Shazam! was an intimate movie about a kid who, despite being failed by the world around him over and over again, has the heart of a hero that allows him to take on the powers of one. It was one of the most entertaining movies of 2019 thanks to exuberant performances from Zachary Levi and the cast of young actors that make up the Shazam family. Shazam! Fury of the Gods expands the scope of the original in almost every way but stumbles in the process, spending as much time tumbling on the ground as it does soaring.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods
After giving his adoptive brothers and sisters superpowers in the first film, Billy Batson is beginning to struggle as the other heroes shift focus away from the team dynamic he’d dreamed up. Just in time, though, is the arrival of the Daughters of Atlas, who want to reclaim Shazam’s power for themselves and put some hurt on the very people who took the power in the first place.
At the core of this movie are the insecurities that linger in Billy’s mind and drive his actions and reactions. In the first movie, Billy’s focus was on the mother who ditched him at a winter carnival to unburden herself. While he made huge steps in that movie by confronting her and by accepting his adoptive family, the ways those things shape your worldview don’t just go away overnight. The movie opens up with an on-the-nose reminder of this, with Billy in Shazam form talking to a therapist or, more accurately, a pediatrician that he’s burdening with this information.
Throughout the movie, though, we see this stuff manifest in other ways. Any signs of independence from his siblings send Billy into a full-blown panic, and his imposter syndrome weighs heavily on him until he gets a better grasp on his battle.
Fury of the Gods is bigger in scope than Shazam! in almost every way, though, and this ends up being to its detriment. While it’s actually two minutes shorter in actual runtime, it feels like a longer film. The whole Shazam family plays a bigger role in the story and there are two major villains instead of just one, as well as a few other characters. It’s a lot of voices and a lot more cutting between characters–at one point there are separate scenes with Shazam, with Freddy, and with another part of the family going on simultaneously. While it isn’t too hard to keep track of, it tends to make the pieces feel disjointed, stopping the momentum of each one in turn.
Even so, there are a lot of great moments in the movie. Shazam! Fury of the Gods is unquestionably a comedy, and most of the scenes are more interested in being funny than cool or serious. One particular moment involves a Skittles joke that’s sure to annoy people sensitive to product placement, but it was one of the funnier moments I’ve seen in a movie in a while.
Shazam‘s tone rides a careful line that lets it hit both those comedy notes and, once again, bring in horror-infused moments, and somehow fit both of those into a heartwarming family movie. Director Sandberg handled this deftly in the first movie and, despite the disjointedness, is great at it again here. The family’s unique dynamic acts as a great counterbalance to the moments when mythical monsters are running amok in the city and killing people. There isn’t a moment that quite approaches the boardroom scene from the first movie in terms of genuine darkness, but those moments still find their way in there. I will say, also, that I appreciate Shazam taking the same position on unicorns that Legends of Tomorrow went with, which is that they’re terrifying hellbeasts not to be approached or trifled with.
Performances make it all work
Jack Dylan Grazer brings the same fearless energy to Freddy Freeman and manages to make his interactions with Rachel Zegler’s character feel organic and believably awkward. Zachary Levi plays the himbo role very well, and makes the search for his final power, the Wisdom of Solomon, feel like a big growth moment for Billy. Asher Angel doesn’t get very much screen time this time around, which at times makes it a little harder to dig into Billy’s issues.
Just like Shazam himself, the kids’ superhero personas get a bit more screen time this time around as well. This is especially the case for Adam Brody, who plays Freddy’s superhero persona, and who gets to ham it up in pretty much every scene he’s in. Darla’s double, played by Meagan Good, also does a great job of bringing Darla’s innocence to her adult version, and making it funny-weird in the process. Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu both seem totally game for the silliness of this whole story, with Mirren especially seeming to have genuine fun with it.
Anyone who enjoyed the first Shazam! movie is likely to enjoy this one as well; the humor and horror elements are here, and the characters that were fun are still fun. It also feels like a bridge out of the DCEU. The first Shazam movie felt like a very different product from the other movies in DC’s lineup in recent years, and this one feels like it integrates into that world a bit better, thanks in part to a cameo that’s been spoiled all over the internet, without giving up its soul.