‘Shazam! Fury Of The Gods’ Review

by Erik Amaya

It seems time may be Shazam’s truest enemy.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods, now in theaters, is an example of just how brittle the underlying Shazam premise can be. Picking up several years after the events of the first film, the Captain Marvel Shazam Family continues to perform acts of superheroics in and around Philadelphia. But it seems the kids cannot organize into an effective team, leaving the city’s papers to dub them the “Philly Fiascos.” Billy Batson (Asher Angel and Zachary Levi in his Shazam form) is less concerned with their public perception, though, as he is more worried about his impending 18th birthday. When that occurs, he will no longer be a dependent of the state and his foster parents will no longer receive funds to help care for him. Compound that with Billy’s abandonment issues and he assumes he will be asked to leave the only family he’s ever known upon becoming a legal adult.

The notion of a legal adult is important as Billy, aged 17 and a half, is by no means a man. His immaturity is, in fact, one of the most pressing things throughout Fury of the Gods even as the titular foes appear to reclaim the powers of Shazam from the kids. Despite being a constant source of conflict and (alleged) comedy, it is never explored in any deep way. Indeed, his fears about becoming a legal adult should be strong material to work with — especially with primary antagonists the Daughters of Zeus and the Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) representing adults who disapprove of Billy — but it never becomes as meaningful or interesting as the idea suggestions. As a result, Billy’s actions in the third act do not hit as hard as they should.

Additionally, the character’s decision to push his worries aside by remaining in his Shazam form for most of the film means we also loose Angel, a choice that immediately robs the sequel of much of the first film’s charm.

Now, I won’t mince words, I am not fond of Levi as an on-screen presence, but the way he and Angel worked in concert to make Billy an appealing underachiever in the first film was worthy of the Wizard’s magic. This time, Angel’s absence underscores just how creepy it is to have a visibly aging Levi act as though he were still 14.

The movie seems to recognize this, too, and shifts the meatiest story points to the first film’s secret weapon: Jack Dylan Grazer‘s Freddy Freeman. As in Shazam!, he’s the most appealing and successful actor of the ensemble. This time around, he’s given more to do as he both comes to terms with how much the powers of Shazam enable his heroism and begins a fairly sweet romance with transfer student Anthea (Rachel Zegler), who turns out to be a sympathetic member of the Shazam Family’s foes.

In fact, their star-crossed lovers subplot should not work as well as it does and it is a testament to the two young actors that they shine as they do here. Like Billy’s worries about maturity, it is never given enough time to develop, but Grazer and Zegler infuse their characters with enough charm to overcome the lack of time to feature their incipient relationship in a satisfactory way.

As it happens, no idea in Fury of the Gods develops as fully as possible because its fairly straightforward story is overstuffed with an expansive cast.

Beyond the dependable talents of Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu as Anthea’s villainous sisters, the film also sees the return of Billy’s foster family — Freddy, Mary Bromfield (Caroline Grace-Cassidy), Eugene Choi (Ian Chen), Pedro Peña (Jovan Armand), and Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman). Except for Mary, each is also played by a second actor when they say ‘Shazam’ and become superheroes (Adam Brody, Ross Butler, D.J, Controna, and Meagan Good to be exact). There are also the two foster parents, Rosa (Marta Milans) and Victor (Cooper Andrews) Vasquez, who end up ill-served this time around as the movie simply doesn’t have time for them despite being key to resolving Billy’s fears about the future. The same goes for much of Billy and Freddy’s family as there simply isn’t enough time to develop them in any appreciable way. An attempt to advance Pedro amounts to little more than punchline and Darla remains completely static in a memory of the way Herman characterized her in the first film. Granted, because of that, Good ends up the best performer among the adults playing kids. Eugene, in either of his forms, might as well not exist as all he does is give runway to a plot development.

The need to serve so many characters means most of the performances among the returning cast — short of Grazer and Grace-Cassidy (more on her in a moment) — are broader and louder. This is most noticeable in the first hour, but that sensation mellows out as the peril ramps up. Nevertheless, no one beyond Grazer retains as much charm as they had in the first film. And even then, it takes a while for Grazer to find his way back to what made Freddy so winning in Shazam!

Grace-Cassidy is curious exception to the acting trend among the established cast, though. As in the first film, her Mary is the most level-headed member of the group. Thus, the actor is never as broad as the others, but it also makes her and Mary a strange contrast to the noise in nearly every other aspect of the film. But it is also worth pointing out the visual choice to have her play Mary in both her human and Mightiest Mortal guises. It underscores a choice the character made between films for Billy’s sake, but it never really becomes a bigger aspect of the plot, which is unfortunate as a competent and wise Mary continues to heal the ill-associations I have with the character thanks to her treatment in the Countdown era.

Despite all of these issues, the film does find some charm as the Daughters of Zeus unleash their fury in Philly. The characters are grouped in interesting combinations and a few reveal they would be heroes even without powers. There is also a nice adventure aspect I wish had been spread across the whole film as everyone seems better prepared for that tone than the attempt at something darker.

Sadly though, Shazam! Fury of the Gods underscores Billy’s destiny to always be an orphan. In terms of live action, the literal aging of its cast is an unavoidable stumbling block. If the appeal of the original Captain Marvel idea is a young boy becoming Superman by saying a magic word, it is already lost in just the two years between filming the first and second entries in this series. A third flick would either have to confront that or allow Angel to play the part — à la Grace-Cassidy — throughout. But that next film will likely never come, a sensation that also permeates the movie despite its cameos and post-credit scenes. The end result: an intermittently enjoyable movie that can’t help but be a shadow of a much better motion picture.

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