“Shazam! Fury of the Gods” falls under the weight of its grandiose ambitions.
‘Shazam! Fury of the Gods’ Is Furiously Tedious
“Shazam! Fury of the Gods” proves the success of its 2019 predecessor “Shazam!” was just lightning in a bottle.
Directed by David F. Sandberg, “Fury of the Gods” follows highschool senior Billy Batson and his foster siblings of various ages — the Shazamily — in danger as the mythical daughters of the Greek God Atlas hunt down magic that was stolen from them long ago.
After the Shazamily is gifted the wisdom of Solomon, strength of Hercules, stamina of Atlas, power of Zeus, courage of Achilles and Speed of Mercury by a wizard, they transform into champions of the Gods by uttering the acronym SHAZAM!
Despite possessing fantastical powers and a Shakespearean dialect, the daughters are one-note villains that fail to make an impact. Played by Helen Mirren (“The Queen,” “Red”) and Lucy Liu (“Kill Bill: Vol. 1,” “Chicago”) as daughters Hespera and Kalypso are wasted in their performances. The duo are theatrical but all menace is undercut by long bouts of exposition and uninteresting motivation.
After their imprisonment, Hespera and Kalypso seek to reclaim their stolen magic by absorbing the Shazamily’s powers and restoring themselves and their home — the realm of Gods — to its former glory. It’s a meandering plot that gives no personal connection between the heroes and the sisters, aside from just being an enemy to fight.
In comparison to the previous film’s villain, Mark Strong’s (“1917,” “Kingsman: The Secret Service”) charismatic Dr. Sivana, the daughters are a step up visually but step down in quality — a feat indicative of the rest of the film.
While many of the fight scenes and powers are larger in scope, most are poorly filmed or hampered by uncanny visual effects. The major exception is the final bout, which achieves a battle of epic proportions with amazing effects to match. However, the film’s climactic end contrasts the underwhelming first and second acts for “Fury of the Gods.”
The Shazamily suffers from similar disorganization. Billy shared his powers of flight, strength, speed and the ability to summon lightning with his foster siblings at the end of the first film. “Fury of the Gods” struggles to balance all these new superheroes with plot advancement.
With a family of six super kids all equal in power, hardly any feel fully developed by the film’s end. Even Billy feels an afterthought, when the most engaging side-narrative falls to his brother.
Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman is an easy highlight of the film. Grazer (“It,” “Luca”) as Freddy portrays a socially awkward dork dealing with the ego of superheroism and anxieties of high school crushes. It’s a charming performance that uplifts the overstuffed sequel and has more attention than Billy’s sporadic story.
“Fury of the Gods” tries to have its cake and eat it too. Billy supposedly learns to mature and trust others, but also brings his family together to try to control them. The film sets them up working together as a unit, but Billy ends the story selflessly alone without help. It can’t decide whether he can be independent or a team player.
Matching Grazer’s energy is Rachel Zegler as Anthea, the black sheep of Atlas’ daughters. Being the youngest and most disillusioned from Hespera and Kalypso, Zegler (“West Side Story,” “Snow White”) plays a youthful foil to the duo, choosing a found family over her biological one.
Strangely absent from “Fury of the Gods” is Shazam himself, or at least the younger version of him played by Ahser Angel. With only a handful of scenes, the majority of Billy’s appearances fall to his adult-counterpart Zachary Levi.
At 42-years-old Levi (“Tangled,” “Chuck”) doubles down on his childish behavior from the previous film. While that approach worked when Billy was a sarcastic 14 year-old, the execution in “Fury of the Gods” feels much more disconnected when Billy is supposedly becoming an adult.
That disconnect is all the more present during younger Billy’s few scenes. Angel (“Andi Mack,” “Darby and the Dead”) conveys more maturity than Levi even attempts. This isn’t to say Levi is without charm or humor, but his performance feels out of place at times.
“Fury of the Gods” feels at odds with itself in terms of tone. Grotesque creatures, forced suicide and impailment are all featured in a film whose climax hinges on taming unicorns with Skittles to combat an army of monsters. The film seems to swing between lighthearted magical adventure and dark, epic fantasy. It’s a balance the first film striked incredibly but “Fury of the Gods” lacks what made the first “Shazam!” so much fun — a straightforward and charming story.
With a new direction for the DC Universe on the horizon, “Fury of the Gods” puts Shazam in a dubious place. It’ll be up to audiences to decide if this version of the lightning-powered hero survives a reboot.
“Shazam! Fury of the Gods” is in theaters now.
Featured image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures