Film Review: Shazam! Fury of the Gods
Shazam! Fury of the Gods
Director: David F. Sandberg
DC Studios and The Safran Company
In Theaters: 03.17
I’ve been starting to feel like the Ebeneezer Scrooge of superhero movies over the past year, giving scathing reviews to the latest Doctor Strange and Ant-Man films and lukewarm ones to most everything else. I wasn’t just losing my enthusiasm for the genre—my enthusiasm for moviegoing was dulling. Shazam! Fury of the Gods came along at just the right time and hit me like a visitation of three spirits.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods picks up a couple of years after the first film ended. Young Billy Watson (Asher Angel, And I Mack) is working hard at his double life after Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) chose him to become a protector of the world who can transform into a mighty hero (Zachary Levi) bestowed with all of the powers of the Greek gods.
Billy deals with this while trying to ignore the looming problem that he’s about to age out of the foster system where he’s finally found a family, including four siblings who were also granted superpowers. Under Billy’s leadership they’ve formed a team, though it hasn’t been going as smoothly as Billy had hoped. Juggling teen angst with duality must take a back seat when the Daughters of Atlas show up to regain the magic that Shazam stole from them, and the fate of the world rests on the shoulders of Billy and his family.
Returning director David F. Sandberg has a significant budgetary boost this time, and Shazam! Fury of the Gods relies heavily on the “bigger is better” Hollywood sequel mentality. Sandberg delivers thrilling action, killer effects and, more importantly, a self-contained story with clear stakes. Billy’s adolescent troubles, rooted in a great deal of childhood trauma, are deftly channeled into comedy and drama.
Levi is even better this time around. While he was very entertaining in the first film, the boy literally trapped in a man’s body schtick was so reminiscent of Tom Hanks in Big that it was always in the shadow of that Oscar nominated performance, and Angel was given the stronger character moments. In Fury of the Gods, Billy really settles into being a truly unique protagonist and fully rounded character, and Levi and Angel have so seamlessly meshed their performances that I nearly forgot which one I was watching at any given time. The mix of intensity and whimsy as the final battle engulfs Philadelphia, and the foster kids must do battle with mythical monsters, is pure magic and the most unbridled fun I’ve had with the comic-book genre since the first Avengers film.
The ensemble packs a lot of punch, with Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu and West Side Story‘s Rachel Ziegler bringing a formidable presence as Hesperia, Kalypso and Anthea, respectively. The trio are credible as celestial sisters on a mission, and each gets their own strong arc and a chance to shine. Jack Dylan Grazer (It: Chapter One) and Hounsou make a delightful off-couple comedy team, with Grazer paying Billy’s brother, Freddy, who is trapped by the sisters and spends much of the film imprisoned with the surly and sulking wizard Shazam, who regrets ever giving Billy his powers. Hounsou is a magnificent actor who has been a personal favorite since his breakthrough role in Steven Spielberg‘s Amistad, though he’s rarely given much to do in movies these days. Seeing him in a major role again getting a rare chance to flex his comedic chops is intoxicating.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods is a breath of fresh air, rejuvenating a stagnating genre with fun and cohesive storytelling that lately has been nearly absent. The magic of this franchise is that it’s one of the few that remembers that at least half the the point of a superhero story lies in the desire to feel like a kid again. If anything, this sequel surpassed the first for me in that regard. I left the theater feeling like it was Christmas morning, ready to head over to Cratchit home with a large goose, a stack of comic books for Tiny Tim and a pledge in my heart to honor superheroes and not to take for granted the joy of escaping into a darkened theater. Shazam! Fury of the Gods gets a resounding and enthusiastic endorsement from me, and Gods bless us. Everyone! –Patrick Gibbs