Shazam! Fury of the Gods [Film Review]
Shazam! Fury of the Gods
Released: March 16th, 2023
Director: David F. Sandberg
Starring: Helen Mirren, Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Rachel Zegler, Jack Dylan Grazer
The DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is a weird beast. It’s had its hits – Wonder Woman, The Suicide Squad, Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and it’s misses – Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman ’84. It strives for in interconnectivity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) but has often struggled to capitalise on it. 2019’s Shazam! managed to find the sweet spot between being a stand-alone film and still acknowledging the world around it – one filled with superheroes. As these worlds get bigger, they’re gonna get weirder and Shazam, as a character, is pretty weird.
If you’re reading a review of a sequel to a Shazam movie I’m going to assume you’re already pretty familiar with the lore. If not, the cliff notes version is that teenager Billy Batson (played by Asher Angel) inherited the power of the gods. When Batson says the magic word ‘Shazam’ it imbues him with their powers and transforms him into the adult superhero Shazam (played by Zachary Levi). The ending of the first film, spoiler alert, allowed Billy to share his powers with his foster family Freddy allowing them all to be superheroes.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods finds Billy questioning his status as a superhero and facing a lot of uncertainty. He feels undeserving of his power and struggles to lead his fellow heroes while also facing insecurity about his place in his foster family. It’s a lot for a kid to take and at the end of the day Billy is just a kid. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t get to dig deep into these questions as Hespera (Mirren) and Kalypso (Liu), AKA the Daughters of Atlas show up and they’ve got some a serious bone to pick with Shazam, his family, and the human race.
This is where the film struggles to find its footing. The stakes become ill-defined and it plays a little too fast and loose with its own rules. It’s not always clear what everyone wants and why its important which diminishes the tension throughout some of the early fights. This isn’t to say that there isn’t anything interesting going on at the character level but it tends to take a back seat to the more fantastical elements of the film which are vague and unfocused.
Fortunately, the film is constantly elevated by its younger stars. Grazer, as Freddy Freeman (Billy’s foster brother) brings a healthy dose of humanity to the all capes and magic. He benefits from having one of the most fully formed characters in the script and he doesn’t squander it by bringing a swarth of earnestness and grit to the role. Likewise, Angel is an absolute powerhouse but is ultimately underserved as the film fails to utilise him for much of its runtime. It feels weird because everything happening in the film is happening to the real Billy, the kid underneath all the magic. He has real-life problems and he has superhero problems which no one as young as him should be expected to deal with them. Angel brings all of these dimensions to his performance but so much of it goes unspoken or is skimmed over that it feels like there must be a really great and fully realised performance left somewhere on a cutting room floor.
Angel’s performance as Billy doesn’t always mesh well with Levi’s, playing the superhero version of him substantially more childlike and ignorant than the younger actor. It’s only when Levi turns ups both the charm and the confidence of Billy that it really starts to work. It feels a little like Levi lacks chemistry with his other super-powered cast members because we he shares the screen with Mirren things become electric – but maybe it’s just a case of Levi really trying to push the awkwardness of his character and not quite nailing it.
These gripes aside this is a funny film and when it gets on a roll it’s an absolute blast. It just has a tendency to stop itself in its track and explain everything that’s going on or to work itself into one of its many emotional beats. Not that those beats don’t work but sometimes they are a little bit of a jolt to the system. But the film does flow pretty well generally, something that a lot of comic book films struggle to do these days because they’re busy setting up a dozen future projects and crossovers. No such crime is committed here – it allows itself the odd fun Easter egg and references the world around it but never dangles threads in front of you that it doesn’t intend to pay off. It’s a standalone film as much as any sequel can be.
The only real crime committed is the underutilisation of some serious acting talent – and they are all bringing their A-game. From the younger cast like Angel and Zegler to the always impressive Lucy Liu. It feels like the script just didn’t have enough depth or enough time for all of the characters to be realised. And it’s a shame because they all have arcs that are interesting in their own right but not just enough time to develop them. If Lucy Liu is going to be pissed off and try to kill someone I really need to know why it’s important to her because she will sell the fuck out of it. And she does.
At the end of the day, all this cape shit is fun and games. We’re here to have a good time and Shazam! Fury of the Gods delivers on that. It’s a solid popcorn flick that has just enough heart to make you care. Maybe it doesn’t earn every single moment but it wants you to love it, and maybe that’s fine.
Review by: Dave Mullins
Shazam! Fury of the Gods is showing in cinemas across Australia through Warner Bros.
Find tickets here.
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