One of the most delightful parts of the late DCEU kerfluffle was 2019’s Shazam. Director David F. Sandberg combined some of his horror style, the usual superhero sensibilities, and a story rooted in heart and family to be a delightful surprise. The film captured how a teenager would act if they were bestowed ancient powers, but didn’t forget the base issue making for a nice little balance. With any superhero franchise, sequels usually implore their stories to move to a bigger and grander scale. That can sometimes cause the main essence of what made the original so great to be lost in translation.
Writers Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan have many topics they want to investigate. It’s been two years since the first film, so the Shazam family has grown up. With different personalities, there are other wants and needs. At the center of it all, an almost 18-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is afraid of aging out of the foster system. To that token, he holds on to his adopted brothers and sisters a little too tightly. For instance, Mary (Grace Caroline Currey) wants to attend college. While they have fun (attempting) to save the world straight from the comfortable confines of Philadelphia, it’s clear the end is coming.
However, before they can go their separate ways, retribution is coming. The Daughters of Atlas – Hespera (Helen Mirren), Kalypso (Lucy Liu), and Anthea (Rachel Zegler) seek revenge for the death of their father. Naturally, they also want to get a lot at the assortment of people enjoying the fruits of his powers. So, from those perspectives, the stage is set. However, there are so many characters in play, that it’s hard to get a good read on all the motivations.
One of the most effective devices from the original is the balance between Billy’s teen form and his souped-up adult counterpart (played by Zachary Levi). Levi was able to balance his goofiness with the ethos of Angel. This dynamic is wholly flipped in Fury of the Gods, where Levi reigns supreme for most of the film. The way his adult Shazam acts often comes to the detriment of the natural fear of drifting away from the people you’ve known.
If there is a standout this time around, it’s the performance of Jack Dylan Grazer. Freddy is still hilarious and has his standout moments being outside his “Captain Everypower.” alias (played by Adrian Brody). Freddy has a separate love storyline involving Anthea, whereas Zegler can show a balanced approach to what her sisters feel. Anthea is more thoughtful about the “destroying the world” bit and exhibits charm regarding her budding relationship with the human she’s taken a liking to.
It’s a bit more character development within the totality of the three sisters. Kalypso is relegated to bringing down hellfire and brimstone, while Hespera starts to come around towards the end of Fury of the Gods. While having actresses the caliber of Mirren and Liu in one superhero film is a delight, you’ll end up wishing there was a little more justification for why they are here. That’s not all to say Fury of the Gods doesn’t have its fun moments. The humorous jaunts are still present, and Levi tries to display different emotions within his current form (even if it feels like his teenage self needed to take a crack at it).
The final third-act battle can be entertaining at points, but seems to run itself in circles at a particular moment. Thus the conclusion that can be decided at the end of Fury of the Gods is that it’s very aware of why you enjoyed the first film so much – that DNA still resides in doses. Its problem resides in having so many ingredients needing attention where some of its textbook soul dissipates. In one particular instance, a character reveals their sexuality to the rest of the family.
On the one hand, it’s a triumph that they were so accepting immediately. At another token, the moment is moved on from so quickly, it doesn’t feel like it’s that important. The “Philly Fiascos” gives you plenty to root for – only if we got to know more of them in the process.