Review: ‘Shazam’ sequel lacks magic



Zachary Levi in Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023).

Recently, news broke that director James Gunn was poached from the MCU to the DC cinematic universe to take the reins of the DC film slate and reimagining the franchise with a slate of new titles. Since then, it’s hard to invest much interest in the unlucky few films that belong to the now-dead DCEU, but which still have to hit theaters before the overhaul can truly begin. 

Among the maligned lineup of DCEU films to release before DC resets yet again is “Shazam! Fury of the Gods”, the sequel to 2019’s “Shazam”. Despite its predecessor’s charm and sweet core, “Shaza! Fury of the Gods” has all of the first film’s flaws and none of its endearing qualities—making for a tonally confused and overcomplicated slog that barely clears the line towards ‘passable’.

Starring Zachary Levi as Shazam, “Fury of the Gods” follows Billy Batson (Asher Angel) a teenager who was gifted a mysterious power from a Wizard (Djimon Hounsou): when he says the word “Shazam”, he transforms into an adult superhero (Levi) with all sorts of powers, including flight and control over lightning. Alongside his foster family (who have also been granted powers) Billy struggles to stop a trio of ancient goddesses— Hespera (Helen Mirren), Kalypso (Lucy Liu) and Anthea (Rachel Zegler)—from transforming the earth into a new home for the gods, and destroying humanity in the process.

What made the first “Shazam” films so easy to love was the refreshingness of the tone—as opposed to the broody, borderline monochromatic atmosphere that bogged down so many other DCEU films, Billy’s youthful persona (literally and figuratively) and his family of pre-pubescent superheroes injected life and levity into a familiar hero narrative. On some level, “Fury of the Gods” understands this strength, but it over-abuses the audience’s affection for seeing a grown man act like a kid—turning Billy into a caricature himself in the process.

It’s frustrating how “Fury of the Gods” loses Billy’s personality for the sake of comedy—yes, the whole shtick of Shazam is that he’s a kid in a grown man’s body, but the way Levi plays adult Billy is so drastically different from Angel’s portrayal of teenage Billy, they almost feel like different characters. As young Billy, Angel is snarky, sure, but often weighed down by his traumatic childhood, and constantly fretting over the safety of his loved ones. He’s young, but suitably serious and worried about both his future and his status as a superhero. The first act in particular goes to great pains to set up that Billy is struggling with imposter syndrome, and is unsure of himself not only as a hero, but a leader.

Bizarrely, though, once he transforms into adult Shazam, all of that insecurity, gravity, and worry is simply gone—replaced by a childlike giddiness that (though admittedly endearing and ripe with comedy) feels entirely disconnected from the emotional arc the film has been attempting to establish for Billy. Levi’s Shazam certainly has his fair share of memorable comedic moments, but they come at the expense of story and character growth. Such a consistently one-note performance becomes grating quickly, and by the time the third act rolls around, it’s hard to take Billy seriously as a character, much less empathize with his plight as a hero.

The plot itself is also frustratingly by-the-numbers, yet it is also somehow overwrought. The “twist” involving Anthea’s reveal as one of the sisters and not just a normal high school student is ruined not only by the posters but also the poor pacing—we haven’t known the character long enough to be particularly moved when she reveals her true nature. Admittedly, though, of the three sisters, Anthea is the strongest—particularly, her romantic relationship with Billy’s brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) is one of the film’s stronger, sweeter subplots.

Freddy himself is without question the films’ strongest asset–where the film seems uninterested in spending any time with young Billy, we do get to spend substantial time with teenage Freddy, who’s dealing with his own feelings of inadequacy and independence—desperate to get out of his brother’s shadow and prove himself as a lone wolf hero. Though the dialogue may be predictable, Grazer’s performance is charismatic and moving enough to make Freddy virtually the only memorable aspect of the film—not only does he get the lion’s share of the best comedic moments, but also the dramatic ones.

In the end, though, an interesting subplot for Freddy is nowhere near enough to rescue “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” from its uninspired script, lazy direction, and wildly ping-ponging pace. Toss in unabashed product placement, hordes of nameless CGI monsters to be defeated in the last act, and a Lucy Liu performance reminiscent of “Power Rangers’ “Rita Repulsa (not in a fun way) and “Fury of the Gods” shakes out as one of the DCEU’s most forgettable installments yet.