Shazam! Fury of the Gods - Review

A self-sufficient super-sequel.

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The joyful teenage energy 2019’s Shazam! brought to DC’s cinematic world of heroes was a breath of fresh air next to the dark grittiness of Zach Snyder’s versions of the Justice League characters. However, it was Billy Batson’s soulful search for his biological family – and realization that the family he’d longed for was in front of him all along – which helped it achieve more staying power than a lot of other movies in this genre. The sequel, Fury of the Gods, is regrettably missing some of that heart. This time we see the Shazamily putting their newfound abilities to the test against a trio of deadly deities set on overrunning Earth, and though the Greek myth iconography the villains bring to the table gives all involved a significantly increased Pandora’s toy box to play with, the movie stumbles on some storytelling basics that leave the sequel feeling less powerful than the first.

Taken collectively, the evil Daughters of Atlas represent a lateral move for the antagonist role in Shazam’s story. In the original, Mark Strong’s Dr. Sivanna didn’t have much of a personality to speak of, but his role as a power-hungry foil for Billy’s (Asher Angel) insecurities kept the personal stakes in focus throughout. By contrast, the Daughters’ titanic grudge against the Shazamily – and the promethean wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who empowered them – doesn’t have the same clean hook. As a result, their plan to overtake Billy’s realm feels overcomplicated for this superhero movie, and its dependency on fetch quests and games of keepaway gets old quickly. All of that’s before even taking into account that their ultimate plan very closely retreads one we’ve already seen in another DC film. 

The broad strokes of that action may feel familiar, but to his credit director David F. Sandberg excels at weaving in fun moments to give this story a little more identity. Pausing to allow the foster siblings the time to speak up about how, even in the face of the world-ending threat the Daughters bring to Philadelphia, they’re still pretty psyched they get to fight a dragon as a result adds personality to what might otherwise have been a dry rehash.

What the Daughters lack in compellingly communicated motivation they make up for in screen presence. They’re led by Hespera, and Helen Mirren’s near-total command of her character’s function as not just the lead villain, but as a steely confident straight woman to the goofy Shazamily’s antics is delightful. Her performance left me wishing Fury of the Gods had found more time to use those good, good Mirren vibes to better sell the Daughters’ personal investment in the conflict. 

The action starts to feel a little tiresome going into the third act.

Her sister Kalypso (Lucy Liu) feels like a redundancy for Hespera, though her set of powers does lead to some of Fury of the Gods’ most memorable action moments – including a creepy opening sequence which hearkens back to the boardroom scene from the first film. But with Hespera representing the Daughters in most conversations, Kalypso feels woefully underwritten and leaves Liu’s god with nothing but fury to work with. Rachel Zegler’s Anthea fares better as the voice of reason, and her steadfastness and charm are welcome in situations involving both her more hot-headed sisters and Billy’s perpetually off-the-wall best bud, Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer). 

Their powersets and godly lineage create opportunities for Sandberg to scale up the spectacle, but the Shazamily’s imaginative solutions to countering the Daughters keep that action grounded in the superhero wish fulfillment that serves as the backbone of the series. Moments where the kids come up with goofy solves for Serious Problems are gratifying, but Fury of the Gods’ action starts to feel a little tiresome going into the third act, where samey mythological creatures are dropped in to essentially distract the heroes who get less screen time while Shazam gets to do the monologuing with the villains. There’s little other than the kids’ boundless enthusiasm for crimefighting differentiating Shazam’s action from countless other superhero movies, and the farther the action strays from that conceit, the more forgettable it winds up.

For his part, Freddy remains a chaotic ball of anxiety, nerdiness, and wit, and his increased screen time here is an obvious byproduct of a classic sequel gambit: cede time that might’ve been better used on the protagonist’s story to highlight a character that popped unexpectedly hard with fans last time. Grazer scores most of Fury of the Gods’ funniest moments and maintains that momentum through scenes which require him to realistically convey the terror that a kid may feel if faced with the judgment of gods. It’s Grazer’s horrified reaction to an especially callous act of violence inflicted on a friend that grounds the Daughters’ malice in something recognizable after a first act which mostly sees them operating in the background. 

There’s not much to dislike about Grazer’s performance in a vacuum, but it’s what Fury of the Goes is missing as a result of its focus on him that leaves Freddy’s exuberance a double-edged sword. There is no shortage of action scenes or big laughs, but with a whopping six Shaziblings (you can have that, WB), three Daughters of Atlas, two foster parents, a wizard, a dragon, and a sentient pen all in play, it often feels like there’s very little time for Billy’s major (and very ironic) struggle here: he’s terrified he’ll be abandoned all over again once he turns 18. 

Fury of the Gods tells its own story on its own terms.

Angel, who’s already sharing a significant part of Billy’s screen time with Zachary Levi, feels stranded by the script. When Billy’s having fun and being playful it’s usually when he’s in Shazam form, which leaves Angel the short stick of having to mostly convey the character’s melancholy. The resolution of Billy’s arc feels wholly unsatisfying, both because of Angel’s limited involvement in conveying it and in how quickly it’s all tied up. In life, a misunderstanding being cleared up with a short, reassuring conversation can be cathartic… in a movie, however, a character’s entire emotional arc being resolved the same way is frustrating. 

As for Levi’s embodiment of Shazam, the word that rings loudest here is “consistent.” The boyishness of Billy Batson still comes through clear in Levi’s performance, but his occasional melancholy self-doubt isn’t much of a substitute for the comedic goldmine of Billy learning how to be both an adult and a superhero last time. The rest of the Shazamily – those with and without powers – fall into predictable supporting positions, with little to contribute other than character-non-specific quippery. Meagan Good’s adult iteration of youngest sibling Darla is the one exception, benefitting from the wide age gap between Darla’s child and superhero forms. 

Though the Shazam sequel can’t sustain the emotional earnestness of its predecessor, it feels unfair not to acknowledge and appreciate that its shortcomings are at least unencumbered by the heavy world-building expected of superhero franchise entries these days. Even in the face of James Gunn and Peter Safran’s impending DCU reboot, Fury of the Gods tells its own story on its own terms, and the missteps it makes along the way at least feel part and parcel with the efforts of a team trying to forge their own path – both in front of and behind the camera. That’s not to say there aren’t references to the larger DC world to be found, just that they’re obviously not the point of this movie existing in the first place.

The Verdict

Shazam! Fury of the Gods is a breezy, often funny second outing for Billy Batson and his family of young heroes. Each of the villainous Atlassian Daughters bring something unique to the screen (to the plot’s mixed benefit) and Helen Mirren’s performance stands out, but it’s disappointing that the distinctive heart of the first film takes a back seat to that expanded scope. The lack of focus on its lead character works against Fury of the Gods throughout, but it’s a testament to the strong foundation this movie’s built on that the assembled ensemble is able to share some of that burden.

This post might contain affiliation links. If you buy something through this post, the publisher may get a share of the sale.
In This Article

Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Developer: DC Entertainment
Publisher: Warner Bros. Pictures
Shazam! Fury of the Gods Review
Shazam! Fury of the Gods
7
Good
Shazam! Fury of the Gods may not pull the heartstrings like its predecessor, but there’s no shortage of the chaotic good humor and energetic performances that put Billy Batson and the Shazamily on the map.
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