Shazam! Fury of the Gods review: DC sequel hits goofy sweet spot
It's not perfect, but the new Shazam! film's combination of silliness and optimism works its magic.
Forget The Fantastic Four, meet The Philly Fiascos. As superhero teams go, they're more of a bumbling Power Rangers than The Avengers. There’s a good reason for that: they're actually just a bunch of kids, with a lot to learn.
The first Shazam! (2019) was a surprise screwball entry in the DC movie universe – an unassuming, unpretentious superhero caper that cheerily poked fun at its silly central concept and turned old-fashioned cheesy sentimentality into retro-kitsch.
It saw a wizard gift tearaway teen orphan Billy Batson (Asher Angel) the power to turn into a superhero (Zachary Levi) whenever he says the word Shazam! By the end of the film, Billy’s passed on his powers to the other kids in his foster home to help defeat the bad guys – in the process accepting that he’s found his new family among these loveable misfits.
But as Shazam! Fury of the Gods opens, that family is threatening to fall apart. The kids have been doing their superhero schtick with more enthusiasm than skill, and Philadelphia’s real estate and infrastructure is paying the price, while the media is not being kind to them. And not all of the kids seem totally committed to the lifestyle; each has other issues distracting them, and Billy fears he’s in danger of losing his newfound stability.
To make matters worse, a pair of Greek goddesses, the daughters of Atlas (Dame Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu), have escaped millennia of captivity, and have revenge against humanity on their minds. All they need in order to accomplish this is something that resides in Team Shazam!’s mystical lair.
Once again directed by David F Sandberg, Shazam! Fury of the Gods is a fun follow-up that delivers exactly what you’d expect. Tonally, it’s the same mix of silliness, schmaltz and over-the-top action, with more than a few laugh-out loud moments.
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If you like your superhero flicks with a little more edge, you’re better off rewatching The Dark Knight. Aside from a couple of surprising and conceptually grim death scenes, this is unapologetically family-friendly fare, and there’s much to enjoy.
The child actors – and their older versions – all give spirited performances, while Levi is the biggest kid of all, a loveable goofball of a costumed hero. The film also looks magnificent – some stylish cinematography, well-choreographed action and stylish production design give Shazam! Fury of the Gods some stand-out moments, including some beautiful flying sequences.
For comic-book and movie geeks, there are copious in-jokes and references to savour – one monster appears to be an homage to Ray Harryhausen’s Cyclops from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and there are a couple of gags at Marvel’s expense, while the film also connects to the wider DC movie universe in some unexpected ways.
There’s also an increased fantasy element which at times gives the film a Harry Potter or Percy Jackson vibe – a magical pen called Steve almost steals the film.
It’s far from perfect. Various plot elements feel like they’ve been stripped back ruthlessly in a rush to get to the action. A couple of the kids are reduced to one-gag characters, and a relationship between übergeek Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Anthea (Rachel Zegler) is sweet, but painfully contrived. Meanwhile, the sketchily written villains waste Mirren and Liu’s talents, and there’s some wince-inducing product placement for Skittles.
But you’d have to be a vengeful supervillain on a particularly bad day not to give in to the film’s exuberant, optimistic energy. If cynicism has an arch-enemy, its name is Shazam!
Shazam! Fury of the Gods is released in cinemas on Friday 17th March 2023. Check out more of our Film coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to see what's on tonight.
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