Review: 'Shazam! Fury of the Gods' Falls into the Typical Sequel Trap
by Manuel São Bento
March 20, 2023
"Stick to saving the world, kid!" I believe that the enjoyment of a movie inherently depends on the time at which it's released. Some films don't quite work on the first viewing, but after a revisit sometime later, we're often surprised by a much better movie than we remembered – and also vice versa. In 2019, Shazam! was a breath of fresh air in a DCEU (DC Extended Universe) marked by its inconsistency, providing viewers a lighter environment and more charismatic characters. However, any enthusiasm for Shazam! Fury of the Gods was low during the last few months of anticipation… Was this sequel able to surprise me once more?
Short, direct answer: no. Director David F. Sandberg and screenwriter Henry Gayden return for this second adventure with Billy Batson / Shazam, with Chris Morgan (of Hobbs & Shaw, 47 Ronin, Furious 7, The Fate of the Furious) contributing to the script. Unfortunately, Shazam! Fury of the Gods falls into the trap of many sequels to original superhero flicks: it takes what worked in the first film and misuses all those aspects excessively, damaging the tonal balance and removing authenticity from a story that remains formulaic and predictable from the very first minute.
I did not expect this to have a screenplay that deviated from the typical premise and developments of the genre, nor that it would become a heavy, complex, emotionally overwhelming family drama. The original Shazam! works because it never forgets what kind of movie it is – it never loses the notion that nothing is to be taken (too) seriously. The sensitive themes are approached with respect, but the viewer is never misled to the point of believing that the film is going to turn into an intense, intricate character study.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods fails to maintain that same balance. The traumas that marked Billy's life create an interesting narrative about the fear of losing another family and of everyone abandoning him, despite the sequel repeating many points that the original had already dealt with. This more susceptible topic was enough, but there's an attempt to turn it into "something more", by introducing an out-of-the-blue, less positive relationship between Billy and Rosa (played by Marta Milans), who's his adoptive mother. This particular subplot never gets enough attention and is resolved in such a simplistic, unjustified manner that it ends up accidentally diminishing the relevance and obstacles of situations like this.
Despite the runtime of the two movies being roughly the same, the sequel feels much longer due to its first two acts being empty of moments with real energy and heart. Shazam! Fury of the Gods is so generic that even the opening action sequence is just a cheap rehash of a crumbling bridge. The middle portion wastes a lot of time on MacGuffins, unnecessary exposition, and villains with paper-thin motivations. Like all the other characters in the film, the villains only benefit from the superb performances of their actresses.
Both Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu draw on their experience to elevate their roles, but it's Rachel Zegler who really impresses with enormous charisma that jumps off the screen. All the young actors have their moments, as do their adult versions – apart from Grace Caroline Currey, who plays both versions of her character, one of several plot points that receive no explanation whatsoever. However, Zachary Levi still clearly stands out as the original Shazam. The actor can interpret this character with his eyes closed, just as Jack Dylan Grazer also does portraying Freddy Freeman.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods offers the latter a lot of screentime, placing him in a romantic teenage storyline, which ends up raising yet another issue. If in the original movie, Freddy is still tolerable, in this sequel the character is almost unbearable. The light, silly comedy that marked the first film already had purposeful levels of cringe in its jokes. However, the vast majority of them fall flat in this sequel, which highlights the most irritating part of Freddy's personality. The aforementioned tonal balance spins out of control, making several moments come out as forced and overly cringy.
Still, Sandberg manages to deliver a third act that might save the movie for most viewers. The last half hour of Shazam! Fury of the Gods brings the levels of energy, excitement, and adrenaline that a superhero flick requires, introducing genuinely interesting twists and efficiently humorous scenes – I will never look at unicorns the same way. The visual effects are excellent, especially considering the budget in comparison to other blockbusters. A few isolated scenes with actors in front of green or blue backgrounds are a bit too noticeable, but overall, it's a pretty satisfying effort from the VFX team.
The score (by Christophe Beck) greatly elevates the ending, even causing goosebumps and creating that epic atmosphere that Shazam! Fury of the Gods needed so much for its conclusion. One narrative decision in particular is quite bold and would undoubtedly generate a lot more talk about the film, but a "deus ex machina" moment with an absolutely illogical, completely unwarranted cameo ruins any chances of the sequel ending in a truly impactful manner. Even worse is realizing that the trailers contain so many spoilers that even the cameo itself loses all its surprise factor.
I want to finish by returning to my initial thought from the opening of this review. Shazam! Fury of the Gods arrives at a time when the respective cinematic universe is about to be rebooted under new leadership. As far as we know, this may be the last time we ever see Levi and Co. in a Shazam! movie. The marketing campaign for this sequel is a mere crumb of what the original movie received. And, inevitably, it's a sequel. The novelty factor is no longer there, so it would be difficult to deliver yet another massive surprise. Today, after a single viewing, this sequel didn't work. That said, I won't be shocked if – a few years from now, I revisit the film and it turns out to be "better than I remembered."
Shazam! Fury of the Gods is *almost* saved by the incredibly charismatic, energetic cast, as well as by a truly thrilling third act. Unfortunately, the movie falls into the usual trap of over-exaggerating what worked in the original, excessively tackling every narrative aspect, and losing authenticity along the way. Way too long, boringly generic, and lacking a clearer direction, namely in the treatment of its family themes. The humor is far from the efficiency of its predecessor. Nonetheless, I still recommend it to the vast majority of fans of the genre, who will certainly enjoy the lightness still present in this sequel.
Manuel's Rating: C
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