After being bestowed powers from mythic gods, Billy Batson and his foster siblings struggle to manage their double lives as ordinary kids and grandiose superheroes. While shouldering these responsibilities, the arrival of three vengeful deities puts the world's fate at stake in Shazam! Fury of the Gods.
The superhero craze continues to press forward whether audiences like it or not. Even with an affinity for superhero lore, I am starting to feel a sense of fatigue towards the overabundance of cape-wielding heroes forced to save the world from emerging threats. How many times can we witness the same big-budget setpieces and high-flying theatrics before growing weary? I credit Black Panther: Wakana Forever for infusing stirring sentiments into its well-worm formula, but other recent superhero features, like Black Adam, Thor: Love and Thunder, and Ant-Man: Qutumania, represented a new nadir in quality and creativity.
The news of a Shazam! sequel gave me some optimism for the genre. 2019's Shazam! was a delightful surprise, opting away from superheroes' panache for conflict and mayhem in favor of a character-driven tale focused on a makeshift foster family. The film's ever-beating heart radiated throughout the production, with director David F. Sandberg concocting a warm, family-friendly story modeled from the influences of old-school classics like Goonies and Big.
That enchanting charm somehow dissipates in Shazam! Fury of the Gods. This wayward sequel prioritizes weightless spectacle over the compelling qualities that made the original a refreshing breath of fresh air.
The foundation of Fury of the Gods is promising enough. Billy and his siblings, Freddy, Mary, Eugene, Pedro and Darla, continue to be likable figures to rally behind, with the young cast of Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Caroline Grace-Cassidy, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand and Faithe Herman building upon their genuine onscreen rapport. The group shares an earnest, affectionate chemistry that perfectly encapsulates the light-hearted appeals of adolescent friendships. Fury of the Gods introduces a few intriguing wrinkles for the ensemble to reckon with, whether it's Billy's growing fears as he matures into an adult or Freddy's desire to find a sense of self outside his family. These facets are intriguing growth areas for the characters as the sequel attempts to balance the original's breezy approach with an infusion of emotional maturity.
If only the film let its promising inclusions have time to marinate onscreen. The finite focus that made Shazam! such a delight is noticeably absent here. Instead, Fury of the Gods falls into a familiar sequel trap - confusing bigger, louder and busier as attributes needed to conjure an engaging follow-up.
Ironically, the superhero elements are the worst part of Fury of the Gods. For a big-budget tentpole, the film looks shockingly shoddy. Sandberg still features his welcomed panache for genre-movie style, but these moments are few and far between in a sequel that favors a creatively vacant, CGI-driven aura. From prehistoric dragons to zapping lighting bolts, every dreary and needlessly expensive creation does not sell a sense of reality to ground the chaos. The effects work all blend into a product that looks and feels like a last-generation novelty. Additionally, no single action scene here registers as anything more than a mundane break in the story. Sandberg seems to take a backseat in these frames, allowing a generic, studio-driven sheen to replace his more electric visual style.
The screenplay is equally lifeless. Screenwriters Chris Morgan and Henry Gayden leave character-building on the back burner in a bizarre effort propelled by boring MacGuffin devices. I have a hard time recalling what Fury of the Gods was about. There are elements concerning an ancient artifact, a world-ending threat, and a trio of villains, but it was all too disinteresting to care about. Not even the talents of skilled actors like Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, and Rachel Zelger can make the adversary roles pop onscreen.
Fury of the Gods never grows from its predecessor's achievements. Much of the meta-humor and zaniness that made Shazam! appealing is present, yet the film rarely rediscovers the same dynamic charm. Zachary Levi's performance as Shazam, aka Billy Batson's adult superhero persona, is a deft illustration of the lesser returns. Unfortunately, Levi's high-energy delivery is more cloying than captivating, with the film dialing up the character's goofy tendencies to anobnoxious degree. The actor's well-meaning yet ineffective efforts are just another example of where the film steers itself astray from the original's successes.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods is as forgettable and apathetic as a superhero film can get. While I would not call the sequel an unmitigated disaster, it sadly exists as a dull shadow of what came before it.
Shazam Fury of the Gods is now playing in theaters.