Shazam! Fury of the Gods
The Shazam family returns for a new adventure where they come up against vengeful Gods while struggling to gel as a family unit in David F. Sandberg’s Shazam!: Fury of the Gods.
Shazam! was a pleasant surprise as far as superhero movies go. It was a departure from the dreary grit that had come to define the DC films and had some genuine emotional depth. It didn’t reinvent the wheel but did enough to stand out and declare itself a property with legs. A sequel promising to lean into the Gods and Monsters mythology aspect that the first film teases was undoubtedly an interesting prospect and feels like a natural expansion of what was set up.
For the most part, Fury of the Gods accomplishes what it sets out to do and accomplishes it very well. The film picks up a few years after the first with Billy Batson (Asher Angel/Zachary Levi) anxious about his upcoming 18th birthday as it means he legally becomes an adult and ages out of the foster system. His concern is that he will no longer be a part of the family he has found as his foster parents will no longer receive money to be spent on caring for him. This anxiety has contributed to a mindset of overcompensation. He works to encourage the family to stay together when it comes to their heroics which includes trying to force an “everyone or no one” mantra when operating as superheroes.
Billy’s arc is set up as being based on fear. He is afraid of his life-changing and actively works to maintain the comfortable status quo. The problem is that other members of his family have ambitions of their own that will change the family dynamic if achieved. Particularly, Freddie (Jack Dylan Grazer/Adam Brody) and Mary (Grace Caroline Currey) are looking at their own futures so there is change in the air and Billy is unable to accept that it’s a necessary part of life whether that be good or bad. In essence, he wants to preserve the life he likes in a bubble which becomes literal when Philadelphia is literally encased in a bubble which forces him to consider the wider impact of his selfish desire to hold others back for his own benefit. It isn’t an arc that receives as much attention as the establishment of it might suggest but it does have a conclusion that comes at the right moment.
A general criticism that can be lobbied at this film is that it doesn’t develop the ideas that it introduces to any great extent. Billy’s arc disappears until being brought up at the end to be resolved, Freddy’s ambition to be a solo hero is something that is mentioned a couple of times rather than actually being shown and Mary’s desire to contribute to the family that has been so good to her while forging her own path into adulthood by going to college receives very little in the way of attention. Her forgotten arc is the biggest missed opportunity as her desire to grow up compliments Billy resisting transitioning into adulthood perfectly. With more work, it could have made for a strong basis of development for both of the characters. Instead, they form part of a tapestry of ideas that never have the chance to breathe.
Another issue is that there is a constant struggle to balance the younger cast with the older costumed heroes. Asher Angel has far less screen time compared to Zachary Levi and their performances don’t match so it’s difficult to accept that they are supposed to be the same character. Wish fulfilment is part of the appeal of this character so it could be explained by the adult Zachary Levi played Billy being him as he would like to be with all the confidence and emotional vulnerability that he feels uneasy about exhibiting as his younger self. Even at that, there are no similarities to latch onto. The same applies to the others -though the opposite is true for Freddy as Adam Brody only appears in a handful of scenes- with the exception of Mary. There’s a missing explanation of the mechanics of the powers as Grace Caroline Currey playing Mary in both guises suggests that the grown-up heroes are what the younger characters will age into but that doesn’t track consistently.
Failing to fully explore ideas is often a dealbreaker for superhero films. Fury of the Gods is no exception to the tendency for these films to cram too much in and never pick a coherent direction but this film stands out from its contemporaries in that it excels at delivering a viewing experience that distracts from its flaws and encourages the audience to be drawn in by what it does well. It’s undoubtedly a trick but it’s one that works.
Even though the film loses track of many of the ideas it sets up there is a strong throughline to be found in Freddy. Jack Dylan Grazer takes the lead for a sizable chunk of the second act and he’s more than up to the challenge. There’s a romantic subplot associated with his character that works well enough but his general development towards understanding that being a hero is more than having powers is excellently handled. It’s a standard journey for heroes but it keeps coming up because of how easily it ties into relatable development points such as growing self-confidence or emotional growth. Self-confidence isn’t really one of Freddy’s confidence but channelling that self-confidence into being a person worthy of being considered a hero is something he has to learn and the film does an excellent job taking him down that path.
Narratively, the film is very simple. Vengeful Gods decide to wage War on Humanity to chase a magical MacGuffin that can restore their realm. Hespera (Helen Mirren) and Kalypso (Lucy Liu) don’t stray far from villain archetypes but they’re impressively menacing and the two actors are clearly having a blast chewing the scenery in gloriously theatrical fashion when they get the opportunity to do so. They’re suitably menacing, a credible threat and the film doesn’t forget they exist so there’s palpable urgency to them as antagonists. Joining them is the more reluctant Anthea (Rachel Zegler) who is sadly wasted in an often thankless role that could have been so much more than the film allows but as an extension of the idea of familial dysfunction present in the Shazam family they do what is required.
Fury of the Gods maintains a consistently light-hearted tone that manages not to stray into the realm of being too silly. It never loses sight of its clear desire to be a fun superhero film but it also wants to be taken seriously. It’s an important balance to achieve as failing to do so renders the stakes meaningless. The setup allows for juvenile humour as the premise involves teenagers being recognised as adults and having expectations placed on them that they aren’t emotionally prepared for. Zachary Levi is the perfect embodiment of a teenager trapped in an adult body and the script supports his performance by having constant reminders of how young Billy is by peppering gleeful comments about how impressive his feats are. There is also recognition of how serious the situation is and how overwhelmed the characters are by being forced to tackle problems many of them aren’t emotionally mature enough to handle. As such there are a lot of jokes that take advantage of the unique setup and many of them land as intended. It’s bursting with charm thanks to the capable cast giving their all.
A superhero film needs set pieces and Fury of the Gods doesn’t disappoint in that regard. There are a variety of visually impressive and mechanically creative action sequences peppered throughout the film. An early sequence where the Shazam family work to deal with a collapsing bridge is brilliantly constructed and capably sets up the limitation of the group being inexperienced heroes who don’t work well together. The third act climax featuring a variety of magical creatures and a dragon made of wood is also very impressive and gives all of the characters a moment to shine. In general, the action is coherent, mixes practical effects with CGI well and never fails to be exciting. It’s refreshing after so many superhero films shot almost entirely in front of a green screen with an obvious lack of tangibility to the set pieces. The production design deserves special mention as the design work on the various magical creatures is stunning. The wooden dragon looks incredible and the collection of magical creatures threatening innocent bystanders is equally noteworthy. A lot of effort was put into what this film delivers and the end result is superhero action that feels meaningful because the visuals actually dazzle. It says a lot about the state of the genre when impressive visuals are a novelty.
A fun and visually stunning superhero outing with excellent production design, creative set pieces and an abundance of charm.
- creative set pieces
- excellent visuals
- stunning production design
- Jack Dylan Grazer shouldering a lot of the emotional weight
- Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu chewing scenery
- a light-hearted tone that never strays into being too silly
- bursting with charm
- setting up lots of ideas that aren’t fully explored
- failing to strike a balance between the younger and older actors
- no sense that Asher Angel and Zachary Levi are the same person
- Rachel Zegler sadly being wasted
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