The Media Man Reviews: SHAZAM! Fury of the Gods
It feels like the end of an era at this point.
The DCEU has been...well, a mess to put it VERY bluntly. After the failure of Justice League which was down to Warner Bros. being incompetent and letting Joss Whedon provide a watered down, trimmed down lesser version of the movie we were supposed to be getting, the DCEU has been in a direction that I can only describe as aimless. They're just making movies with no clear endgame in mind and are only making MCU fans laugh at them for how disorganized they are. Then Black Adam came in and failed to make a profit despite plenty of hype going into it and now Warner Bros. has decided to pretty much scrap everything and start over from scratch with Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn being part in charge of the franchise.
But before that happens, we have at least four more DCEU movies to go before we leave the old universe behind and start with the new one (but I'm only reviewing three of them because I ain't touching The Flash for obvious reasons...). The first of these is the subject of today's review. SHAZAM! Fury of the Gods is the sequel to the hit movie SHAZAM! from back in 2019. It was one of the DCEU's better received movies and was also a success at the box office by grossing $366.1 million worldwide. I saw SHAZAM! back when it came out and had a great time with it. It was a lot of fun and a great live-action depiction of one of DC's most overlooked superheroes.
And now we have the sequel. Does this movie live up to the original? Or is the fury of the gods in relation to how bad the movie is? Only one way to find out...SHAZAM!
(Turns into the Media Man.)
Time to review this movie!
Section 1: The Story
Following on from the events of SHAZAM!, SHAZAM! Fury of the Gods sees the Daughters of Atlas coming out for revenge since the wizard Shazam's staff was broken by Billy Batson in the previous movie and thus, the barrier is broken and they can't be held back anymore. Now seeing he has a major mess on his hands, Billy and his surrogate family have to battle together to stop the Daughters of Atlas from destroying the world while Billy also has some of his own issues to deal with...
Given the tease of Mr. Mind during the after credits scene in the first movie, you'd think the plot of this movie would see the Shazamily going up against him. Instead, the plot is about dealing with the Daughters of Atlas which I found to be a weird choice for the story. Why tease Mr. Mind in the last movie and then have this plot focus on three villains we've never heard of beforehand? There's even an after credits scene with Mr. Mind and Dr. Sivana that basically is just the movie being self aware on how nothing was done with them!
OK, so the plot isn't what we thought it would be so I can't judge it for that. What's the plot for this movie like as a whole? To be honest...kind of a downgrade from the first movie. The biggest issue I have with the story here is that it's very paint-by-numbers with weaker character arcs and an over-reliance of humour because all superhero movies have to be MCU levels of jokey now. The humour especially felt very overdone here with WAY too much self-deprecation and self-awareness going on to the point it feels like the movie has to mock everything about itself. It feels like the writers are embarrassed they're making a superhero movie and thus have to make fun of everything and say how silly and ridiculous everything is because that somehow makes you sound smarter. It doesn't, it makes you sound obnoxious and desperate for a laugh. There are some funny jokes here, I'm not saying the movie isn't funny at all, but they really should dial it back. The first movie never felt like it was trying too hard so what's their excuse here?
As mentioned before, the writing isn't as strong as the first movie either. Gone are the strong themes of family, the heartfelt character arc that Billy went through and the strong emotional core that made the first film such a solid watch. Instead, the movie seems more focused on being a generic action flick with style over substance and thus there's not that much emphasis put on the characters. Everyone who's name isn't Billy Batson is either flat, generic or boring and it feels like nobody has an arc except for Billy and maybe Anthea. Thus we're left with a lot of action scenes and set pieces and not a whole lot to engage the audience with. It's especially not helped by how super predictable this movie can get. Was anyone really surprised when "Anne" turned out to be more than meets the eye? Was anyone shocked when Anthea turned traitor and hooked up with Freddy in the end? Was anyone really buying for a single second that Billy actually died at the end and it would stick? If a story is predictable, then it's not interesting to watch and it just makes the movie less engaging as a result.
