Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Shazam! came out at an opportune moment. Superhero movies had grown very, very serious by 2019. It took a more lighthearted, comedic approach that was different from most of the others. I wasn't a huge fan, but audiences responded to the tune of $140 million domestically. The pendulum has swung in a different direction over the past four years, with Thor: Love and Thunder, Black Adam, The Suicide Squad, and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania all indulging in intentional silliness. That makes Shazam! Fury of the Gods feel much less fresh than its predecessor. Added to that, the filmmakers have clearly asked themselves how to make the sequel bigger. Not better, mind you, just bigger. Well, it definitely is that. It's also fairly stale.

Zachary Levi returns as Billy Batson, the teenage boy who can magically transform himself into the powerful adult superhero Shazam. This time, he has to take on the daughters of the god Atlas. Hespera (Helen Mirren) and Kalypso (Lucy Liu) have procured a magic staff that allows them to harness extreme powers and take away other people's powers. The women intend to enact a sinister plan to get revenge against the Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) for killing their father. Billy sets out to stop them, with the help of his foster care siblings, to whom he granted special abilities at the end of the original. One of those siblings, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), is preoccupied with Ann (Rachel Zegler), the cute new girl at school. 

We're at a point where we get 5-6 superhero movies a year now. Marvel typically releases three, and DC gives us two or three. That's a lot. In fact, it's becoming difficult for them to find innovative stuff to do. Many are pretty similar. Shazam! Fury of the Gods is almost like a greatest hits package of superhero cinema, trotting out things audiences have already seen. A daring bridge rescue? The Amazing Spider-Man and Avengers: Age of Ultron did it previously. A villain destroying a sports stadium? The Dark Knight Rises got there first. Tossing a dragon into the mix? Oh, hi, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Another famous superhero popping in for a surprise cameo? Yeah, they pretty much all do that. Everything in this film has been done before. 

On a comedy level, Shazam! is astoundingly unfunny. Levi and Glazer consistently overdo it, playing the humor at the exaggerated level of a poor '80s sitcom. Taking the characters seriously is hard because they come off as bad-joke machines rather than people (or gods). What does the movie think is hilarious? Gags about port-a-potties, references to the Fast & Furious franchise, and somebody feeding Skittles to a unicorn. That last bit is especially annoying, because the story halts to turn into a commercial for the colorful candy, complete with a character spouting the slogan "Taste the rainbow!" not once, but twice. Comedy of this low quality comes at a nearly non-stop pace, which turns grating after a while. 

The best scenes are the sincere ones, like Billy/Shazam worrying his adoptive parents will kick him out of the house as his 18th birthday approaches. It's nice, too, how sister Mary (Grace Caroline Currey) tries to help him embrace maturity. More of those beats would have been helpful. On other counts, Helen Mirren obviously brings a level of class to the proceedings, and the visual effects are a good step up from the prior installment. Those are bright spots, although they're not bright enough to compensate for the overall tired vibe. 

Shazam! Fury of the Gods is louder and more chaotic than Shazam! was. A great deal of effort was visibly expended on trying to up the ante. Wilder action sequences and wackier comedy aren't what it needs, though. New ideas are. If you see these superhero movies on even a semi-regular basis, a feeling of deja vu is bound to hit you. Is this the path big-screen comic book adventures will continue to go down? Probably. If we keep getting them at the current rate, developing novel ideas will become harder and harder. In that regard, this movie is prescient. 

out of four

Shazam! Fury of the Gods is rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, and language. The running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes.