Two years after the events of the first film, Shazam! Fury of the Gods reintroduces us to Billy Batson and his foster family fighting the Daughters of Atlas, who have come to steal Shazam’s powers and restore the Gods’ Realm.
What I appreciated most about the first Shazam film was the harmonious blend between civilian and superhero plot arcs; the challenges Billy faced to let his walls down and accept a found family influenced and reflected his growth into a hero that fought for the people of Philadelphia. Sadly, the sequel doesn’t recreate this balance. Shazam! Fury of the Gods leans heavily on the superhero side of things. The best evidence of how the film sidelined the civilian aspect is the frequency of scenes where characters hashed out personal issues while in superhero costumes. More emphasis is given to magical mayhem than to the quiet, emotion-heavy moments that would’ve grounded the film. With a needlessly fast pace, the film jumped from scene to scene and location to location before plot beats could settle in and marinate, weakening the intended impact. Every lesson, reveal and turning point is just a little too easily earned for my liking. It felt like the film was rushing through its runtime. That is understandable, given it had to cram in aged-up characters, new romances, new villains, a heap of lore to teach and a shifting foster home situation. Too much is being introduced without leaving breathing room for a deep impression to be made.
This sequel skips over much of the character development, with shifts in personalities, ambitions, senses of self and more occurring off-screen in the gap between the first and second film. Things emerge with no build-up or are justified so shallowly that you’d think, “Oh, well, this is happening now, I guess?” Any loose ends that did make the jump from the first to the second film are sloppily treated. Frustratingly, some of the best parts of the first Shazam, like Billy and Freddie butting heads, lack nourishment in this new instalment. As such, this sequel doesn’t feel strongly attached to its predecessor. Rather than an upward progression, Shazam! Fury of the Gods resembles a plateau.
This second instalment introduces a romantic layer to the series, which I really could have done without! For a narrative already bursting at the seams, it would be overly ambitious to attempt to develop a romantic relationship that builds naturally and satisfyingly within one film. Alas, Shazam! Fury of the Gods is nothing if not ambitious and becomes another casualty in Hollywood’s agenda to force heteronormative romances. Sure, there were endearing and funny moments between couples that brought a smile to my face, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that time given to romance was better spent elsewhere. Also, both romantic entanglements involve an underaged boy pursuing a woman that is technically, if not obviously, much older than them. The movie even makes a joke about this. But self-reflexively calling attention to the questionability of your plot point isn’t the flex you think it is!
Shazam! Fury of the Gods relies so much on Zachary Levi in the titular role, and while he isn’t bad for the movie by any means, his purpose is to bring out more humour than heart. The overfocus on his presence meant that one-liners and physical comedy dominated the film. Levi is great for injecting humour to diffuse tension and startle out laughs from the audience. Still, this sequel needed his younger counterpart Asher Angel’s raw earnestness and youthful awkwardness to balance out Levi’s wit. Unfortunately, Angel being sidelined for much of the film heralded an overall lack of grounded sentiment for the film. Where Angel faded, Jack Dylan Grazer’s Freddie shone. Putting in another scene-stealing performance, Grazer held his own against seasoned actors that shared the screen with him, including Djimon Hounsou, Lucy Liu and Helen Mirren. He showed skill in portraying a fumbling, wise-cracking, buoyant teen that never felt like a comedic crutch but more a necessary spark for the film. I never considered the pairing of excitable Freddie and world-weary Shazam/The Wizard, but I’m so glad we got it!
I’ve said a lot regarding the lacking emotional layer for this film, but what about the action that has taken precedence? Well, if nothing else, Shazam! Fury of the Gods will dazzle with its many spirited, flashy and amusing battles. Though the exposition-heavy introduction to an expanding story world left much to be desired, the actual world that’s being built is intriguing. While most superhero films choose the route of science fiction to contextualise the heroes, I’m glad this film dived headfirst into the fantasy genre with sentient objects, old gods, mythical creatures and alternate realms. Shazam! Fury of the Gods definitely delivers on spectacle. I’ve always supported superhero film adaptions that embrace their quirky, campy comic book origins, and this sequel holds nothing back in terms of colour, slapstick and vivacity. From elaborate costumes to awesome monsters, and every lightning zap and reality warp in between, there is never a dull moment with Shazam! Fury of the Gods.