Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023)

“Your heart is wise, and it knows exactly what needs to be done.”

By now it’s no secret that the former state of the DCEU is coming to a close, wrapping up what started with 2013’s Man of Steel and ending later this year with The Flash and Aquaman 2. To say it’s been a divisive journey to this point is the understatement of the century, comparative to what the MCU has accomplished since 2008. But one of the few stark constants in a disorganized universe came back in 2019, which by today’s time standards was a full decade ago with the first Shazam! directed by David F Sandberg. 4 years later and Fury of the Gods follows the same pitfalls that plague a sequel comic book film only a handful of them overcome.

While the rest of the DCEU stayed consistent with darker tone’s, muted colors and less humor, the first Shazam! did the opposite. Bright colors, full of adolescent humor that worked and less dread, Shazam! still didn’t get the credit it deserved. To be fair, tonally, the film has an identity crisis, mixing various tones, never settling on a definitive direction. Its follow up, Fury of the Gods does the same thing, in fact the sequel goes a step further in creating a frenzy of misaligned paths that becomes confusing to follow.

In one scene, returning writer from the first film Henry Gayden and longtime Fast franchise writer Chris Morgan (it makes sense that the “family line” was heavily featured in the marketing but not a single laugh was had when playing out in real time) dip a toe into the horror genre with civilians being possessed by a whisper and body horror like contortions land front and center. Another scene shows just how silly this world can be where the comedy becomes overpowering, and the jokes become less impactful the more characters get a one liner to say. And another leans too heavily into the fantastical, full of mythology that takes away from the core story Fury of the Gods navigates.

But the true travesty of Fury of the Gods like many comic book films is the lack of stakes. Yes, this universe is dwindling down to its finality however Gayden and Morgan play it safe, almost too safe. Rarely does a comic book film take a risk that might go against the landscape, doing something bold that only the Avengers films are capable of handling. Marvel is not immune to this either as every film and series in their Phase 4 has become a universe saving event with no catalyst pushing the story forward. In both studios, rarely does a character die and remain dead. Loki has come back at least a dozen times and even Superman can’t find any peace that only death can bring.

Only Iron Man after 23 films has remained dead for now.

Fury of the Gods has the opportunity to take a risk, to standout from all of the recent mediocrity and for the few moments in the aftermath of the CGI heavy final battle, they had me convinced in its finality. Only moments later to have everything undone and the dubbed Shazamily living happily ever after like nothing bad happened. If anything, it’s a moment that leaves the same sour taste that the rest of the universe has left its die-hard fans with. All that build up to a stadium sized spectacle and it’s the fear of originality that suffers the most.

Picking up 2 years after the events of the first film, the Shazamily consisting of Billy Batson (Asher Angel), Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), Mary Bromfield (Grace Caroline Currey), Eugene Choi (Ian Chen), Pedro Peña (Jovan Armand), and Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman) all return along with their super powered counterparts – Zachary Levi, Adam Brody, Ross Butler, D. J. Cotrona, and Megan Good. Grace Caroline Currey is the only member who portrays both civilian Mary and super powered Mary and yet somehow Foster parents Rosa (Marta Milans) and Victor (Cooper Andrews) fail to see the resemblance in their daughter. One of the many logical holes riddled throughout Fury of the Gods.

On the villain side of things, the story gets underway when daughters of Atlas Hespera (Helen Mirren), Kalypso (Lucy Liu) and Anthea (Rachel Zegler) look to regain the stolen powers of the gods from children while simultaneously search for a golden apple to cause destruction and chaos to the mortal world.

Another moment of displaced tone that keeps repeating in my head happens early on in act 2 involving the daughters of Atlas and Freddy Freeman. Gayden and Morgan cut the humor off entirely, taking the moment to an extreme level of darkness that becomes a questionable addition to a universal family friendly film that prefers the lighthearted, easygoing path.

Where the first Shazam! is more grounded in its approach, focusing on the family dynamic and relationships between the kids, the kids are mostly absent in the sequel. Any chance at depth and pushing the exploration of dimension is extinguished with the choice of having deep conversations between the superpowered personas as they discuss where life is heading instead of being between the actual kids, sacrificing emotion for a cheap hollow laugh. Happening more often than it should, Fury of the Gods takes a page out of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2‘s book – every character has a funny line of dialogue to recite but only a few use it to their advantage, Levi, Brody, and Good being the exceptions.

Because of the increase in characters and the already thin plot and villain motivations, not all characters are given the same attention they deserve. Between the superpowered personas, the necessity to balance out the duality of character with the grounded foundation between the kids is missing in action. Coming in at 130 minutes, what starts off as a strong reintroduction to this world and the Shazamily quickly unravels by swinging for the fences at Citizens Bank Park but striking out into a typical CGI fest of visual effects reliant storytelling or lack thereof.

Overall, Fury of the Gods is a convoluted step down in quality from its predecessor. Performances from Levi and the rest of the ensemble cast when they are given some substance to them stand out, but those moments are a rarity. The main draw from the first film was the duality between Shazam and Billy however someone needs to remind Gayden and Morgan that. Expecting too much from the world’s greatest superheroes has become a tiresome chore, hoping for the promise of early DCEU should be checked at the door. If anything, Fury of the Gods boasts a fun experience at the theater but nothing more when style takes over and the substance is forgettable.

Screenplay By: Henry Gayden & Chris Morgan
Directed By: David F. Sandberg
Music By: Christophe Beck
Cinematography: Gyula Pados
Starring: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Adam Brody, Rachel Zegler, Ross Butler, Ian Chen, D. J. Cotrona, Jovan Armand, Grace Caroline Currey, Megan Good, Faithe Herman, Lucy Liu, Helen Mirren, Djimon Hounsou
Edited By: Michel Aller
Release Date: March 17, 2023
Running Time: 2 Hours 10 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 53%
Based On: Captain Marvel / Shazam by Bill Parker & C. C. Beck

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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