The behind-the-scenes uncertainty regarding the DCEU/DCU changeover has been far more intriguing than the bulk of the films released under the DCEU banner. I’m supremely excited for the future projects new co-CEO James Gunn announced in January. More interesting has been the fact that several films are still due to come out before this change officially happens. Black Adam was not good, and despite what its star maintains publicly, it didn’t perform well enough to continue on. But Shazam! Fury of the Gods might. And the movie itself is charming and harmless enough to remain relevant to the DCU, even though it doesn’t work nearly as well as the first one.
The first Shazam! from 2019 wasn’t quite a breath of fresh air for the DC Extended Universe, but it was a whole lot more fun than most of them. Telling the relatively small story of a kid who gets super powers, and moreover becomes an adult man with super powers, was a delightful comedic spin. Just a kid from Philadelphia who doesn’t know what he’s doing. It had something of a ’90s vibe to the tone and it worked for the most part.
A sequel seemed inevitable, because of course it did. Shazam! Fury of the Gods picks up a few years after the first one. Billy Batson (Asher Angel) and his foster family all have super powers and seem to cause more mayhem than help people. Billy spends most of his time in his super alter ego (Zachary Levi) guise, and tries to hold his five super-sibs together. While some, like Mary (played in both iterations by Grace Caroline Currey), wants to finish college and get a job, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer and Adam Brody) just wants to fly solo, or at least with only Billy.
Trouble arises when the Daughters of Atlas (Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, Rachel Zegler) appear on the scene, demanding the not-dead wizard (Djimon Hounsou) re-forge the broken staff from the first movie so they can steal back their father’s powers from the Shazamily. Each of the Daughters has a different, deadly power, and each has a different level of contempt for humanity. Through the course of the movie, Billy will have to re-learn what it means to be a hero while everyone else has to learn other things.
First the good stuff. This movie mostly retains the level of humor of the first, which was its best feature. The movie smartly pairs Hounsou and Grazer together for large portion of the story and their comedic repartee is consistently good. Freddy got by far the best character arc in the movie. The youngest sister Darla (Faithe Herman) and her superhero counterpart (Meagan Good) is another standout. Hilarious with their upbeat naivete at every turn. A particular moment toward the end got me to blurt-laugh.
I also had a lot of fun with the movie’s big evil creatures. Director David F. Sandberg’s horror roots came through a lot in the first movie and I had assumed they’d be a bit watered down in this one. However, toward the end, we get some huge, gnarly mythical creatures for the family to fight and they scratched that tonal itch.
Unfortunately, the part that worked the least for me was Billy/Shazam himself. We get shockingly little of Asher Angel this time around (who honestly could be a superhero himself) and instead we have Levi’s teen-in-a-man’s-body schtick which I think has just worn a bit thin. He was far more annoying than I remember in the first movie. His ineptitude and emotional immaturity, while occasionally funny, just seemed so much more out of place here. I didn’t buy his arc, all the way up to the end. The villains, well played as they are, also didn’t do much to play off of Billy’s insecurities. Dr. Sivana in the first movie was much more a foil to Billy. The Daughters of Atlas are just angry demigods.
So, despite the humor, the story didn’t grab me the way the first film’s did. With the exception of Freddy, who was the best. Shazam! Fury of the Gods is still entertaining enough and definitely isn’t stupid or badly cobbled together like Black Adam was. And hey, if they make some more Shazam! movies, it wouldn’t be the worst thing. But if you’re hoping for “the first movie but bigger and better,” only one of those is true, and definitely hampers the other.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods hits theaters March 17.