WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
Shazam! Fury of the Gods: Ancient legends with a dark spin
Before the new DC Universe kicks off, there are four more superhero blockbusters from the previous era to watch in 2023. The first is the family-orientated sequel ‘Shazam! Fury of the Gods’, with Zachary Levi’s kid-in-an-adult-champion-body facing off against vengeful goddesses Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu.
Of the various superhero franchises that comprise the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) — now the DCU — Shazam! is by far the most family-friendly. Much like its title character in his bright red suit, white cape and gold accessories, Shazam! is colourful, kinda silly and tonally far removed from most of its super-powered brethren.
The 2019 big-screen original wasn’t straining to be epic or edgy. Going back to its comic book roots, Shazam! put its emphasis squarely on childhood wish fulfilment. What if, as a kid, you could turn into an adult superhero, just by yelling a magical acronym? That’s exactly what happens to 14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel), who is still an adolescent inside the body of buff, square-jawed Shazam (Zachary Levi), a character whose impressive power set includes invulnerability, near-limitless strength, lightning control, and flight.
Shazam! (2019) suffered from a terrible case of “rubber dolly” CGI overload in its finale (a problem endemic to both DC and Marvel films), but before that, it managed to deliver some genuine laughs and a few surprisingly touching moments. The film’s overarching message was that strength and a sense of belonging can be found in family, which definitely does not need to be biologically connected, as foster home veteran Billy found out.
Four years and several release date shuffles later, the Shazam! sequel Fury of the Gods is here. The film promises more — a larger cast, more villains and higher stakes. So, this time the Big Bads are the Daughters of Atlas (Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu), who arrive on Earth furious that the power of the mighty Greek gods was not only stolen but granted to children by the Wizard (Djimon Hounsou). To revive their decayed realm, the sisters plan on taking back everything they lost, including their special abilities, and this puts them on a collision course with Billy and his siblings — who all now can turn into adult champions.
Overall, Shazam! Fury of the Gods does feel like a step up from its predecessor, particularly in terms of delivering satisfying comedy and action. It’s still the type of disposable superhero fare you’ll struggle to remember a week from now, but there are enough flashes of something more among the meh to make it watchable, especially if you have kids in tow. Not too young, though, as director David F Sandberg tugs his horror roots to the surface at times, especially when it comes to depicting the disturbing mind control powers of Kalypso (Liu).
Regardless, Greek mythology fans of all ages will get a kick out of Shazam! Fury of the Gods, which embraces the ancient legend that’s core to the comic series, and adds a darker spin. The special effects are more convincing, and the film features excellent character and costume design, which helps to sell its clash of our modern world with that of gods and monsters. It’s a lot more interesting a concept than the Seven Deadly Sins, which was given a goofy goblin treatment in Fury of the Gods’ predecessor.
Further elevating proceedings is Mirren as warrior goddess Hespera, who is arguably the closest the DCU has to a Marvel-style villain — menacing, understated and quite reasonable in her motivations. Unlike Liu’s one-note enemy, Mirren comes across more like the most terrifying of school teachers, expressing her disapproval in soft tones and with a neutral expression. It’s a package that maximises her delivery of the film’s funniest moment, involving a message written stream-of-consciousness style. As a side note, Hounsou gets to have a lot more fun in his second franchise appearance, revealing the Wizard’s sassier side.
Fury of the Gods’ weakest aspect, apart from a nonsense plot propelled along by conveniences and overlooked information, is Shazam himself. He’s performed by Levi like a PG-13 version of Deadpool, chattering and wisecracking non-stop, and it tires quickly.
There’s also a glaring disconnect between Shazam’s juvenile behaviour and that of his more sober teenage self. Angel’s 17-year-old Billy sits on the cusp of a life-changing moment as he’s about to age out of the foster care system and have to fend for himself. Yet, he’s hardly in the film. This feels like a missed opportunity, with the star power and charisma of Levi clearly prioritised to the detriment of Billy’s meatier character arc. The latter is ultimately compacted into maybe three scenes and is delivered with the subtlety of one of Shazam’s punches.
Instead, most of the emotional drama of Fury of the Gods centres on Billy’s best friend and foster brother Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), who has so much screen time that he could be considered the film’s true main character.
This is a Shazam film, though, so in the end the action has to recentre on grown-up Billy and see him act on the heroic potential that the Wizard originally saw in him. This is followed by a string of cameo appearances and multiple disjointed credit sequences, presumably to line up the character’s appearance in future on-screen DC projects. Although, box office performance will probably determine if “the Big Red Cheese” makes the cut. DM/ML
This story was first published on Pfangirl.com
Shazam! Fury of the Gods is available in cinemas from 17 March.
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