects in an awkward position. Sure, there are questions of continuity and whatnot which I’m sure will be hashed out eventually, but these are projects that were built from the ground up under a regime that is no longer in charge, and it’s still a huge question mark as to how much Gunn is willing to carry over from the years that can be charitably called misguided. Still, the future is a concern for another day and the first Shazam movie was definitely a bright spot in the DCEU’s darkest days and perhaps it’s better suited than most to make the leap from old DCEU to Gunn’s DCEU. Does this movie prove that this is a viable character and film series going forward, or will this be a depressing reminder as to why they handed it over to Gunn in the first place? Let’s find out!!

A few years after the events of the first film, we find Billy Batson (Asher Angel) and his family (Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Grace Caroline Currey, and Faithe Herman) are still protecting Philadelphia from whatever crimes and random disaster befalls their city using their Shazam powers that turn them into super hunky adult superheroes (Zachary Levi, Ross Butler, DJ Cotrona, and Megan Good). Still, the one thing their powers cannot overcome is the ceaseless march of time and Billy is already seventeen which means he’s going to age out of the foster system soon and doesn’t know what to do with his life if he’s no longer with his family who will also one day go their separate ways. Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) in particular seems ready to fly the coop and start a solo act with his superhero persona (Adam Brody), but when he gets caught up in a plot by three Gods (Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, and Rachel Zegler) who steal his powers and want to do… something nefarious, Billy and the rest must find a way to save him and stop these Gods before Philly is destroyed. Will Freddy find a way to be heroic even without the superpowers gifted to him? Will Billy be able to stop these Gods and come to terms with growing up and moving forward with his life? Will the other Shazam heroes also find something to do in this movie, or are they just kinda there for emotional support?

“I’ll defeat you if it’s the last thing I do!” “And we’ll help!” “Sure, I guess…”

There’s no denying that Warner Bros has released a few great movies under the DCEU banner, but the problems with the company run deep and clearly cannot be overcome by the few success stories they’ve had. Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Shazam were the standouts of the studio’s first run of films, and while we’re still waiting to see how the Aquaman sequel turns out, Wonder Woman 84 was a complete mess and this film sadly follows in its footsteps. It’s not outright terrible like many of DC’s other films, but what was once a breezy story about a child being a superhero has been bloated into a convoluted mess of Magical MacGuffins, tedious world-building, and a central conceit that has lost a lot of its charm. That’s the big thorn in my side here; the way that the goofiness has turned the previous film’s greatest strength into its biggest annoyance. Zachary Levi may have captured something great in the first movie when he was meant to play a much younger kid, but there’s no getting around how little growth there is to his performance despite the fact that Billy is seventeen here, and so what made this character work four years ago is just not cutting it here. It’s not entirely on his shoulders however as the film itself is unsure of what it wants to be as it’s trying to have its cake and punch it too. Much like Billy himself, the movie lacks the courage of its convictions and is trying to live in two places at once to similarly negative results. It can’t recapture the magic of the original film, but its attempt at doing so ends up meshing terribly with the DC Bombast that’s been shoved into this that would feel more at home in a Superman or Justice League movie but feels like the anathema of what audiences liked about the first one and so we end up with the worst of both worlds. Billy’s family issues were the central theme of the first movie which helped to tighten the focus and made its emotional beats all the more compelling. Billy’s powers being a blessing and curse for someone with trust issues, Doctor Sivana as a dark reflection of the issues Billy is struggling with, and even the ending which relied on him growing as a character to save the day was all pieced together with great care to give the story a thematic hook that helped it to resonate with audiences. Sadly, the thinking behind this one seems to have been that More Family means More Drama so you can’t go any length of time without someone bringing up family, and yet it all feels so empty; frequently using it as a plot device instead of a thematic one. There just aren’t enough interesting character beats to go around for its sizable cast and the film feels cobbled together at the last minute with some very obvious shortcuts taken to get us from one plot point to another. It’s not without some life to is as some of the action scenes do work with the Shazam Family working together well enough in those scenes, and while the villains feel even more cookie cutter than Mark Strong was in the last film, the performances from Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu at least liven things up a bit. I’d also argue that Freddy ends up being the standout character here as he has a genuine arc to him; so much so that I wish he was the lead instead of Billy. It definitely helps that he’s out of Superhero Mode for a good chunk of this movie which allows the younger actor to show himself more; another bizarre change from the first film as everyone else, including Billy, is hardly seen in any meaningful way outside of their Superhero personas.

“Maybe the real lesson was the friends I made along the way.”    “You mean us; your family?”     “SHHHH! I’m in the middle of a character arc!”

We still don’t know what James Gunn’s vision of the DCEU is going to look like and I’ll be honest that I’m not the most optimistic given that the guy is a fantastic artist but hasn’t really shown himself to be as talented of a producer, and yet given the last few released from there studio, there is clearly nowhere to go but up. I’m probably a bit harsher than I should be here as I really did love that first movie and this one feeling like the opposite of it leaves a particularly bad taste in my mouth so perhaps take my poor recommendation with a grain of salt. I certainly wouldn’t recommend seeing it in theaters, though at this point that’s not much of an issue as it’s already available on VOD which should probably tell you that Warner Bros wasn’t too happy with it either.

2 out of 5

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