The adolescent-turned-superhero returns to save another day in Warner Bros’ by-the-numbers sequel

Shazam! Fury Of The Gods

Source: Warner Bros

‘Shazam! Fury Of The Gods’

Dir: David F. Sandberg. US. 2023. 130mins

In Shazam! Fury Of The Gods, our teenage superhero learns to grow up — unlike this sequel, which struggles to evolve beyond the usual comic-book derring-do. Zachary Levi remains a thoroughly charming Shazam, the adult version of a boy who is infused with incredible powers, and the film has its share of heart and impertinent humour. But as is typical of follow-up instalments, Fury Of The Gods self-consciously makes everything bigger while introducing more characters and greater stakes. Consequently, the boyish irreverence feels a little more strained as Shazam tries to be as mighty as his crime-fighting peers.

 Has its share of heart and impertinent humour

Arriving in theatres worldwide on March 17, this Warner Bros. release comes at a time when the future of the DC Universe is in flux. The 2019 Shazam! collected $366 million worldwide, and Fury Of The Gods may need to best those numbers for the character to secure a place in the cinematic overhaul planned by DC Studios heads James Gunn and Peter Safran. (Safran serves as producer on Fury Of The Gods, as he did the original.) But it remains to be seen if audiences are as excited for Shazam as more Batman, Superman or Wonder Woman adventures.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is nearly 18 and still able to transform into a buff, handsome adult superhero (Levi) whenever he says “Shazam!” But he and his fellow foster children, who have also been bestowed with powers, face a new threat once the wicked gods The Daughters Of Atlas — Kalypso (Lucy Liu) and Hespera (Helen Mirren) — arrive to steal their abilities. At the same time, Billy’s best friend Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) has fallen for a friendly new classmate (Rachel Zegler), who ends up being another of the Daughters, Anthea.

Shazam! director David F. Sandberg returns for the sequel, once again making the most out of the fact that his superheroes are really just children inside those adult bodies. Fury Of The Gods can be a giddy good time when it imagines the possibilities of young people playing make-believe as grownup do-gooders. (Meagan Good is especially endearing as the giggly adult version of the mischievous young Darla, portrayed by Faithe Herman as a child.) Levi radiates youthful exuberance mixed with insecurity and adolescent awkwardness, very much coming across as a big child. That said, Billy/Shazam will come to realise that actual adulthood beckons — and also that his superpowers may require him to sacrifice himself to protect those he loves.

As the principal villains, Liu and Mirren project regal menace, even if Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan’s uneven screenplay fails to give them much dimension. And, as with the original, Fury Of The Gods sometimes jarringly juxtaposes its jokier elements with darker, more intense scenes. (The Daughters unleash frightening mythical beasts, and a supporting character dies in shocking fashion, albeit offscreen.) No doubt these tonal shifts are meant to be upsetting, abruptly dropping these carefree young characters into the harsh realities of being a hero. But without sufficiently compelling nemeses or a confident balance of comedy and drama, it too often feels like one more overstuffed comic-book picture, the gargantuan set pieces and emotional speeches undercut by the story’s familiarity.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the film is better when it is more modest, such as  the gentle love story between Freddy and Anthea, who will question her loyalty to her sisters after discovering the goodness of humanity. Zegler, who was last seen in the 2021 West Side Story remake, can seem overwhelmed by the gaudy CGI spectacle, but when paired with Grazer, her unassuming sweetness shines through. 

It is to this series’ credit that, unlike many other DC and Marvel properties, the Shazam films are relatively self-contained, not demanding the audience be knowledgeable about multiple characters from other pictures. An iconic DC hero does put in an appearance but, even so, Fury Of The Gods is largely focused on this family of foster children — and especially Shazam’s attempts to be a proper leader of this ragtag group.

The one-liners are very hit or miss, but Levi never loses sight of how amazing being a caped crusader would be, infusing Shazam with endless enthusiasm as the character zips through the air. Eventually, however, Fury Of The Gods grows sombre, and the actor articulates the growing pains of a young man who has to become mature enough to save the day. Comic-book fans have seen much of this film before, but Levi at least tries to make it soar. 

Production company: Peter Safran Productions

Worldwide distribution: Warner Bros.

Producer: Peter Safran

Screenplay: Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan 

Cinematography: Gyula Pados

Production design: Paul Kirby

Editing: Michel Aller

Music: Christophe Beck

Main cast: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Rachel Zegler, Adam Brody, Ross Butler, D.J. Cotrona, Grace Caroline Currey, Meagan Good, Lucy Liu, Djimon Hounsou, Helen Mirren