To write that I am so disappointed by SHAZAM! FURY of the GODS is a massive understatement. The original SHAZAM! (2019) was such a kick --- and so refreshing --- that perhaps it’s too much to ask that the sequel, SHAZAM! FURY of the GODS, be as good, if not better.
The cast is back, as is director David F. Sandberg, along with the addition of three major female stars, Helen Mirren as Hespera, Lucy Liu as Kalypso and Rachel Zegler as Anthea --- the Daughters of Atlas. Screenwriter Henry Gayden, who wrote SHAZAM!, has returned to pen the sequel with help from Chris Morgan. Unfortunately, Gayden and Morgan are unable to sustain the overall tenor of the 2019 surprise hit.
Billy Batson (Asher Angel) and his foster brothers and sisters are coming to grips with their newfound super powers and alter ego Super Heroes. Every time Billy says Shazam, he turns into his 6’4” Super Hero Shazam (Zachary Levi). The same goes for the other kids in his family.
They love the perks until they are faced with battling the Daughters of Atlas for control of the world. And the only one who can help them is the Wizard (Djimon Hounsou), who is really alive --- but held captive in an ancient prison by the three sisters. It is up to Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) to free the Wizard and help Shazam and the others save mankind.
Perhaps if Gayden and Morgan had kept the story of the importance of family on track and not veered off into the silly subplot of Philadelphia being overrun by ridiculous creatures erupting out of slimy pods, SHAZAM! FURY of the GODS would have had a more profound effect. As it is, that message gets sidelined by a non-terrifying wooden dragon --- can we lose the dragons already --- and unicorns who love Skittles.
Though Levi seems as gung-ho as he was in the first, Gayden and Morgan’s script isn’t nearly as humorous or clever. Other than the woman sitting next to me, I’m not sure anyone else laughed more than once. But, of course --- to my chagrin --- she laughed through the entire film. Maybe she was a plant. Too many of the amusing bits fell flat, particularly when Shazam was trying out new Super Hero names.
There are a few shining aspects of SHAZAM! FURY of the GODS. Hounsou’s Wizard is the best character in the movie. He understands his role and performs it with grace --- and a twinkle in his eye. Plus, his transformation at the end is hilarious. The visual effects, supervised by Bruce Jones and Raymond Chen, are really spectacular, along with the production designs by Paul Kirby.
Alas, the respected talents of Mirren, Liu and Zegler are completely wasted. And Sandberg should have trimmed the running time. But truly SHAZAM! FURY of the GODS is a prime example of my repeated complaint --- if the writing is substandard, even the best actors can’t compensate. SHAZAM! FURY of the GODS just isn’t the funny, highly entertaining moviegoing experience that it should be.
Opinion: Wait for DVD
Alright, I will admit that this sequel to the first SHAZAM! is reasonably entertaining, and at two hours and ten minutes, SHAZAM! FURY of the GODS is only two minutes shy of the original’s running time. Many of the actors from the first film are back, most notably Zachary Levi as Shazam, the leader of the Super Hero gang that is transformed upon uttering the magic word.
Djimon Hounsou returns as the Wizard as does Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman. Director David F. Sandberg is back along with writer Henry Gayden and new scribe Chris Morgan.
The filmmakers have introduced two villainous ladies Hespera (Helen Mirren) and Kalypso (Lucy Liu), two actors we normally don’t associate with being nasty characters, and in fact, they are badass! They are the Daughters of Atlas, along with their much younger looking sister, Anthea (Rachel Zegler), who is actually 6000 years old, much to the chagrin of Freddy who thought he might have found a real girlfriend.
The film opens with some jaw-dropping visual effects as a suspension bridge begins to unravel, spilling cars into the water below. I venture to say these special effects will be amazing even to the most jaded of fantasy film lovers. Ms. Liu rides atop a dragon for much of the movie while Ms. Mirren’s powers stem from her ability to fling the Super Heroes into brick walls. The special effects people do a great job of showcasing the Super Heroes as they soar through the air and land ever-so-softly on the ground.
However, films cannot sustain our interest via visual effects alone, and in SHAZAM! FURY of the GODS these tend to be overused to the point they become ho-hum after a while. Levi displays his self-effacing nerdy character and he is the primary source of comic relief. He manages to overcome his self-doubt about belonging in the Super Hero category which is a valuable lesson for people who may suffer from low self-esteem. More importantly, Levi is again sufficiently likeable in the role, as is the entire ensemble cast.
There is a major surprise appearance by a famous Super Hero figure which drew a loud response from our capacity audience. Although the viewers overall seemed subdued, can there be any doubt that SHAZAM! FURY of the GODS will satisfy a certain segment of filmgoers? And, as one might suspect, a third installment in the franchise is strongly suggested during the finale.
Opinion: Wait for VOD