Two decades ago, if you had told me that Hollywood would release a big-budget superhero movie that draws heavily on Greek mythology and features monsters directly inspired by the work of Ray Harryhausen, I would have guessed that the genre was more vital than ever. I would have guessed wrong. Shazam! Fury of the Gods has been released into the world in the waning days of the DC Extended Universe, and it manages to drain what little enthusiasm remained for the whole affair.
After saving Philadelphia in the first film, Billy Batson (Angel and/or Levi) struggles to make a difference in the community. His efforts to wrangle his superpowered family often lead to frustration, and the Shazam siblings are the punchline of local media due to their penchant for destruction. But when Philly is attacked by the daughters of Atlas – Kalypso (Liu), Hespera (Mirren), and Anthea (Zegler) – the family must find a way to work as a team or have both their powers and their city destroyed.
One of the problems with Shazam! Fury of the Gods is its lack of weight. As the family-friendly franchise of DC Studios, there is only so much a Shazam! movie can do to push the envelope – even with a popular horror filmmaker at its helm. The world, like always, may hang in the balance, but what exactly could go wrong here? Would the studio greenlight the death of a child (even one that looks like an adult)? Change the world in some irreparable way that would create issues for other films in the comic book universe? The truth is that the focus must be street-level for a superhero story to have any real merit, but “street-level” and “the power of the gods” are something of an irreconcilable difference.
The rest of the problem is just basic math. Shazam! Fury of the Gods builds on the family dynamics of the first film, allowing us to spend time with all six(!) foster siblings in their regular and superhero personas. Practically speaking, that means that the latest Shazam! film is forced to juggle character development spread across 12(!!) unique actors while also carving out time for the bad guys and an expanded role for Djimon Hounsou as the magical Wizard. Add in the fact that Levi occupies the most screen time but offers the least interesting performance, and you have the recipe for a very hollow story.
The original Shazam! may not have broken new ground as a superhero movie, but it did what the rest of the recent Warner Bros. superhero films seemed unwilling to do: Restore compassion to the realm of heroes. Shazam! Fury of the Gods loses the thing that made it special. In the end, it’s probably a moot point – new studio architect James Gunn has a new vision for his cinematic universe, and even a return for this character would be on his terms – but it seems only fitting that the swan song of the old DCEU is a tuneless cover of the one movie they kind of got right.
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