- Arrives in theaters on Friday, March 17
- Directed by David F Sandberg
- Written by Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan
- Stars Zachary Levi, Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, Rachel Zegler, and Jack Dylan Grazer among others
- Second DCEU film starring Shazam
- Picks up two years after 2019 solo movie
Minor spoilers follow for Shazam! Fury of the Gods.
The DC Extended Universe’s (DCEU) forthcoming evolution into the DC Cinematic Universe (DCU) marks a major turning point for DC Studios. The hard reset of its live-action and animated properties – the first DCU projects were revealed in January – will reshuffle the DC superhero pack now and in the future, leaving the fate of some heroes and villains up in the air.
Shazam, DC’s most popular magic-based superhero, is among that contingent. David F. Sandberg, who directed 2019’s Shazam! and its sequel Shazam! Fury of the Gods, suggests Shazam won’t be part of the DCU if people don’t go and see the latter in theaters. Shazam’s future, then, depends on the success of his latest cinematic adventure.
Thankfully for the character, to paraphrase a well-known saying, lightning has positively struck in the same place twice. Shazam! Fury of the Gods is a magically marvelous follow-up to its predecessor that builds on this horror-imbued, joyful wish fulfillment, and thematically dense corner of the DCEU. It’s clumsy in some of its execution – which I’ll get to – but Shazam! 2, much like its multi-powered protagonist, is greater than the sum of its parts.
It's all about family
Set two years after the character’s first live-action film, Shazam! Fury of the Gods finds Billy Batson (Asher Angel) using his adult superhero alter-ego Shazam (Zachary Levi) – who Batson transforms into when he utters the word "Shazam!" – to fight crime. Billy does so alongside his foster siblings, including Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), who he gifted with superpowers during Shazam!’s climactic battle.
When the revenge-fuelled Hespera (Helen Mirren), Kalypso (Lucy Liu), and Athena (Rachel Zegler), aka the Daughters of Atlas, show up and vow to destroy the Earth, it’s up to Billy and company to stop them. However, with each team member prioritizing other responsibilities over their superhero commitments – or, in Freddy’s case, wanting to fight crime alone – the Shazamily’s internal struggles could have far wider, world-ending implications than they realize.
If Shazam! – one of the best superhero movies – was about finding a place and family to call home, Fury of the Gods focuses on the foster siblings’ insecurities about growing older and losing everything they hold dear. They’re teenagers now and their superhero-based responsibilities mean they’re growing up faster than the average youngster would. Even so, as adolescents trying to figure life out and find their non-superhero places in the world, they don’t have all the answers. This creates individual and collective frustration in and among our heroes.
It’s here where Shazam! 2 is at its strongest thematically. The aging of its primary cast – and their characters – allows Fury of the Gods to explore more mature subject matter that its predecessor couldn’t, such as finding your true identity and remembering what’s most important to you. In that sense, Shazam! Fury of the Gods is a thematically rich tale about individuality, familial duty, and developing the maturity to realize you don’t have to rank one above the other. As The Fast and Furious’ Dominic Torretto regularly declares: "You don’t turn your back on family."
It’s a pity, then, that Shazam! 2 doesn’t continue to actively lean into its primary motif as its plot progresses.
Fury of the Gods’ exploration of becoming your own person is threaded through its first act, particularly where Billy and Freddy are concerned. Unlike Shazam!, which positioned the pair as inseparable allies in the battle against evil, their close bond is tested through their opposing views on how and when to tackle the threats they encounter. It’s a subplot that has a soft Captain America: Civil War flavor to it – even more so when other foster siblings, including Mary Bromfield (Grace Caroline Currey), challenge Billy and Freddy’s views and/or take their sides during familial discussions. There’s a fascinating friction at play between the Daughters of Atlas, too. Despite their shared goal of reclaiming their father’s powers from Billy’s team and leveling the Earth, the trio has different views on how to accomplish their objectives – an intriguing internal conflict positioning them as a mirror image of the Shazamily.
As the movie transitions into its action-fuelled second and third acts, it sidelines its overarching theme in favor of the superhero genre’s prerequisite CGI-laced showdowns. Films of this ilk inevitably lean into VFX-heavy set-pieces, especially as their endgame approaches, but I can’t help but feel Shazam! 2’s primary concept could’ve been explored in greater detail. I wouldn’t have minded if one or two of the VFX-laden battles had been dropped – particularly ones where the CGI visuals are sketchy at best – if it meant the film’s main family-focused theme was examined more extensively.
