I. Shazam’s Unexpected Triumph in the DCEU
Back in 2019, Shazam swooped into the DCEU and stole our hearts. David F. Sandberg masterfully blended horror elements, classic superhero tropes, and a tale rooted in family values, making it a delightful surprise. In addition, the film nailed the depiction of how a teenager would react when granted ancient powers while maintaining a perfect balance with the story’s core issues.
II. The Challenges of Expanding the Shazam Universe
As with any superhero franchise, sequels often aim to go bigger and bolder, which can sometimes dilute the original’s essence. However, writers Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan have plenty of topics to explore, and with two years passing since the first film, the Shazam family has matured. Each character has developed different desires and needs, creating an intricate web of relationships.
At the story’s heart, nearly 18-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) fears aging out of the foster system. Consequently, he clings to his adoptive siblings a bit too much. For example, Mary (Grace Caroline Currey) dreams of attending college. Even though they have a blast trying to save the world from their Philadelphia home base, it’s evident that their time together is running out.
III. The Arrival of Retribution
Before the Shazam family can separate, vengeance is on the horizon. The Daughters of Atlas—Hespera (Helen Mirren), Kalypso (Lucy Liu), and Anthea (Rachel Zegler)—seek retribution for their father’s death. Naturally, they also want to target those enjoying the benefits of his powers. With the stage set for confrontation, the film struggles to clearly understand each character’s motivations due to the sheer number of players involved.
IV. The Changing Dynamic Between Shazam’s Two Sides
One of the most effective aspects of the original film was the balance between Billy’s teen form and his powerful adult counterpart (portrayed by Zachary Levi). Levi brilliantly combined his comedic chops with Angel’s earnestness. This dynamic is turned on in Fury of the Gods, as Levi’s adult Shazam takes center stage for most of the movie. But, unfortunately, this shift often detracts from the genuine fear of drifting away from loved ones, a central theme in the first film.
If there’s a shining star in this sequel, it’s Jack Dylan Grazer’s performance. Freddy remains hilarious, and he has some memorable moments outside his “Captain Everypower” persona (played by Adrian Brody). Freddy’s separate love story with Anthea adds another layer to the narrative, giving Rachel Zegler a chance to showcase a more balanced perspective than her vengeful sisters. Anthea is more contemplative about the “destroying the world” agenda and shows genuine charm in her growing relationship with the human she’s obsessed with.
When it comes to the three sisters, there is some character development at play. Kalypso focuses on wreaking havoc, while Hespera starts to change her ways towards the end of Fury of the Gods. Although it’s a treat to have accomplished actresses like Mirren and Liu in one superhero film, you might wish for a better explanation of their involvement. That said, Fury of the Gods still delivers plenty of fun and humor, with Levi trying his best to convey various emotions in his adult form (even if his teenage counterpart could have used some screen time).
The climactic battle in the final act has entertaining moments but tends to feel repetitive at certain points. Ultimately, Fury of the Gods understands why audiences loved the first film, retaining some of that magic in small doses. However, its primary issue is the many elements competing for attention, causing the film to lose some of its heart and soul. For instance, a character reveals their sexuality to the family, not a shocker there with movies today. While it’s heartening to see immediate acceptance from the family, the moment is brushed aside too quickly, making it pointless to the story.
The “Philly Fiascos” gives audiences plenty to cheer for, but the film could have benefited from delving deeper into the characters’ lives and relationships. By exploring their stories more thoroughly, the sequel might have captured the essence that made the original Shazam so beloved.