Shazam! Fury of The Gods is a family-oriented superhero film by director David F. Sandberg that delivers a sugar-high of CGI fantasy, cultural references, and semi-cringe cameos.
Director: David F. Sandberg
Starring: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Grace Fulton, Rachel Zegler, Adam Brody, Lucy Liu, Djimon Hounsou, Helen Mirren, Rachel Zegler, Ross Butler, Meagan Good
Billy Batson and his perfectly diverse foster siblings are back in Shazam! Fury of The Gods, which sees the family of transforming super-tweens threatened by the Daughters of Atlas; goddesses who plan to destroy the world and reclaim their dominance over an ungrateful and inferior human race.
After defeating Dr. Thaddeus Sivana and The Seven Deadly Sins in 2019’s Shazam! BIlly Batson (Asher Angel) seemed to have everything he’d been searching for; love, strength, and a family that gives him both. The sequel finds Billy dealing with the results of this discovery; learning to give love as much as he is loved, finding patience and compassion to match his strength, and how to keep his family together when the entire world is falling apart.
There are heavier themes in the sequel, but these are largely washed away and kept beneath the surface by happy-fun-one-liners and an overall sense of aloofness that every character (gods and wizards included) seems to have sewn through their DNA. This isn’t helped by the ensemble cast and character focus that strives to give everyone a sense of individuality, yet robs them of it by relegating them to the same predictable template personality.
The film has a much smaller central demographic than many other superhero films, with little to offer adults in terms of concealed comedy or character depth, and it’s probably advisable for anyone over 16 to simply deposit their brain in a bin outside the cinema to make the most of its dizzying 130-minute runtime.
Don’t get me wrong, the formula works to a point. Snappy dialogue where everyone’s vocabulary consists of 90% comebacks and 10% disinterest, enough whirling CGI to rival an out-of-control Merry-Go-Round, and a handful of ‘awww isn’t that cute’ moments that make you want to go full Captain America and shout ‘I UNDERSTOOD THAT REFERENCE’ until your voice goes dry.
But there are also two clear machinations at work: the emotionally manipulative nature of modern superhero films, and the real-life negotiations of screen time based on actor popularity. For a film so wrapped up in meta-commentary, it’s only justified that I give it the same respect that it gave its audience, but with the brutality that elusively escaped the film’s grasp. It’s clear that Asher Angel didn’t break out in the way originally intended, so Billy Batson is mostly sidelined for Shazam (Zachary Levi) who then has to shoulder much of the internalised dialogue that should be given to his normal, Batson form.
On the contrary, Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer, and Adam Brody as his superhero form) shone in his original supporting role as the wise-cracking crutch-wielding sidekick so, naturally, we’re fed a gluttonous serving of non-stop deflective comebacks and quips that feel much more like a broken cry for help than an authentic expression of the character.
The only member of the cast not to have a dual-actor superhero personality is Billy’s foster sister, Mary (Grace Fulton) who simply transforms into herself but with camera-ready hair and makeup, because the original actor Michelle Borth clearly doesn’t have an agent who can negotiate as well as Fulton’s despite signing a five-picture deal on the original film.
However, the one standout that just works here is Faithe Herman and Meagan Good as Darla Dudley, Billy’s younger foster sister with a happy-go-lucky mentality and a love of candy. Herman portrays the regular Darla with an adorable uniqueness, while Good is the only member of the cast to authentically keep the two characters bound together in personality – for everyone else, the Shazam powers simply turn them into a strange combination of The Umbrella Academy meets The Boys, disinterested and oblivious to the collateral damage they’re very likely causing on a daily basis.
Helen Mirren does her best to elevate the film with a fittingly dramatic performance, while Lucy Liu seems to have prepared for the film by rewatching her own Charlie’s Angels movie alongside a looped copy of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation to inspire her line delivery. Perhaps it’s this over-crammed and overwhelming feeling – reaching 700+ words and barely listing the cast or even talking about any subject in depth – that makes everything feel a little vapid and hollow, especially when another layer is added in the form of tying everything together in-universe with an appearance by Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.
This all just feels reflective of the DCEU as a whole, a gigantic, overfilled mess of a universe that is constantly changing and adjusting from film to film, never providing a sense of cohesion to its overarching narratives or characterisation and just grasping at whatever seems the most popular or has the most meme potential for online discussion.
This is highlighted by the film’s ending, which seems to have both versions of its test-audience finale, that only seems included to wring dry the last bit of emotional investment from its audience before the entire universe is reset – a kind of desperate showcase of the film’s future potential should it turn out to be popular.
But this lack of confidence, both in itself and its place in the wider superhero world, leaves everything feeling extremely superficial, ironically drenching the film in desperation to be accepted and popular when its premise is around finding your own place and knowing that acceptance and everything beautiful about ourselves comes from within – seemingly never learning the very lessons that it espouses and instead crafting a glossy world of denial and fantasy that ensures its characters are never allowed to grow and experience their full potential.