A film review by Craig J. Koban March 28, 2023


2023, PG-13, 130 mins.

Zachary Levi as Shazam  /  Asher Angel as Billy Batson  /  Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman  /  Adam Brody as Super Hero Freddy  /  Grace Caroline Currey as Mary Bromfield / Super Hero Mary  /  Helen Mirren as Hespera  /  Lucy Liu as Kalypso  /  Rachel Zegler as Anthea  /  Meagan Good as Super Hero Darla  /  Faithe Herman as Darla Dudley  /  Ross Butler as Super Hero Eugene  /  D.J. Cotrona as Super Hero Pedro  /  Jovan Armand as Pedro Peņa  /  Djimon Hounsou as Wizard  /  Cooper Andrews as Victor Vasquez

Directed by David F. Sandberg  /  Written by Chris Morgan and Henry Gayden



One of the main reasons why the first SHAZAM! movie worked so well was because it not only represented a welcome and refreshing tonal shift from the darker DCEU films that predicated it, but it also contained an infectious wish-fulfillment fantasy premise of a young teen being able to magically transform into an adult super hero with powers that would rival Superman (think BIG cross morphed with comic book fiction and you kind of get the idea).  

On top of that, it was one of the DCEU's most sweet-natured, amusing, and purely entertaining entries of the bunch. It fared well both critically and financially, leaving a sequel all but inevitable.  SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS doesn't quite soar in the same way as its predecessor, and is - much like far too many sequels - a bit too chaotic and busy minded for its own good (there are an awful lot of heroes, villains, and alter egos all vying for attention and screen time here).  But the infectiously likeable cast here (carried over from the last entry) have such a breezy, easy-going chemistry and that it allows for the film to mostly deliver on fun factor, even when its obvious deficiencies creep up.   

In case you forgot, 2019's SHAZAM! played remarkably faithful to the origin story of the DC Comics character, featuring teen Billy Batson (Asher Angel) meeting a mystical wizard (Djimon Hounsou) that bestowed upon him super powers (that, and upon saying the wizard's name SHAZAM! he transformed in a hulking adult, played affectionately by Zachary Levi, who thoroughly made it feel credible that he was an adolescent in a man's physique).  Even more intriguing, young Billy would even grant his powers to his fellow foster home family members, including Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer and Adam Brody), Eugene (Ross Butler and Ian Chen), Darla (Faith Herman and Meagan Good), Mary (Grace Caroline Currey), and Pedro (D.J. Cotrona and Jovan Armand), with all of them keeping this a well guarded secret from their foster parents.  This Shazam-powered family managed to defeat the evil Dr. Sivana at the conclusion of the last film, leaving the door open for them to continue their super hero-ing days in the City of Brotherly Love.  All of these kids sure do mean well, but they're not the most coordinated bunch, as is shown in the opening of SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS when they all attempt to save hundreds from a collapsing bridge.  Billy and his clan have big hearts, but often their efforts lead to some unintentional collateral damage, with the media giving them the unflattering nickname of the "Philadelphia Fiascos."  

Yeah, it doesn't have the same noble ring as the "Justice League".  

Life seems both good and increasingly complicated for Billy, seeing as he's about to turn 18 and has fears that he'll be asked to leave the cozy and loving confines of his foster home, having aged out.  An even larger threat looms over Billy and his foster brothers and sisters in the form of Hespera (Helen Mirren) and Kalypso (Lucy Liu), two nearly unstoppably powerful daughters of Atlas that have shown up in Philadelphia to secure the Staff of Gods, giving them the power to control all of humanity (on a side note, Billy was a bit careless in getting rid of this staff in the first film to ensure that it doesn't fall into the wrong hands).  With these two borderline indestructible goddesses unveiling themselves to Billy and company, he soon realizes that the pair are too big of a threat for him alone to contain and stop, leaving him trying to gather his family to band together with a plan to stop them (remember, because they're all basically kids - with the exception of Mary - planning for battle is not their strong suit).  Concurrent to this is Freddy's continued social humiliation at school (despite his super hero identity), but he's quickly befriended by an attractive new fellow student, Anthea (WEST SIDE STORY's wonderful Rachel Zegler), and it certainly doesn't take the wisdom of Solomon to deduce how she figures into the plot latter on, in a reveal that should surprise no one.   