I also feel the movie doesn't handle the cast all that well. Billy's family all get depowered so they don't get to participate in the final battle as their superpowered forms which ultimately felt like a waste to me. They had that awesome rescue scene in the beginning together but come the climax, it's Billy that has to the save the day and his siblings don't even get to be superpowered alongside him (though they do get to help still). And for the Daughters of Atlas, Hespera is kinda set up as the main villain of the film and is clearly the one in charge...only for Kalypso to hijack the plot from her and kill her and thus she's the main villain. Why even set up Hespera like so if she's ultimately nothing in the end? It's like in Marvel's The Defenders when they set up Alexandra as the main villain of the show only for Elektra to hijack the plot from her and kill her off anti-climactically. Don't set up a character as the villain and then have them die so another villain can run the show! Either set them up as the villain and stick with it or don't set them and do something else with them! Oh and we get an appearance of Wonder Woman in which she literally shows up as a deus ex machina to bring Billy back to life. That appearance especially felt random as Wonder Woman isn't that closely associated with SHAZAM! so why is she here, and why that stupid joke of Billy having a crush on her for that matter?
The tone also feels very off at times. As mentioned before, it's too jokey for its own good and thus it's hard to feel our heroes are in danger because they can't stop quipping every five seconds and yet at the same time we have an opening scene which sees a museum day turned into a massacre, a scene where Kalypso makes a man commit suicide just by telling him to do so and it clearly only exists just for shock value because it doesn't go anywhere or leave any kind of impact on Freddy when he watches it happen and you have a bunch of grotesque looking creatures terrorizing the city and it's all played straight. It's like it wants to be a fun superhero flick but it also wants to have some scarier more intense scenes to appear "more mature" and it just doesn't work. The first film balanced the tone a lot better than this movie did.
So the movie doesn't work in terms of a strong story and strong characters. But how is it as an action movie? You'll be pleased to know that's where it succeeds with flying colours. The movie delivers plenty of action scenes, and some damn awesome ones too. The bridge rescue scene, the battles with the daughters and especially the climax with the dragon are all awesome highlights and the movie even opens up with an intense blood bath (or at least as much of one as they can show in a 12A rated film) as Hespera and Kalypso get the staff and use its powers to create carnage and turn everyone to stone. As out of place as it felt tonally with the rest of the movie, it was still an effective opener to hook the viewers and get us ready for what was coming next.
I also like how this definitely feels like a follow on from the first movie for we see direct consequences for Billy's actions last time. Him breaking the staff leads to the events of this movie and I like how Billy has to deal with those consequences. He's kind of created this big mess and he has to deal with it, which is always a good message to send to your audience that you take responsibility for your actions and make amends for them. Billy himself has a totally understandable character arc in where he's becoming too clingy and attached to his foster family/superhero team due to having extreme abandonment issues as a result of his past and ultimately he has to learn that he can't hold onto everything forever. On paper it sounds like an engaging story but in execution, it feels thinly developed overall and not quite as well done as his arc last time was.
The movie is fun to watch thanks to some cool action scenes and the occasional funny line here and there. But it really has no excuse for giving us a story so weak when the original story was so strong. With an inconsistent tone, lack of real arcs for anyone, predictable plot elements and way too many jokes killing the mood, it's just depressing to see how a movie that went so well last time leads to a mediocre sequel like this...
Section 2: The Characters
The Shazamily are back and sadly, they're not as strong as they were last time.
Let's start with our main man, Billy Batson/Shazam (played as a teen by Asher Angel and played as an adult by Zachery Levi). As mentioned before, he has an arc that sounds interesting and it makes sense with what we know about his character previously, but it really wasn't developed all that much. It's a thing he has a problem with for like the first half hour or so and then it's dropped in favour of the superhero action in the second act of the movie and by the time it comes up again in the third act, it's wrapped up very quickly. This isn't a compelling arc for a character and it pales compared to how strong the writing was for him last time. Also I feel that strangely enough, he seems...I dunno, more immature than last time? You'd think he'd have matured over the years but no, he's still a big goofball despite pushing towards 18 in this movie and there's this weird running gag with him having the hots for Wonder Woman that's never funny. I don't get it, especially as in the comics Billy has a crush on Stargirl/Courtney Whitmore, NOT Wonder Woman. He does still have some cool moments here and there and I like how at times, he seems to take superheroing more seriously than his siblings do so he's not all bad. He just feels like a downgrade from the first movie.
