Unless you’re a superfan, it’s next to impossible to figure out what’s going on in the DC Comics at the movies. There’s the biggest part, the DC Extended Universe, that has included Batman v. Superman, Wonder Woman, and Justice League. But the two recent films with DC characters that were best reviewed were 2019’s Joker and 2022’s The Batman, neither of which are considered part of the DCEU.
One that does belong is 2019’s Shazam!, which is finally getting a sequel, Shazam! Fury of the Gods. Billy Batson (Asher Angel), Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), and the rest of their foster family who were turned into superheroes in the first film spend a lot of their time saving the day in and around Philadelphia. Billy – played in superhero form by Zachary Levi – is the most gung-ho about their adventures, with most of the others finding distractions in everyday life.
Without getting too deep in the finer details, a trio of ancient gods – Hespera (Helen Mirren), Kalypso (Lucy Liu), and Anthea (Rachel Zegler) – reclaim a staff that was broken in the first film, regaining powers that had long been lost. Now they’re hellbent on world domination … or revenge on Billy for breaking the staff … or, oh, who knows, just watch things blow up and hope the Shazam heroes can save the day.
Directed once again by David Sandberg and written by Henry Gayden, Chris Morgan, and Bill Parker, the film has sequel-itis in the worst way. Everything has to be bigger, which totally negates the charm that the first film had. That includes a (totally unbelievable) bridge collapse early in the film, big CGI battles, and the destruction of more buildings than you can count.
The unavoidable fact that the kids have aged has much to do with the change in tone, as the innocent wonder with which they approached their new powers is gone. The shifting back-and-forth between the kid and adult versions of the characters worked well in the first film, but they struggle to justify it here, winding up with a mish-mash that’s unsatisfying on both sides.
The villains also leave a lot to be desired. Some of it has to do with the bizarre teaming of Mirren, Liu, and Zegler, who just don’t work either as a group or individually. This lack of chemistry makes them inert as bad guys, too. Their wildly different personalities don’t mesh, so even though they do a lot of dastardly things, it’s difficult to feel any enmity toward them.
Levi remains the best thing about the film, portraying a level of giddiness that any kid who can transform at will into a superhero would probably have. The foster family works well when everyone is in kid form, but when they’re all superheroes, the actors don’t seem to belong together at all. Sadly, the foster parents played by Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews don’t get much to do this time around.
Shazam! was a rare bright spot for the DCEU, but Fury of the Gods misses the mark in almost all aspects. It’s serviceable entertainment for anyone who doesn’t expect much from these types of films, but it will be a disappointment for anyone who thought Shazam and company could continue to bring something bright and different to comic book movies.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods opens in theaters on March 17.