One of the finer aspects of SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS is that it definitely tries to appease series fans and isn't a lazy phoned-in effort as far as comic book sequels go.  The cast and director David F. Sandberg (returning behind the camera) knows the type of film they made before and wholeheartedly try to deliver it again this go around.  The same level of unbridled enthusiasm that was apparent before is once again in abundance here, with star Levi leading the pack and fully embracing the underlining goofy nature of playing a hero with the psychology and mindset of a 17-year-old.  He has good comedic timing throughout SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS and has more screentime playing opposite of his foster sibling heroes too, which gives this chapter another compelling layer of comedic possibilities.  There are a handful of amusing scenes that come at the expense of Billy coming to grips with maturity and his own costume clad identity, which is shown in an early scene of him trying to spill his guts to what he thinks is a psychologist, but instead finds out is a pediatrician.  He also has - shall we say - fantasies about women, one of which is a very familiar Amazonian from the DCEU that he dreams of having dinner dates with; she's hopelessly out of his league, not to mention that he's way, way too young for her.

SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS denotes much of its story to the crippled Freddie (one of the last film's character treasures, to be sure), who develops a crush on Anthea and makes multiple awkward attempts at getting her to open up and like him (Zegler is such a limitlessly appealing and talented actress that has decent chemistry with Grazer, but considering what she brought to the table in her last film, portraying a love interest might seem like a qualitative step down for her).  It's interesting too how this sequel focuses a surprising amount of time on Freddie in human form and far less so than Angel's Billy, but Grazer is so oddly charming in his role that it could hardly be labeled as an overreach.  What is an issue with SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS is just how jam-packed it is with characters.  With so many new super hero team members, Sandberg and company have to juggle around storytelling priorities, which leads to some characters feeling more fleshed out and developed than others.  The villains here are also a regrettable step down from Mark Strong's layered baddie in the franchise's introductory installment.  Mirren is a god among actresses, to be sure, and she seems to be enjoying herself as her immortal centuries-old being that takes great relish in destroying everything in her way, but her role never feels all that substantive and doesn't give the acclaimed thespian much to really work with.  Faring less well is Lucy Liu as the other Atlas daughter, and she hams it up more than Mirren, but in a much more distractingly wooden fashion.  These villains are also far less interesting than the armies of mystical monsters that they conjure up to destroy the heroes, like a dragon that seems made up of burning wood chips.  All of this culminates in yet another (sigh) final climatic act in these types of genre efforts that involves the heroes battling it out against squadrons of CG beasts with a tremendous amount of mayhem and property damage occurring in the process.  

I say this to both the makers of the MCU and DCEU: Please...stop...ending...your...films...with...city destruction porn.  It's becoming an awfully tiring and overused super hero film troupe that's getting stale.  However, SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS mixes up this formula a bit with the inclusion of Skittles eating unicorns (yeah, don't ask).   

It's not that moments like this climax - and others - are not helmed well by Sandberg.  He does marry comedy, action, and light horror elements as well as any could considering the source material (this series is cute, but not overly cute and cuddly).  Maybe SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS is too riddled with aestheticizing visual effects and chaos that frequently distract from the emotional core of these characters.  Thankfully, Sandberg doesn't lose complete sight of his heroes and their respective growing pain woes, and the added subtext of Billy being tormented by the thought of "aging out" of the foster home that he has come to call a real family (after being abandoned by his biological mother as a child) gives this sequel some much needed dramatic levity amidst all of the oftentimes widespread madness.  Shazam himself might be a confident and assured being and Earth's mightiest mortal, but his teen alter ego battles legitimate fears of abandonment and loneliness.  SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS doesn't always stick to landing when it comes to these themes of family unity, personal responsibility, and nagging feelings of inadequacy for Billy and probably could have explored them more meaningfully, but they're decent additions, nevertheless, that aim to expand upon this unique mythology.

I was really on the fence with this film.  I thoroughly ate up the first SHAZAM! and thought that it was not only one of the better DCEU offerings, but one of the more consistently engaging super hero films of recent memory.  The focus of SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS ranges from meandering to sometimes hopelessly lost, not to mention that it's just not as slickly assembled and cohesive of a package as what we got before.  Sandberg and company don't - ahem! - capture lighting in a bottle twice with the new entry, but the film manages to smooth over its clear-cut rough edges by retaining the pleasantly goofy charm and pleasures of its ensemble cast that made SHAZAM! so winning.  That, and considering the litany of recent super hero sequels that haven't really thrilled or won me over as of late, I still came out of SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS with a mostly affectionate smile on my face, which is what ultimately allows me to give it a passing grade.  Plus, both SHAZAM films don't take themselves too seriously, nor do they play things too disagreeably broad to the point of betraying the essence of the comic books that inspired them (completely unlike, say, the disappointingly dour and uninspired BLACK ADAM).  

I mean, this film has its hero upper cut a dragon.  

That's pretty broad, don't get me wrong, but also pretty damn cool.   

SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS lacks discipline, but atones for that it its non-stop yearning to please.  

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