Shazam! Fury of the Gods is one of the few hold-outs from DC’s first universe (before James Gunn’s reboot). But is it worth your time? Read on to find out…
*WARNING: Do not, under any circumstances, look up trailers for Shazam 2. They contain massive spoilers*
The Shazam family struggles to protect Philadelphia. They’re fairly known for their failures, despite every good deed they accomplish. Billy Batson (Asher Angel/ Zachary Levi) struggles to keep his team united, as they each wish to fight crime on their own terms. Meanwhile, ancient Gods unlock the potential to enter our world to steal what once was stolen from them: the key to repairing their realm.
I always felt the first Shazam got a raw deal. It released the same month as Avengers: Endgame of all films… So Shazam got buried despite being the better movie. Yeah, I said it! Have you rewatched Endgame lately? Not as good as that first theatrical experience.
Anyway– I seemed to be one of the few people actually excited for Fury of the Gods. And how was it? Decent!
I loved how FotG portrayed The Shazam family early on. Most of them seem over the struggles of super-heroics– at least at their current frequency of missions. Billy is that kid who wants to play a game with which everyone else is bored, and the others begrudgingly play with him ’cause they don’t want to hurt his feelings. This felt like a true representation of what how child-heroes would actually behave: they’d love heroism powers till it felt like a chore.
It’s all the more entertaining that The Shazam family aren’t good heroes. Local media calls them the “Philadelphia Fiascoes”! Of course they help plenty of people, and they have some fans, but they’re mostly known for their wildly un-coordinated efforts (the result of no apparent training, and the lacking of wisdom to execute logical plans).
Speaking of– I love when Shazam 2 acknowledges a classic Shazam question: why does Billy seem to lack the so-called “wisdom of Solomon” (AKA the ‘S’ part of S.H.A.Z.A.M)? I wish the writers played more with that idea. Said mystery might make for better material than a one-off joke.
Shazam 2 starts and ends strong, but fails to excite for long stretches of its second act. Fury of the Gods‘ middle mainly consists of mildly intriguing exposition dumps about the villains’ goals. Little happens, outside of a few good sequences. It’s still entertaining, but it’s padded.
Let’s get into the character’s stories now: Billy’s desperation to keep his family together is an emotionally-investing motive. He’s about to age out of the foster system, and there’s a good chance that he’ll be forced to leave his home. So every carefree adventure may be their last– hence why it’s so important to him that the team does EVERY mission together. He also suffers from imposter syndrome, constantly unsure whether he’s worthy of his power. These issues root from the same place, which I’ll discuss below.
Asher Angel plays Billy with a solemn intensity, which effectively shows Billy’s burdened soul, while Zachari Levi appears childishly removed from said burdens– barring some scenes where they peak through his bright exterior. These two performances are largely disconnected from one another, though Levi and Angel are supposed to be the same person.
But there may be some hidden depths to these acting choices. I believe that Levi’s immature adult is a stand-in for Billy’s true feelings: he’s comfortably in denial about his future while he’s in Shazam’s body because the Shazam persona has his life better figured out. Shazam is loved (by some), has a cool lair, is a handsome and powerful man (which would boost confidence), and a tight-knit family unit, whereas Billy’s life verges on falling apart. Fury of the Gods features Billy’s two lives blurring together such that Billy can’t repress his fears of abandonment and insignificance anymore.
I’m convinced the above is Shazam 2’s true story. But the film doesn’t relate this clearly. So I had to extrapolate a lot, based on what I could see. All the elements of Billy’s story are present yet don’t come together seamlessly.
Darla continues to be a highlight character. Her innocent glee is infectious and heartwarming. I must also declare that the two actresses who portray Darla (Faithe Herman/ Meagan Good) are the most consistent child and adult pairing of all these heroes.
Fury of the Gods did more with the Wizard character than the original. Djimon Hounsou began leaning too far into Marvel-esque comedy for my tastes (formerly serious characters suddenly cracking jokes), but he never became a joke.