The rest of the family don't fare any better either. Freddy Freeman (played as a teen by Jack Dylan Grazer and played as an adult by Adam Brody) is the secondary protagonist and he's downgraded from the helpful supporting sidekick to Billy Batson he was last time to just having a generic Disney style romance in where he crushes on a girl he just met and is mostly focused on her and not much else. He's honestly more annoying than funny this time around and the lack of an arc for him leaves him very uninteresting here. Mary, Darla, Eugene and Pedro are equally as flat for they also have no arcs and are just Billy's super siblings who help out during the action scenes. While they do get stuff to do during those scenes, they're not as important to Billy's story as they were last time and it's quite sad really as they were one of the strongest aspects of the first movie and here they're just bland superheroes who are only here to do cool stuff at times.
The wizard Shazam (played again by Djimon Hounsou) is back...for some reason. I really have no idea why they brought him back. It's not like the story really needed him around. He just spouts exposition most of the time and gives lectures to the cast. You could've dropped him entirely and NOTHING would've changed. He's that pointless here.
And then we get the villains of the movie, the Daughters of Atlas. There's three of them with Hespera (played by Dame Helen Mirren), Kalypso (played by Lucy Liu) and Anthea (played by Rachel Zegler). They're pretty bland villains overall and aren't as compelling or as interesting as Dr. Sivana was last time. Their motives are just "We've been locked away for so long, now we want revenge!" and they all lack any real personalities between them. I do like how Hespera and Anthea have more of a conscience and aren't in this for blind revenge with Kalypso being the token bad one of the group but again, it's very cookie-cutter writing for these villains. Hespera is the most wasted of the bunch for she's set up and teased as the main villain of the trio only for her to be killed off and Kalyspo takes over as the main villain while Anthea is the least interesting of the trio because of her super predictable arc that sees her willingly turning on her sisters and turning good all for a boy she just met that day. In other words, she's the DC Universe's closest equivalent she has to a Disney Princess, and that sucks. They could've done something way more interesting with her than that. They only manage to be compelling villains thanks to their actors and how much of a threat they pose but otherwise, they stand as some of the DCEU's blandest villains.
I might sound weird for this, but my favourite character in the movie might actually be Steve the Pen. And it's a floating pen that writes by itself! XD I dunno why, I just found that pen very amusing and I quite enjoyed its scenes more than I really should've.
The characters were the strongest point of the original movie. Come the sequel, they're now the weakest point thanks to very lacklustre writing that didn't give them anything interesting to do or anything interesting about them...
Section 3: The Cinematography
Now for the one aspect of the movie I have no complaints about: the visuals.
David F. Sandberg may be known better as a horror movie director with movies such as Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation but he has proven himself to be very adept at directing superhero movies with his work on the first SHAZAM! being very cool to watch at times. This movie is no different.
Just like last time, the Shazamily costumes all like very striking and colourful on screen and they all look visually distinct from one another with Billy and Mary's red, Darla's purple, Freddy's blue, Eugene's grey and Pedro's green costumes all making for a nice varied colour palette among the heroes and it's easy to tell who's who as a result. The outfits noticeably have some changes to them too with new lightning bolt symbols on the chest and some subtle changes in the design of the boots. The costumes still look great and the actors all look great wearing them too. The Daughters of Atlas also have detailed outfits that are befitting for their status as gods with Hespera and Kalypso wearing big capes to give off an imposing appearance and being dressed mostly in black and gold while Anthea wears a completely gold outfit that emphasizes grace and beauty over being imposing. Their colour palette isn't as visually interesting as the Shazamily but it works for three villainous goddesses at least.
For the effects, they're very good for the most part. The CGI is more obvious at times than others, mostly on the creatures and the dragon, but some CGI such as the work on Steve the Pen is quite convincing. The wirework on the Shazamily is well done and they really manage to make them look like they're actually flying in the scenes where they do so. It's hard to tell if any greenscreen was used at any point and if there was, I certainly couldn't tell with how well implemented the actors are with the backgrounds during the action scenes. The backgrounds themselves have a lot of work put in to them with the Rock of Eternity especially being visually interesting as this mystical lair of ancient magical beings that is now inhabited by the Shazamily. The inclusion of stuff like TVs, furniture and items of comfort show that they've made the place their own and adapted the lair to their needs but there's still parts of the lair they haven't touched. All the doors everywhere adds an air of mystery to the place too as you have to wonder what's behind them and where do they lead to.
