Shazam! Fury of the Gods is a Bigger Movie with Less Magic
Shazam! Fury of Gods goes bigger than its predecessor and its best elements end up getting lost in the shuffle.
When Shazam! came out in 2019, it was a minor revelation. It was a rare bright spot in the dark and dreary DCEU and the rare superhero blockbuster that embraced sincerity above all else. In a genre that increasingly seems fueled by snarky quips and a general vibe of being ashamed of their goofy source material, Shazam! embraced it. Shazam! Fury of the Gods tries to recapture that magic on a grander scale and while it doesn’t quite succeed, it makes a compelling case for keeping these characters around in the new DC Cinematic Universe.
The first Shazam! was fairly quaint for a superhero blockbuster. It still had some big battles but it was largely about Billy Batson finding himself and accepting his foster family as his own. The strengths of that film were the light-hearted humor and how it wore its heart on its sleeve. Fury of the Gods keeps the focus on family but goes bigger than the first film in both plot and setpieces and loses a lot of what made the first film great.
Fury of the Gods is proof that bigger does not always mean better in the superhero genre. Everything in this that goes bigger than the first film loses the best elements in favor of overstuffed plotting and CGI fests. The CGI itself is actually pretty good, and more consistent than the first film but in doubling up on the CGI setpieces, the best part of the film, Billy, is sidelined for standard superhero fare.
That’s really the plague of the whole film. Everything that worked about the first film is here but it’s all pushed aside for the superhero sequel formula of more villains, more effects, and more plot. Billy Batson and his acceptance of his new family was the beating heart at the center of Shazam! and in Fury of the Gods that family unit is still this franchise’s greatest strength. It’s such a shame that the movie as a whole lets them down. These characters and their family dynamic is wonderful and watching them interact you can’t help but hope that they can stick around for whatever the new DC Cinematic Universe ends up becoming. If this is the last outing for this iteration of the Shazam family then they deserved a better send-off.
Billy Batson is aging out of the foster system and wants to keep his family together, he also has a little bit of imposter syndrome as a hero. In a world with Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman, why should he be a hero? It’s an interesting angle to take the character and both Asher Angel as Billy and Zachary Levi as Shazam sell those subplots well. But the movie is too overstuffed to give either of those storylines the time they deserve. There are too many characters to jump around to, and villains with an overcomplicated plot that’s full of exposition.
Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, and Rachel Zegler all do well in their roles as The Daughters of Atlas, the villains of the film. But their evil plan and motivations are so convoluted and so beholden to exposition dumps to understand it’s hard to care. It’s all set up for big CGI battles anyway and while those battles may be fun to look at it, they don’t have the heart or the magic of the first film or the parts of this film that focus on Billy and his family.
That’s not to say Shazam! Fury of the Gods is bad because it isn’t. There’s enough here to keep you decently entertained for the run time and the best parts of the first film are in this one as well. There’s just no shaking the feeling of sequelitis. The desire to go bigger than the preceding film means that there’s only time for so much. Those bigger battles, the heightened stakes, the more dangerous villains, it all overshadows the best parts.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods isn’t a bad superhero movie but it’s a frustrating one. The first Shazam! felt so fresh with its focus on sincerity and intimate personal stakes mixed with light-hearted snark-free humor. Those things are still there in Fury of the Gods but they’re buried underneath the desire to be a bigger superhero film. Hopefully, the Shazam family can stick around in James Gunn’s DC because watching this, it’s clear how great the roles are cast, they just deserved a better movie.