Shazam! Fury of the Gods: Film Review
Shazam! Fury of the Gods may not be perfect, but it is fun, has some solid action sequences, and the cast is too likeable to ignore.
Billy Batson and his family are back on the big screen and even though their DC Universe fate is currently in limbo, that was not enough to kill my excitement for Shazam! Fury of the Gods. Not only do I have a longstanding love of the Shazamily from their decades’ worth of comics, but I adored Shazam! (2019). Not only was the great cast and crew from the original coming back, but they were adding Rachel Zegler, fresh off her film debut in West Side Story (2021) to the mix. This was a DC film seemingly made for me, so how did it turn out?
Well, it is a bit of a good news/bad news situation, the good news is that some of the things that I liked about the original film are present in Shazam! Fury of the Gods and there are some great new additions. The bad news is that this sequel takes an unexpected step back in certain areas and barely improves on the issues that I did have with 2019’s Shazam.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods continues the story of Billy Batson/Shazam (portrayed by Zachary Levi in superhero form and by Asher Angel as a teenager) and finds him struggling with being a leader to his family of superpowered foster siblings and desperate to keep them together. When a new threat emerges in The Daughters of Atlas, Billy must fight to save his family and the world.
The villains, The Daughters of Atlas, are a slight upgrade from those featured in Shazam and Black Adam. Notice how I said slight, though, because these antagonists are poorly written. Hespera (Helen Mirren), Kalypso (Lucy Liu), and Anthea (Rachel Zegler) are three goddesses with some insane powers, and one of them even rides a dragon. This trio being more of a match for Billy and the Shazamily in terms of power level leads to some great action and genuine questioning if our heroes would be able to save the day. Where they are lacking comes in the character motivation and development portion.
Rachel Zegler’s Anthea was the only member of the trio that I understood and the one with the best arc. It also helps that Zegler’s performance elevates what she is given. I cannot believe that the creative team behind Shazam! Fury of the Gods had Dame Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu at their disposal and gave them what amounts to an embarrassment. Neither of their respective characters have sensible motivations or an arc to speak of, though Mirren, like Zegler, does manage to elevate the material and make her character Hespera intimidating in ways that do not have anything to do with her powers. The attempt to give Mirren’s character her own narrative arc falls flat, and Liu’s Kalypso is just your standard antagonistic figure.
There are avenues with the villains (and other characters) that could have been worthy of exploring but just are not. The antagonists in Shazam! Fury of the Gods had so much potential, given they are not in the comics (well, these particular characters do not appear in the comics) and the writers could have seemingly done anything that they wanted with them. Instead, they chose to do very little, with Anthea being the standout of the much because she is given the most and Rachel Zegler gives it her all with a delightful performance.
This story could have used another rewrite but there are things to like about it. Anthea is awesome, there are memorable moments of action, and I loved seeing more of Billy’s family. More of his family was the one thing I wanted Shazam! Fury of the Gods to give me after the first film ended. Mary Bromfield/Superhero Mary (Grace Caroline Currey), Billy’s older foster sister who has superpowers of her own after Billy gifted them to his siblings in Shazam, gets more to do and an interesting arc for her character. Grace Caroline Currey continues her great run after the release of Fall (2022) and builds on the Mary that was previously established. Currey is a joy to watch and honestly, if Mary was the central protagonist, Fury of the Gods might have been more compelling because her character is struggling with the double life that in part makes the Shazamily interesting.
Jack Dylan Grazer’s Freddy Freeman, one of Billy’s foster brothers and best friend (whose superpowered alter ego is portrayed by Adam Brody), also stands out and the journey that Shazam! Fury of the Gods took the character on led to some of my favorite moments of the film.
The theme of found family is still extraordinarily strong, and that allows Shazam! Fury of the Gods to not only separate itself from most of the DC Universe, but also to maintain at least some of the heart that its predecessor had so much of. Not to mention, the writers focus on this theme in a different way this time around rather than retreading old ground, which helps further the development of the Shazamily as a whole.
Unfortunately, the story also weirdly sidelines Asher Angel as Billy Batson. One of the best things about Shazam was that they balanced Angel and Levi’s screentime, giving both sides of Billy their own arcs. That does not happen in Shazam! Fury of the Gods, with Levi taking up most of the runtime and the arc that his superpowered version of Billy is dealt here lacks the heart that both sides of the character had in the original. It is a real shame, because I was sure that director David F. Sandberg and the writers would be able to build on their version of the character, one that is one of the better depictions of a DC superhero by DC Films to date. That does not happen though, and with Angel’s teenage version of Billy not given much to do, you are left with Levi, who starts off as funny, but wears out his welcome.
In the first Shazam, Zachary Levi was likable as the title character. However, Shazam! Fury of the Gods sees Levi and the writers suck mostly everything that was enjoyable about Billy Batson/Shazam out and make him so annoying to the point where I considered the superpowered version of Billy the worst character in the film.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods manages to be fun though, especially for a film that is clearly trying to target a younger demographic. Djimon Hounsou is hilarious as the wizard Shazam, which I was not expecting at all. He just is having a blast playing this character and when he is being serious, Hounsou commands your attention. His comedic moments serve as a nice contrast and are a delight. Meagan Good and Faithe Herman also get in on the action as the superhero and regular versions of Darla Dudley, Billy’s youngest and fellow superpowered foster sibling, providing some cute humorous points during the narrative. If you are older, the humor might not always be your speed, but there was enough there to get laughs out of me and I am positive that kids will have an amazing time with this. I also noticed that the funniest jokes in the film were not in any of the trailers that I had seen, which is a major plus.
Finally in terms of positives, there is the action in Shazam! Fury of the Gods, which is good and adds to the fun factor. You have Billy fighting a dragon and it looks mostly convincing and cool, and then there are the other creatures conjured up by The Daughters of Atlas. Some of said creatures look so real that it would not surprise me if they were created through puppetry rather than CGI (Though, it was probably a mix of both). I loved seeing Dame Helen Mirren, at the age of 77, be as badass as she could be during a fight sequence with Zachary Levi’s Shazam. Seeing all the members of the Shazamily in on the action in several ways was also this comic book fan’s dream come true. We got a little bit of that in Shazam! (2019), but goodness was it awesome to see these characters I have grown up reading have plenty of moments to shine as superheroes.
When it comes to the wider DC universe, there is once again enough promising material here to build on if the powers that be, James Gunn and Peter Safran, choose to revisit the character at some point. Shazam! Fury of the Gods, as Gunn has hinted at all along, does not appear to do too much that would seemingly prevent Billy and those around him from showing up again in the future. That is a relief, because there is so much about these characters that could be explored going forward. Would it be disappointing not to see any of them again? Of course, it would. Even though I did not love everything about Shazam! Fury of the Gods, losing these actors/characters would sting because I think there could be something great here if we get all of the heart from the original film back rather than just some and better writing for the villains.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods could be the end of the road for this incarnation of the character and while it may not be as good as the first film, it is a fine enough note to potentially leave on. There is also the possibility that we may see Billy and his family again at some point, and if we do, hopefully they build on what is good about this film, rather than the drawbacks it has.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods is now available to watch globally in theaters.