"Shazam! Fury of the Gods" stars Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Adam Brody, Rachel Zegler, Ross Butler, Meagan Good, Lucy Liu, Djimon Hounsou, and Helen Mirren. Released on March 17, 2023, the film has Billy Batson battling the Daughters of Atlas.
The film is directed by David F. Sandberg, who also directed "Lights Out" and "Annabelle: Creation", and it is the sequel to the 2019 film "Shazam!", also directed by Sandberg. It is also the twelfth film in the DC Extended Universe. The hierarchy of the DC cinematic universe has definitely changed, but not for the better. Despite setting up the franchise's brighter future with Henry Cavill's return as Superman, "Black Adam", a spin-off featuring Shazam's rival, failed to reignite the box office flames. That alone is enough for the DCEU to make a massive overhaul, with James Gunn being hired to reboot the franchise, now known as the DC Universe. But before we see if his universe can exceed what Zack Snyder created, the folks at Warner Brothers are giving us a final farewell to the characters in the DCEU with not one, not two, but four installments in 2023. With Marvel giving out a lot of space between its projects, this could be an opportunity for DC to finally provide some tough competition for its rival, assuming they actually turn out to be good.
The first of the DCEU's final moments before its destruction is a follow-up to a unique superhero movie involving a young boy transforming into an adult by saying his name. While it wasn't as commercially successful as the likes of "Man of Steel" and "Wonder Woman", David F. Sandberg's "Shazam!" managed to impress critics and audiences with its lighter and fun tone compared to the other installments' dark and epic presentations. It also marked a different approach in the filmmaker's style, as he's usually known for directing two horror movies before "Shazam!". Its success resulted in the birth of its long-awaited sequel, which has the superhero and his foster sibling team tackling a new threat from the gods themselves. Now that it's finally been released, was the movie entertaining enough to make us say his name more than once? Let's find out.
The story once again follows Billy Batson (Angel), a teen who transforms into the superhero Shazam (Levi) by saying his name. He and his foster siblings, including Freddy Freeman (Grazer), are recently protecting their city as a superhero team, although Billy is concerned about them eventually going their separate ways. However, Billy's concerns are later put on hold when he receives word from the wizard (Hounsou) that the Daughters of Atlas have arrived to seek an ancient weapon that could destroy the world. The Daughters consist of Kalypso (Liu), Anthea (Zegler), and Hespera (Mirren). They're also not fond of children being granted the power of the gods and have gained possession of the gods' staff, making them a much bigger threat to Billy and the siblings. As a result, Billy must find a solution to defeat the Daughters while learning the true meaning of being the world's champion.
David F. Sandberg's "Shazam!" has been one of the DCEU's brightest spots in my eyes, along with "Wonder Woman" and "Zack Snyder's Justice League". At first, I didn't expect a horror director like Sandberg to helm a light-hearted superhero film, given his approach to his previous movies. Fortunately, I found myself genuinely surprised at the result after watching it. It definitely had a few dark moments we'd expect from the other DCEU outings, but they're balanced exceptionally well with its heartfelt character moments and refreshingly fun storytelling. Of course, that might've explained how another horror director, Andy Muschietti, got the job directing the upcoming "Flash" film. We'll see how that one turns out once it arrives. Until then, our eyes are set on Sandberg's super-powered sequel, which has him offering another round of fun superhero action and heartwarming family affairs courtesy of the teenager with god-like powers.
If you've watched the first "Shazam!" film, you'll know that "Fury of the Gods" retains the silly charm of its predecessor while also focusing on its heartfelt themes and character development. In the case of Billy, he's questioning his doubt about his responsibilities as the wizard's champion while being close to aging out of the foster system. Additionally, we see him feeling concerned about his siblings/teammates doing their own things, which would've meant the end of the "Shazam Team", as I would like to call it. While the sequel's concept may not match the freshness that made the first film's superhero formula unique and endearing, its approach to its plot admittedly offered some promising opportunities to expand its themes of family and coming of age on an emotional and thrilling level. It can keep the silliness from its predecessor, but its balance with the storytelling is what it needs to keep the superhero train going.
As far as the execution goes, "Fury of the Gods" succeeds in providing the usual superhero entertainment we've come to expect. Unfortunately, its reliance on the genre's familiar tropes over strong fresh ideas makes this lightning bolt far from dazzling. The main reason is the screenplay by Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan. It offers a predictable storyline that favors bigger stakes and several plot points that struggle to go anywhere amid the film's CGI chaos. One minute, you have Billy working to keep the team together. The next, you have the foster siblings trying to be accepted as heroes by the citizens of Philadelphia. With the film unable to commit to one thing or the other, it loses the satisfaction of its admirable messages, leaving them watered down by its sea of fun superhero violence and visual splendor. Its heart was in the right place, don't get me wrong. It's that it's not as big as I thought it would be.
Fortunately, David F. Sandberg retained his status as a solid director regarding his approach to its tone. Sandberg offers a style that combines family-friendly affairs with the elements seen in several superhero movies, and they blend suitably well together. He also isn't afraid to occasionally provide a few frightening moments amid its goofy charm, especially in the film's opening act. Speaking of goofy, the humor in "Fury of the Gods" has plenty of silly yet amusing moments, especially when they involve Billy's superhero form and Djimon Hounsou's portrayal of the wizard. However, like its story, the comedy lacks the refreshing appeal that its predecessor had, with some of the jokes feeling forced or repetitive, including Billy's dense personality.
Another element that kept the film soaring was the cast. Many of the cast members return from the first film to reprise their roles, along with some new characters, and they're unsurprisingly delightful. Zachary Levi and Asher Angel continue to provide a sense of humor and heart into their roles as Billy/Shazam, especially Levi. Despite his character being a bit too hard-headed in the sequel, Levi is still a gem in manifesting an adult superhero with the brain of a teenager, making him another example of a great casting choice. Jack Dylan Grazer was also enjoyable regarding his performance as Freddy, and Faithe Herman continues to deliver a healthy amount of charm and sweetness as Darla Dudley. Additionally, I would credit Liu, Zegler, and Mirren for effectively portraying the Daughters of Atlas. The daughters were a solid upgrade from the first film's antagonist, Thaddeus Sivana, because of their understandable motives regarding their quest. It's too bad that its screenplay struggled to capitalize on its serviceable villains.
Overall, "Shazam! Fury of the Gods" delivers on the fun and goofy charm amid its mythology shenanigans, but its storytelling lacks the spark that made its predecessor a refreshing boost within the genre. When it's not trying to match the first film, the sequel mostly succeeds in providing another piece of superhero entertainment, especially for those needing pure escapism. It's enough to make it soar but not enough to fly as high as it wanted. Its charming cast, Sandberg's direction for its tone, and its decent visuals made the film a pleasing experience for me. Unfortunately, its average screenplay, unfocused plot points, and hit-and-miss humor resulted in it being a mildly underwhelming follow-up that only sizzles instead of pops. It's watchable if you liked the first film, but you might not get much else if you're hoping for this lightning to strike twice.