- Nate Adams
'Shazam! Fury of the Gods' review: DC flick in desperate need of some electricity
Courtesy of Warner Bros.
One of the bright spots over the DC Cinematic Universe’s tumultuous reign belonged to 2019’s amicable and, for the most part, joyous “Shazam!” which was a welcome departure from the doom and gloom that plagued earlier DC works “Batman V. Superman” and “Justice League.” Its lightheartedness was juiced by lead star Zachery Levi, who brought charm and earnestness to a main character blessed with the ability to say “Shazam!” and transform from a pubescent teenager into a full blown, muscular superhero. The minimalist and scaled down approach was a breath of fresh air, but now comes the inevitable follow-up, “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” and while it keeps the tone breezy, it reverts back to the convoluted superhero mechanics its predecessor was trying to avoid. Complete with lackluster villains, cornballish one liners, and an awkward one-minute ad for Skittles.
Which is a real bummer considering director David F. Sandberg managed to give DC one of its more critical hits of the time, but alas even his prowess can’t save “Fury of the Gods” from obscurity. Throw in the fact James Gunn is set to basically reboot the entire DC universe, one where these characters probably don’t play a vital role, and the movie feels like a last gasp for relevance (even the promotional ads have spoiled a major cameo in a last-ditch effort to get butts into seats). Perhaps if the film had teed up a potential Black Adam and Shazam throwdown (in the comics, they’re sworn enemies) there might be something fans could latch onto. Nevertheless, even on its own singular terms with no promise of interconnected timelines, “Fury of the Gods” still doesn’t have the goods.
As the title suggests, there are gods and oh boy are they furious. They’re trying to undo the events of the previous films wherein Billy Batson (played by Asher Angel before he becomes Levi) and his group of foster home brothers and sisters were given unchecked power by a wizard (played again by Djimon Hounsou) who, when shouting the world “Shazam!,” turn them into gorgeous, buff, heroes. Their range is on display during the film's opening sequence, where the squad tries to prevent the collapse of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, which connects Philadelphia to New Jersey, while Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero” plays in the background.
It’s the only lively sequence in a film that eventually becomes muddled with sloppy CGI and boring villains who, at one point, unleash ogres, unicorns, and dragons to do their bidding. The trio of angry gods are played by Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, and to a lesser extent, Rachel Zegler (of “West Side Story” fame), and the only breadth of characterization that exists for them is: we need to take over the world because, well, we’re angry! Meanwhile, Shazam, once again played by Levi with an annoying bro-speak cadence that I don’t remember from the last one, and his pals (played in various forms by Adam Brody, Ross Butler, D.J. Cotrona, Meagan Good, and Caroline Grace Cassidy) must figure out a way to stop them. Because, as one character says late in the film: “Your world cannot survive this.”
Well no shit, Sherlock.
Writers Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan lean heavily on this irresistible cast, especially the budding romance that blossoms between Jack Dylan Grazer’s Freddy Freeman, who when not Brody’s superhero alter ego is a clumsy underdog with nothing but a crutch to stand on, and Ziegler’s Anthea, a baddie with a supersized heart. These moments, along with the foster family dynamic, are where “Fury of the Gods” finds some mojo, but there’s never any imminent sense of danger. You know they’ll all survive and save the day if for no other reason than the trailers already spoiled the ending. And poor Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu who look so uninterested in anything that’s happening around them, forced to deliver clumsy dialogue in the midst of what I could only imagine were blue screen palettes. They deserved better.
There’s no logic to any of the battles during the climax either and the formula for 2019's “Shazam!” seems retroactively dated. But I suppose when the bar for making half-decent superhero entries is already so low (we’re still licking our wounds from “Black Adam”), it doesn’t matter the quality so much if people show up. Although, judging by how bored and distracted the crowd in my theater was (they didn’t even stick around for the two post credit scenes!), I’m not sure the fury of the gods is the only thing DC will have to worry about.
SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS is now playing in theaters.