Shazam! Fury of the Gods: A More Conventional Superhero Movie that Retains the Goofiness of the Original
Shazam! Fury of the Gods Melbourne Premiere provided by Universal Pictures
“Shazam! Fury of the Gods is a more stacked, conventional superhero sequel, but it maintains its predecessors youthful, playful energy”
It feels like a hot minute since the last DC Studios adaptation graced (or stumbled through) our screens. That film was Black Adam, and like most of DC’s titles as of late, they come and go, rarely sticking around long enough to be remembered by anything except for their lacklustre performance numbers. By some miracle in the form of Matt Reeves’ The Batman last year, there was a glimmer of hope that DC could hold its own against the wave of crummy, dull Marvel films that have continued to persist, especially given DC’s whole catalogue of heroes is significantly more notable than that of Marvels.
Warner Bros. Discovery went so far as to overhaul DC Studios and appoint one of Marvel’s key ingredients, Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn, and producer Peter Safran as co-CEOs of DC, in the hopes that they would be the ones to turn this misguided ship around. The first film under their collective oversight is David F. Sandberg’s 2023 Shazam sequel, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, and it looks like there’s still some turning left to do.
That would be especially true if DC continues to use words like “Avengers” in a playful but self-aware ‘wink-wink’ type manner in their films. But Fury of the Gods is far from an Avengers story, even if there are six caped crusaders in this bunch. Taking note from the first film —which is still DC’s best example of telling a heartfelt story of finding your place in the world while having fun with the idea of being a superhero through a childlike lens and avoiding delving into all the boring lore that often occupies these films— Sandberg’s sequel still embraces the fun of being a superhero, but the kids have become accustomed to their grown-up, shazamed selves. As a result, that more heartfelt camaraderie that underpinned the story of a bunch of displaced kids building their own family together in the first film, just doesn’t land as strongly.
Set in the aftermath of the first film (if you haven’t seen it, you’ll quickly be caught up through the exposition dotted throughout), a new threat in the form of the god Atlas’ daughters, Hespera (Helen Mirren), Kalypso (Lucy Liu), and one other (who I won’t mention for spoiler purposes), are out to take back what was stolen from them — the source of Shazam’s power. They’re new villains, not having appeared in the DC canon in any form, even if Atlas has, and while they make for intriguing (albeit underwritten) antagonists, the absence of the uncompromising, intense Mark Strong was definitely felt, especially with regards to his ability to act as a counterweight to the goofiness of Zachary Levi.
Back in Philadelphia and unbeknownst to them, Billy Batson (Asher Angel/ Levi) and his foster home brothers-and-sisters-turned-crimefighters, are still bantering it up, even if the elders of the group are growing more conscious that they’re quickly outgrowing their adoptive parents’ home. It makes for a fitting next step in these now young-adults’ lives, but as much as the film might return to this idea that ‘nothing lasts forever’, both in foster homes and in the life of a hero, it just as quickly resorts to the same tendencies that plague similar superhero films: battle sequences that are too long for their own good, intertextual references (you’ll quickly roll your eyes as a Game of Thrones reference is spewed among others), and dialogue for dialogues sake. The latter might be the least surprising given this is a film about a bunch of young, eccentric adults saying young adult, eccentric things, but it becomes noticeable when the film is grappling with need to grow up and the desire to stay young.
A death-defying bridge-collapse-turned-rescue-mission reintroduces the gang in their caped form, as they do their part to rectify the situation — with the messy aftermath landing them a ‘Philly Fiascos’ branding. All of the key cast from the first film are back, with Jack Dylan Grazer continuing to crack jokes and steal scenes as the sarcastic, but sincere Freddy. They’re all older and somewhat wiser, and they’ve given their Shazam-cave a face lift, turning it into a second living room (even decorating last film’s monster statues).
That’s not the only part of this film with a facelift, with the suits having been redesigned to offer a bit more of a textured, sharper look. A beefier budget also means bigger set-pieces, and therefore less of the more quiet, measured moments seen in the first film where, for instance, there was a joy in watching Billy playfully discover his powers in a convenience store before throwing two thugs out of the shop window. It’s like Sandberg and co fell for the old ‘bigger means better’ trap where they lost sight of the young kid beneath the hero of it all and therefore pushed further outwards (beyond the world at times) rather than looking inwards (within the comfort of the home) where the heart of the story lies.
But to say it’s overwhelming would be an overstatement — the budget is $30 odd million more than last time, so why not do more on the visual effects side of things? There’s a large The Simpsons Movie-esque dome that’s placed over the city, various mythical creatures from unicorns to manticores and even a dragon, and just more destruction than in the first film. Depending on how you view these additions, they might come at the expense of developing the characters and their bond to one another, but they also might be viewed as necessary to force the characters to start facing the music of growing up and taking responsibility, where the wider world isn’t always so straightforward and linear — something they’ve each experienced firsthand.
In true Sandberg fashion, there are some striking scenes that echo his horror roots in a similar way to Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange: The Multiverse of Madness (2022). Characters get stabbed, a teacher gets possessed and forced to drop to his death, people get turned to stone, and so forth. It’s a testament to Sandberg’s ability to depict the real consequences of the villains actions, and to show that the stakes facing these characters are real — even if the film often falls back on the goofiness for a softer touch. But ultimately that’s what this film is (both in terms of story and as a product): a grown up with a youthful edge, where by contrast the first film could be described as a youth trying to pull off a grown up look and feel. That’s probably the best way of distinguishing these films, where Shazam is the more cunning and unafraid kid with room to grow, while Fury of the Gods is the more mature, yet equally full-of-life young-adult looking to take the next step.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods opens nationally from the 16th of March, 2023.
March 16th 2023Read more by Arnie
Category: Entertainment, Features, Film
Topics: Art, Film
Tags: 2023, Action, asher angel, cinema, comic book movie, criticism, david f. sandberg, DC, film, helen mirren, lucy liu, Movie, Movie Review, rachel zegler, review, Shazam, Superhero, zachary levi
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