The first Shazam! movie was a black sheep and a dark horse. In an increasingly bleak DCEU, it dared to be optimistic, funny and family friendly. It was true to its roots as a child’s power fantasy, based around that common wish to be a better version of ourselves. The sequel, Shazam: Fury of the Gods, continues this theme.
The film opens with a quick recap for those who missed the first one or might not recall all the fine details. Orphan Billy Batson finally found the home he sought with Rosa and Victor Vásquez. He was also given superpowers by the wizard Shazam, which he shared with his siblings.
There are two stories in Shazam: Fury of the Gods. One centers around Billy trying to hold his new family together, even as sister Mary prepares for college and best friend Freddy Freeman pushes to have solo adventures as a superhero without the rest of the team around. The other centers around the fallout of Billy’s mistakes from the first film, which result in the daughters of Atlas escaping their otherworldly prison and seeking revenge on humanity. One of these stories is far more engaging than the other. Unfortunately, it’s the one that gets the least screen time.
Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu are intimidating enough as the daughters Hespera and Kalypso, but they have perhaps the most generic motivation of any supervillain. The script by Chris Morgan and Henry Gayden does spice things up by having a conflict between the sisters regarding their specific goals. That does little to change the fact that the final third of the movie is devoted to CGI monsters destroying Philadelphia, in a series of scenes that reenact the blandest parts of Thor: The Dark World. The scenes focused on Billy and his family are much more engaging
Watching the scenes with the kids, it occurs to me that Shazam! might have been better served being adapted for HBO Max or The CW than the big screen. There’s several stories that barely get touched upon in this movie, such as Pedro struggling with his sexuality and Mary’s desire to go to college while still helping her family. (Those who are interested in reading that story should check out The New Champion of Shazam.) A television series could have fleshed out the kids more fully and give focus to their individual struggles. As it is, most of the screen-time not devoted to monster rampages is focused on Jack Dylan Grazer and Djimon Hounsou driving each other crazy. These scenes are the best in the movie, with Grazer continuing to steal the show and Hounsou showing a rarely utilized gift for comedy.
While I might wish for more character development and less CGI, Shazam: Fury of the Gods does more right than wrong, much like its well-meaning heroes. This is a fun, popcorn film about how awesome being a superhero is, while still conveying some important lessons about family, alongside some very funny jokes. There are also, it should be noted, two post-credit scenes, and a couple of DCEU cameos which suggest that a third Shazam! movie under the aegis of DC Studios and James Gunn is not only possible, but incredibly likely.
There is one scene early on that perfectly captures the spirit of the movie, as the Benjamin Franklin Bridge is collapsing and one oblivious woman is jamming out to Bonnie Tyler’s I Need A Hero. Billy catches her car, hears the music, and laughs at the odds that song is playing right now, leading to an 80’s style action montage of the super-siblings saving the day as I Need A Hero blares. Cheesy, yes, but fun! And that is Shazam: Fury of the Gods in a nutshell.