Helen Mirren brings some much-needed gravitas to Shazam 2 as Hespera, daughter of Atlas. And Rachel Zegler is another stand-out performer! But the highlight of Shazam 2 is Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddie Freeman. He’s the most consistently charming character, has a focused story, and is arguably the best hero.
Everybody else was effectively sidelined. And I know this film would have been too long if this whole cast had moments to shine, but I still wanted more– especially out of the foster parents (even though they get memorable moments near the end).
What’s especially annoying is that Shazam 2 had ample opportunity to showcase the child actors, yet instead chose to keep them in their adult forms for most of the film. I can understand why: the younger kids still want that idealized power fantasy of being older, good looking, and baddass; while Billy’s motives are more complex (as I already discussed). But it still feels wrong when talented cast members like Asher Angel get so little screen time.
To skip back a sec: Maybe that’s why Freddie is the stand-out character of this film. ‘Cause he finds the best balance between immature kid and responsible hero (AKA the whole appeal of Shazam).
Fury of the Gods‘ villains (Daughters of Atlas) were average at best. I liked their nonchalance and general superiority. And I loved whenever they’d debate each other’s ideas. Their squabbles were infinitely more interesting than their actual goal, nicely complimenting and contrasting the troubled Shazam family.
Shazam 2 doesn’t make for especially compelling viewing. Yet I smiled through near the entire film– which is rare for me. Fury of the Gods brings back that innocent wonder of my childhood, so often stoked by superhero media of old.
Not to say there’s no worthwhile dramatic elements in here. ‘Cause I was moved by multiple moments near the end. But Shazam 2, much like the first, is a largely comic affair.
Though I’d wager 3/4 of the jokes actually land. The rest will either make you grin or groan. Yet you may groan anyway, ’cause even the jokes which land often over-stay their welcome. The editors couldn’t leave well enough alone.
Let’s shift gears now to discuss production design. Of note is The Rock of Eternity– which is an overused set, but it’s still incredible. The designs evoke a Harry Potter-esque fantasy domain of wonder and intrigue. It’s quickly shot up my list of badass superhero lairs.
I must also praise the costume designs. I seemed to be in the minority liking the first film’s outfits. But these are a clear improvement: they’re sleeker, more striking, and appear more cinematic (AKA less cheap).
Handheld cameras create comparatively down-to-earth action sequences. The kinetic and grounded style perfectly rides the line between comic-book and real life. And my favourite part about the action: the heroes ACTUALLY save people in between their showdown. That always stands out to me, ’cause it’s something superhero movies used to do all the time but abandoned long ago. This approach always adds stakes and makes our heroes look MORE heroic.
Shazam 2 features mostly solid effects-work. There’s a lot of unpolished shots in there. But I’ve got less complaints than usual.
Christophe Beck’s score is triumphant and rousing. His work provoked my strongest investment in the film. The themes are perfectly suited for a colourful, optimistic, and bright hero like Shazam.
Fury of the Gods is a good old fashioned corny superhero adventure. It’s silly, weird, and features a child-like imagination in its execution. I don’t know if generally cynical modern audiences will appreciate that tone. But I for one love it!
Shazam 2’s poor box office showing is undoubtedly caused (in part) by the ambivalence of hard-core DC fans who’ve heard about James Gunn’s reboot. ‘Cause this film doesn’t technically “count” anymore, or lead to anything. It may not even earn a continuation. So why get invested? I get that mindset.
But I say forget the news and just enjoy! Ten years from now you won’t care which movie was a stepping stone to a greater cinematic universe; you’ll remember the films which entertained you the most. And Shazam 2 is more memorable than most superhero films I’ve seen of late.
So I declare that Shazam! Fury of the Gods is Worth a Watch (be it relevant or the relic of a dead universe).
Do you want to see more of Zachari Levi’s Shazam, or should the franchise die with James Gunn’s reboot? What did you think of Shazam! Fury of the Gods? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!
Till next time,