Shazam! Fury of the Gods delivers its wrath over two hours of torture that even Sisyphus would consider too extreme a punishment to endure.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods, directed by David F. Sandberg, is the sequel to the 2019 refreshing entry to the superhero genre, where Asher Angel and Zachery Levi alternate, respectively, the personas of Billy Batson and the magical-powered superhero Shazam.
During 2019, a year of adaptations, it happened to have one thing in common, a failure to sustain an audience for established intellectual properties: UglyDolls, The Playmobil Movie, and the Dora the Explorer film, Dora and the Lost City of Gold all failed to get an audience to rally behind the brands’ entry into film.
Yet Shazam! was able to do something miraculous that others struggled to achieve. Released two weeks before Avengers: Endgame, Shazam!, a relatively unknown superhero renamed from Captain Marvel, rode the self-awareness hype in the hopes of converting audiences to the Darkseid of DC Comics if Avengers: Endgame disappointed.
Admittedly, when Shazam! was first released, it brought relief because audiences finally had a superhero film that didn’t take itself too seriously, in an era where superhero fatigue was beginning to kick in, even if its delivery wasn’t entirely polished.
Garnering a healthy profit meant Warner Bros., the studio responsible for DC Comics adaptations, felt confident that a sequel and an anti-hero spin-off were likely to be equally as well received.
Black Adam, released last year, should have been an early indication that one financial hit doesn’t guarantee more to come.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods reprises the roles of both Levi and Angel, with the rest of Billy Batson’s Shazam family filling out the ensemble of super-powered beings.
Where the first film focussed on Billy Batson and foster brother Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) coming to terms with the new powers, in a semi-tight narrative, unfortunately, in this sequel, with its expansive ensemble, all of the characters are fighting to be identifiable beyond a singular caricature which proves to be an uphill battle.
Most disappointingly, where Levi initially played a juvenile, immature hero in its original, this sequel feels like Levi is channelling his inner Jimmy Fallon, with each line delivery moments away from a drumming laugh track provided by The Roots.
Unfortunately, the chaotic story of Shazam! Fury of the Gods twists this challenge of multiple character developments into an impossible feat by introducing acting legend Dame Helen Mirren alongside Lucy Liu and Rachel Zegler as the Daughters of Atlas, whose antagonistic plan isn’t presented until far too late into the film when we should have had a clear narrative expected direction and catharsis mapped out.
Their goal, not that it ultimately matters, is to restore a heavenly equivalent to the Tree of Life by restoring the Wizard’s (Djimon Hounson) staff, broken by Levi’s Shazam in the original.
Why, therefore, this idea becomes corrupted and becomes a planetary threat makes no sense as the stakes in this sequel are already insignificant, with the majority of the runtime spent between West Side Story‘s Rachel Zeglar and Jack Dylan Grazer in an excruciating exchange of teenage flirting with nauseating dialogue along the lines of ‘the real hero was you all along’.
Most annoyingly, the film sets up specific character arcs that still need to be fulfilled, such as establishing Lucy Liu’s Daughter of Atlas character to possess the ability to influence actions by whispering in someone’s ear. Comparatively, Dylan Grazer’s Freddy Freeman spends his time listening to his iPod with wired earbuds worn at all times, even when in his Shazam alter ego.
Following the Greek mythology route the film attempts to weave in, this could have offered an intriguing comparison to the siren song fable, with men lured to harm by words of power.
Though, perhaps Shazam! Fury of the Gods, at one point, had a story that made sense: Freddy’s reliance on music, Billy’s exploration of growing up and moving on, and understanding the importance of family. But script notes and edits turned it into a heartless Frankenstein monster of a film.
For instance, the six members of the Shazamily learn of the different Gods whose powers make up the Shazam abbreviation: the Wisdom of Solomon, the Strength of Hercules, the Stamina of Atlas, the Power of Zeus, the Courage of Achilles and the Speed of Mercury – six powers for the six individuals of the family.
A good script would’ve taken each of those characteristics and assigned them all to an individual member of the Shazamily, exploring their strengths and weaknesses both as a superhero and how they fit in the family unit, with their collective strength being what defeats the story’s final villain.
In fairness, elements of this linger in the film, with Billy battling the insecurity of not being wise enough to carry the legacy of the Shazam mantle, Eugene having the courage to explore and discover his homosexuality but nothing has longevity after a line or two of dialogue.
Instead, the film sets up a cameo of Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot, that’s almost as cringe-worthy as Gadot’s pandemic rendition of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Imagine that amounts to little more than a gag and a Deus ex machina.
The gag, establishing Levi’s Shazam on a Parisian date with the Amazonian Princess, the camera tilting up to reveal the archaic wizard face horrifically masked over Gadot’s body double as if the studio couldn’t afford Gadot’s time for this throwaway gag which jarringly stacks atop the irreverent humour of the film.
It could have been forgivable if somebody had spent the budget to develop or enhance the storytelling rather than mask a black man’s face over Wonder Woman’s figure solely for the sake of comedy.
Admittedly, the CGI fits within the diegetic world, a term used to describe the world a film is set, an issue which the first Shazam! struggled. In contrast, the sequel does contain a wooden dragon asset with clear links to the almighty mythological tree of creation that the Daughters of Atlas are hellbent on restoring.
But, as the film becomes over reliant on CGI, it becomes too artificially placed, not feeling a part of the sequences or the broader story. Though this perhaps reflects the current overreliance on CGI rather than Shazam! specifically. Still, there is a fine line between using CGI to assist the narrative and using it to caulk the gaps of poor storytelling.
Because it feels part of the story, the individual departments, such as the visual effects team and the costume department, are to be commended for their work, even if it is part of the broader atrocity of Shazam! Fury of the Gods.
The costumes of Liu, Millen and Zegler specifically had a brilliant sense of intellectuality to them that highlighted the work of Louise Mingenbach.
Liu’s chromatic uniform characterises her tainted perception of humanity. Whilst Rachel Zeglar, full of hope, wears a luxurious gold, and Millen, the leader, dons a similar uniform to Liu, with Zeglar’s optimism lingering in Millen’s subconscious reflected on its gold-accenting and flecking.
Ultimately, Shazam! Fury of the Gods held the promise of delivering a film that could reinvigorate a dying superhero genre with innovation, creativity, and an intuitive understanding of what audiences want.
However, with James Gunn recently taking control of DC Comics’ direction, Shazam! Fury of the Gods holds little weight, with the future of the DC franchise entirely up in the air after the sacking of Superman‘s Henry Cavill in favour of starting the comic series anew.
Admittedly, after the issues apparent in Shazam! Fury of the Gods, and the commercial failures of Dwayne Johnson’s Black Adam, and countless pre-release issues of The Flash starring Ezra Miller, DC definitely have to scrap everything and try to seize some success whilst superhero films retain a slither of relevancy.
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