Shazam! Fury of the Gods is better than the first film, and it’s better than a lot of comic book movies I’ve seen in recent years. David F. Sandberg has knocked it out of the park into the stratosphere with a film that is so full of joy that it reminds me why I love superheroes in the first place.
It took 4 years to get a Shazam! sequel out, but if this crew can keep up the same energy with such strong writing, I’d be greenlighting a dozen more if I had the power. The first Shazam! was a joyful movie that never quite made a bigger dent at the box office than its contemporaries, and looking at the tracking, the same might hold true for the sequel. Thus, it’s my utmost responsibility to implore you to stop reading this now, bookmark the page, and watch it with your friends and family RIGHT NOW!
Shazam! 2 picks up quite some time after the first film, with the kids now closer to ageing out of the foster care system — a key point that shapes some of our characters’ decisions and motivations throughout the film. Now that Billy Batson shares his powers with his family, the group has taken it upon itself to protect Philadelphia from crime. Dealing with the egos of 5 other teenagers is hard enough under one roof, much more when they all can turn into demigods, but those become the least of Billy’s problems when two powerful Goddesses turn up at their door to take those powers away.
The plot isn’t anything spectacular, with the new villains Calypso (Lucy Liu) and Hespera (Helen Mirren) ranking on the lower side when it comes to comic book antagonists. However, the Shazam films seem to be more focused on their heroes and their internal struggles, and in that department, the film excels with flying colours. We get to spend more time with the Shazam! family as, well, a family. Now that each of the kids can independently turn into a super-powered adult with a cape, it opens up some interesting story possibilities in clashing their individual ambitions against each other. Chief among those is Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Mary (Grace Caroline Curry), who have different ideas about pursuing or not their superhero careers apart from Billy’s shadow. The other kids, Darla, Pedro and Eugene, also get to shine in the spotlight with small but noticeable moments that further flesh their personalities out.
I had a lot of fun with the first Shazam! but I wouldn’t quite call it exceptional as far as superhero movies go. Sure, the premise itself and the amount of gleeful heart that went into it makes it a fun watch, with Billy’s story arc tugging at the heartstrings where it matters. One element of that film that never quite hit the highs that my expectations set up was the humour. Adult Billy (Zachary Levy) felt too different from young Billy, almost like a completely different person, and Levy’s loud performance never grounded the character as the troubled kid that he was inside. In Fury of the Gods, both of these issues have been addressed well, even if they came at the cost of severely cutting the number of scenes that Asher Angel is in.
Fury of the Gods is one of the funniest comic book movies I’ve seen, with almost every joke hitting hard. Most of the jokes aren’t obnoxious like I had expected, complimented by the cast’s impeccable comic timing. Helen Mirren gets a standout scene that is perhaps the hardest I’ve laughed in one of these movies; that only goes to show the magic she can weave when given the right material, and the material is strong. The first film didn’t have “juvenile” humour, but the sequel hits the balance between character-rooted one-liners and big-screen apocalyptic spectacle far better than it should. On paper, Shazam is supposed to be one of the strongest DC heroes, given the godly abilities he has. We see much of that power in this film, with key action sequences highlighting the unique aspects of his powers, from super-speed to wisdom, that could potentially challenge the entire Justice League if used correctly.
This is a film made with passion and heart. Its action sequences have kinetic direction, and its slower moments treat its characters with respect, and for that, I need to applaud director David Sandberg. I’ve become quite the fan of his work over the years, and his insight into the world of filmmaking is priceless with the many videos he has made regarding the same on YouTube. Even with films like Annabelle: Creation (a great date movie, mind you) that weren’t critical darlings, he seems to have a great grasp over navigating the sea of challenges that a big production brings with it. The guy knows how to direct an ensemble, and the clear, concise script by Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan keeps the momentum going even when there’s little happening in the overarching plot.
Both Shazam! films are, by no doubt, multi-million dollar studio films, but David Sandberg makes them feel like pure passion projects, unshackled from the restraints that these films usually find themselves in. Each location has its own identity, from Billy’s foster home in Philly to the Rock of Eternity to the realm of the Gods. Using practical sets, on-location shooting, and a good know-how of virtual production helps in making this world believable, something that some recent superhero films have forgotten (Ant-Man 3, Thor 4). The entire movie has this welcoming aura, much thanks to its warm but breezy colours and clean visuals.
Shazam’s mythology is intertwined with real-world Greek mythology, and the film knows it well. Well enough to realise new monsters, new plot devices and cameos (wink) that firmly set it apart from its contemporaries. It kinda scratched my itch for more Percy Jackson, at least until the hopefully better adaptation arrives with the upcoming Disney Plus series. The visual design of these CGI monsters remains clean enough in broad daylight to not be distracting, and the crew knows how to sell the scale of the threats being presented. Films with budgets twice as large struggle to present danger and stakes the same way this one does, which is a big compliment to the crew in being efficient as it is.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods is a total delight, with bigger action and better comedy that doesn’t forget where its heart lies.