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DC can’t recapture lightning in bottle

New Shazam! is about as undercooked and generic as a superhero movie could be

Shazam! Fury of the Gods stars, from left, Adam Brody, Grace Caroline Currey, Zachary Levi, Meagan Good, and D.J. Cotrona.
Brent Leuthold

Brent Leuthold

Whatzup Features Writer

Published March 22, 2023

Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Let’s start with a confession: I was wrong about 2019’s Shazam! After rewatching the movie last weekend, I stand by some of the quibbles from my original two-star review — the villain is dopey and it strains too hard for earnestness — but I also admit that it works more than it doesn’t. 

However, in comparison to its sequel, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, the original has loads more personality and intention than I initially recognized. Though it carries over a few elements that made its predecessor a success with critics and audiences, this new chapter is otherwise about as undercooked and generic as a superhero movie could be. Perhaps in four years time, I’ll look back and find that I’m wrong about this entry, too, but my confidence in my current assessment is sky high.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods begins with an all-too-familiar prologue, where a shadowy villain pops up and causes chaos in an unsuspecting crowd. In this case, it’s Atlas’ daughters Hespera (Helen Mirren) and Kalypso (Lucy Liu) breaking into a Greek museum and stealing the broken magic staff discarded in the first Shazam! We’re then reintroduced to Billy Batson (Asher Angel) and the rest of his foster siblings, who all now have Shazam-like counterparts that allow them to fight crime all around their hometown of Philadelphia. When the daughters of Atlas kidnap family member Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), the rest of the “Shazamily” must rescue him and stop the daughters before their plan to terraform Earth comes into fruition.

As you may get the sense from that description, Fury of the Gods is mostly a hodgepodge of other superhero movies. There’s some Man of Steel, some Thor: Love and Thunder, and they even lift a doctor bit from Forgetting Sarah Marshall for good measure. West Side Story breakout star Rachel Zegler’s Anthea rounds out a trio of villains who are about as lifeless as Mark Strong’s Dr. Sivana was in the first Shazam! with much more scattershot accents. Mirren does her standard British, Zegler does standard American, and Liu alternates between the two, sometimes within the same scene. Both the limitations of their superpowers and the details of their evil plan are vague and confusing. It seems like they should have the upper hand just about the entire time, but they get hoodwinked by the Shazam crew in the most facile and unclever ways.

The driving force behind the first Shazam! was the performance of Zachary Levi as the “Shazamed” version of Billy Batson, and its sequel continues to score some laughs out of the body swap premise where an adult acts like a teenager. In fact, Angel isn’t in the film much at all, leaving Levi to turn his juvenile mugging and quippy line reads up to 11 throughout the entire movie. He’s doing his best, but the material simply isn’t here for him this time around, and the gimmick was already utilized so thoroughly in the first entry. There’s the occasional bit that lands — Mirren reciting a poorly-dictated note from the “Shazamily” got a couple chuckles from me — but it feels like Fury of the Gods makes much more time for murky mythology than it does for comedy.

Due to the constantly changing nature of the DC Extended Universe, every new entry seems to prompt the question, “Where do they go from here?” There are three movies planned for release this year — The Flash is up next in June — then the whole franchise is set to be rebooted with the James Gunn-led Superman: Legacy in 2025. It’s hard to know how the Shazam characters will factor into either of those universes and it’s possible that Fury of the Gods is the last Shazam! film that we’ll see for quite some time, if not ever. 

Frankly, the DCEU is a mess, and a fresh start will hopefully give this sector of comic book movies a renewed sense of entertainment and purpose. Until then, Shazam! Fury of the Gods is a placeholder that only the most ardent of superfans should indulge.

New movies coming this weekend

Playing only in theaters is John Wick: Chapter 4, an action film starring Keanu Reeves and the very recently departed Lance Reddick, which continues the saga of the titular assassin as he faces a new enemy with powerful alliances across the globe and forces that turn old friends into foes.

Streaming on Amazon Prime is Reggie, a documentary covering baseball megastar Reggie Jackson as he contemplates his legacy as one of the first iconic Black athletes, a pioneer in the fight for dignity, respect, and a seat at the table.

Premiering on Netflix is Furies, a Vietnamese action prequel to 2019’s Furie starring Veronica Ngo and Dong Anh Quynh about a mysterious woman who trains a trio of girls to take revenge on a criminal gang.


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