The dynamic between the Shazamily’s teens and their superpowered aliases inadvertently takes a hit from this narrative shift, too. A large part of what made Shazam! entertaining was the chemistry between the foster siblings in their kid forms. As I mentioned earlier, Angel’s Billy and Freeman’s Freddy were a big reason for that film’s character-rich moments, but the likes of Faithe Herman’s Darla and Ian Chen’s Eugene contributed greatly to the family dynamic.
Some of that is lost in the story Fury of the Gods tells. For reasons I won’t spoil, even though Shazam! Fury of the Gods’ official trailer did somewhat, the Daughters of Atlas come into possession of the Wizard’s (Djimon Hounsou) staff, i.e. the magical artifact that bestows or removes Shazam’s powers to an individual. Unsurprisingly, the trio uses the staff to drain Billy’s siblings of their abilities.
The problem, though, is that the Daughters of Atlas systematically remove the Shazamily’s powers one by one, meaning some younger cast members get more screen time (and, by proxy, their adult actor counterparts get less airtime) than others. For Freddy, that means plenty of scenes for Grazer to chew over Adam Brody, who plays his superpowered adult alter-ego.
By contrast, as the film’s primary protagonist Levi’s Shazam features more heavily than Asher’s Billy. Admittedly, this discrepancy leads to some fun moments between the movie’s adult and teenage cast members – more on this shortly – but it detracts from the humorous camaraderie that exists between both sets of actors. See the Rock of Eternity family meeting early on in proceedings, or the witty and inventive plan that the depowered kids devise during its final battle – again, I can’t say much more due to spoilers – as evidence of how these dynamics work in practice to satisfying effect.
Different strokes and jokes for different folks
Disappointing as that is, Fury of the Gods’ cast revel in their individual roles.
Once again, Levi imbues the man-child-like Shazam with a youthful exuberance and naivety that makes it seem like the role was tailor-made for him. Levi’s given more to work with here compared to Shazam!, too, assuming the mantle of responsibility as the Shazamily’s de-facto leader despite the self-doubt and anxiety he’s afflicted with over his superhero worthiness and ability to keep his family together.
Mirren, Liu, and Zegler bring malice, menace, and emotional torment in spades to their respective characters. Mirren and Liu deal out punishment with zestful glee, while Zegler’s Athena brings a delightful touch of split loyalties to the equation that lends further weight to the juxtaposition between the film’s warring factions.
It’s Grazer, though, who delivers Shazam! 2’s greatest performance. The Luca and It alumnus packs humor and heart into his role as Freddy, providing gut punches and awkwardly placed quips aplenty throughout. Like the first movie, Fury of the Gods is stuffed to the rafters with chucklesome and laugh-out-loud moments, and it’s Grazer who provides the biggest laughs.
The emotional gravitas he lends to Freddy is equally impressive. Whether it’s a drama-fuelled scene shared with Billy or the schlocky romantic subplot between Freddy and Athena, Grazer is easily the film’s standout performer – and that’s saying something when you’re starring alongside legendary actors like Mirren and Liu.
Tonally, Shazam! Fury of the Gods finds a satisfying blend between the genres it co-exists in. Yes, it’s a superhero film at heart but, like Shazam!, it isn’t afraid to dip its toes into horror – Sandberg’s penchant for the terrifying and macabre being used to particularly good effect with the movie’s Greek mythology elements. Taking cues from iconic anime and other Japanese-inspired works like The Legend of Zelda and Akira also help Fury of the Gods pleasingly stand out from its peers, as do the odd visual nods to Game of Thrones and Stranger Things. The movie’s fondness for explicitly 21st-century cultural references, such as TikTok, though, may age Fury of the Gods quicker than expected in the years to come.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods battles against the odds to cook up a storming story filled with humor, heart, and familial heroism. It’s a DC movie that underwhelms in some aspects – its expository lore explanations, derivative finale, and sidelining of its key theme (which isn't helped by some "really good" scenes that were cut) to name three. But, as an enchanting, vibrant, and largely family-friendly spectacle – one with a big crowd-pleasing cameo in its final moments, which finally ties Shazam’s film franchise into the wider DCEU – it delivers on its aim.
Equally, Shazam! 2 serves its dual function of being a fitting end to the character’s DCEU journey and a potential jumping-off point for new adventures in the revived DCU. Currently, new DC Studios co-heads James Gunn and Peter Safran haven’t confirmed whether Shazam will cross over into the new-look cinematic universe. If Fury of the Gods’ post-credits scenes are anything to go by, though, there’s the potential for him to do so.
In a franchise full of gritty and grounded movies, Shazam’s film series has provided something colorfully joyful – and, for me, that’s worth celebrating.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods flies into theaters on Friday, March 17. Shazam! is available to stream on HBO Max.