As this is a superhero movie, naturally there's a lot of action scenes here and they really don't hold back in giving us some cool action to watch. With a lot of inventive and striking camera angles, clear lighting so we can see what's happening onscreen well and fantastic choreography and staging, this is a movie that you can't tear your eyes away from with how awesome it is to watch. Nearly every set piece is memorable in some way or another. The opening scene sees Hespera and Kalypso retrieve Shazam's staff and they use their powers to create a scene of pure chaos with Kalyspo ordering people to attack each other and the museum's security features kick in so the gates come down and trap people inside so they have nowhere to run and are eventually helpless to do anything as they're turned to stone by the end. It's played for horror and I imagine if this movie had been rated 15 or above, it would've been more horrific than it already was here! It's also a scene that can play on real life fears in us too for there's plenty of people who have been caught up in horrifying situations before and are trapped with nowhere to go. It's scary stuff and it was an effective opener.
I also love the bridge rescue scene. That was probably my favourite scene in the whole movie overall and I appreciate that at least we got one scene that showed the entire Shazamily in action together. They start the scene off slow with an overturned crane on fire and focusing on the citizen's reaction to the thing and then the scene gets even more chaotic as suddenly it starts to break and crumble all around them. It's absolute havoc as cars fall into the ocean, cables snap and fall to the ground, the road crumbles to pieces and everyone's desperately running for cover to get away from the falling bridge. The use of Bonnie Tyler's "I Need A Hero" also added a bit of extra fun to the sequence and was an appropriate choice for a scene involving heroes rescuing people.
The movie also gets to depict the powers of the heroes and villains rather creatively too from the various powers of the Shazamily to the Daughters of Atlas and their various abilities. Hespera has the powers of the elements and she uses those to cool and devastating effect with great use of telekinesis and being able to warp the environment to her advantage. Kalypso has the powers of chaos and is able to command people to do stuff with a single thought. So pretty much, she's a female Kilgrave. XD And Anthea has the powers of access which she uses in very cool ways by making the environment shift like crazy all around everybody. Buildings twist and turn as if they're transforming and it's quite trippy to watch, believe me! One thing I do question though is why the Shazamily seem to use their lightning powers less than before. There's a few scenes where it feels it would've been useful for Billy to use his lighting powers, especially when fighting the dragon but no, they were more restrained on that front for some reason. Ah well, they still used the other powers in cool and creative ways to make for some great action for this movie.
The climax is where all the crazy stuff happens in where Kalypso summons a huge dragon and plants a Golden Apple which unleashes all sorts of mythical creatures such as harpy, manticores, cyclops, the minotaur and even unicorns. The creatures themselves are all given grotesque or monstrous appearances which suits their horrific nature as murderous beasts and makes the danger feel more real. Even the unicorns look more menacing than friendly (which is true to mythology as unicorns were originally depicted as menacing creatures) with their black colour schemes, huge size and massive horns. And naturally the dragon gives us a lot of awesome action and the sheer awesome spectacle that is Shazam going up against a dragon. That's never not going to be awesome and it was certainly awesome to watch in this movie!
If you love mindless superhero action then this movie will satisfy you immensely as it delivers on that front in spades. With David F. Sandberg's great directing skills, he and his team delivered an action packed movie with some awesome visuals and some very memorable action scenes that manage to provide some entertainment for us all.
SHAZAM! Fury of the Gods is a very mediocre sequel to a great DCEU movie and it's disappointing in that sense because it had so much potential for it to be good. The story is weaker than before, the tone is unbalanced, the humour is overdone, the characters are as thin as a paper doll and it overall left me feeling that it was alright but nothing special. It's at least entertaining thanks to some awesome action scenes, great directing and some of the humour is at least funny but it's not enough to save this movie. If this is the end for this universe's Shazam, then it's going to be a case of it going out on a whimper than a bang because it really is a bland sequel that could've been so much better. I'd only recommend this to die-hard DC fans and especially die-hard Shazam fans as they'll enjoy this the most. For me, if Shazam ever gets rebooted for James Gunn's DCEU then I hope he can have a better movie than this...
And that's all I have for this review. I hope you enjoyed it and I invite you to share your thoughts down below on the movie. Did you like it? Did you not like it? Comment away if you please. Tune in next week as I review one of the most popular Disney movies of the 21st Century. See you then media fans!