There was a time when the once-rocky Warner Bros.’ DCEU/Snyderverse was pivoted in the right direction with ‘Aquaman’ and ‘Shazam!’ – both superhero movies that successfully embraced the campy and fun tones. The latter was a hugely entertaining movie, thanks to its endearing ‘Big’-like body-swapping comedy mixed with the superhero-movie tropes and a mostly solid cast led by Zachary Levi playing the titular role.
Well, that was in 2019, and a lot of things have changed ever since. The DCEU/Snyderverse is heading towards the end of the road this year to make way for James Gunn and Peter Safran, who is now in charge of spearheading the new DCU slate after last month’s announcement of ‘Chapter 1: Gods and Monsters’. The long-delayed sequel of ‘Shazam! Fury of the Gods’, which is supposed to release on April 2022 but got delayed a few times due to the certain pandemic, and even pulled out from its last December slot to avoid competing with ‘Avatar: The Way of Water.”
The movie seems like a forgotten leftover stuck in an awkward position. What was once a highly-anticipated sequel after the success of the 2019 original got me pondering with questions like ‘is this movie even matters anymore?’ or ‘how does the Snyderverse-era of Shazam character going to fit into Gunn and Safran’s DCU in the future?’
Whatever the future holds is anybody’s guess for now after I choose to watch ‘Shazam! Fury of the Gods’ based on its own merits (read: standalone), even though the sequel did include a certain cameo appearance – and in an unexpected, (or is it intentional?) move, the studio itself spoils the big cameo reveal on a TV spot – that would spark a debate among many fans and audiences alike.
In this sequel, years have passed after Shazam (Zachary Levi) saved the world and defeated Sivana (Mark Strong), with the latter finally ending up in prison. But there’s a new threat on the horizon after the angry Daughters of Atlas (Helen Mirren’s Hespera and Lucy Liu’s Kalypso) are on a quest to retrieve their lost powers and exact revenge on mankind. Meanwhile, it’s business as usual – superhero duties, that is — for Billy Batson (Asher Angel) and his foster siblings. We also learn that Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) is in love with a beautiful newcomer in school named Anne (Rachel Zegler).
‘Shazam! Fury of the Gods’ gets off to a promising start, and it was a tense one as returning director David F. Sandberg made good use of its PG-13 rating to combine an effective mix of visceral horror and action. He doesn’t forget to lighten up in some of the major action set pieces, including a scene that takes place on a collapsing suspension bridge. Just like the first movie, the action sequences here are thrillingly staged with enough clarity. And coming from the horror roots, it also helps that he knows well how to raise the stakes filled with palpable tensions, particularly during the all-out, albeit overstretched, third-act finale against one of the Daughters of Atlas.
The special effects are nothing spectacular but adequate enough for a $100 million production, which turns out to be a surprise for a VFX-heavy superhero sequel that would normally cost a lot more, somewhere between $150 and $200 million, judging by its numerous large-scale set pieces.
The story – credited to Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan – is a mixed bag this time around. There’s a nagging sense of sequelitis syndrome with the movie’s mix of family dynamics and juvenile comedy moments that tend to borderline into a corny outcome. The coming-of-age vibe that mostly defined the first movie is greatly reduced in favor of a more straightforward revenge story about the Daughters of Atlas hell-bent on destroying mankind.
Their motivation is a standard-issue excuse for watching these antagonists wreaking havoc in the city. How I wish the movie would give them a substantial backstory rather than thrusting the daughters of Atlas right from the get-go by dumbing down their characters just for the sake of getting to the point. It’s a pity because Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu deserve better than the underwritten characters they get in this movie. Still, Mirren does what she can to make her role worthwhile, and I can see she has a field day embracing the character and even has a particular comic moment involving her reading a letter.
As for the recurring cast, Zachary Levi still nails his titular man-child role even at 42 years of age (at the time of the sequel’s release date), while Jack Dylan Grazer nearly steals the show as Freddy and his unlikely buddy-comedy pairing with Djimon Hounsou’s wizard Shazam leads to some of the most entertaining moments in the movie, thanks to their contrasting personalities.
This is especially true with Grazer’s antsy and talkative Freddy and Hounsou’s no-nonsense Shazam. Franchise newcomer Rachel Zegler, who made such a lasting impression in her film debut in Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ remake, exudes enough radiant charm in her supporting role as Anne.
Likewise, don’t forget to stick around for the mid-credits and post-credits scenes.