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Shazam! Fury of the Gods

After watching BLACK ADAM I figured I might as well complete my DC movie checklist before seeing THE FLASH, by crossing off SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS. Not that I was against seeing it otherwise. I wouldn’t say I loved 2019’s SHAZAM!, but I was pleasantly surprised – as I said in my review, I thought it was a decent kids movie with some laughs, some monsters, and some sweetness.

Of course, I also said “I don’t really care if there’s another one or not” except that I was excited by the introduction of a talking caterpillar villain at the end. If I had remembered that I might’ve been disappointed that this sequel is not about the talking caterpillar, but also maybe I would’ve thought it was a funnier joke when he appears briefly to say he’s not quite ready to enact his evil plot yet. It is a funny followup to the previous teaser, even moreso now that it seems unlikely to ever be followed up on.

FURY OF THE GODS takes place four years after the first one. Teenager Billy Batson (Asher Angel, DARBY AND THE DEAD) still uses the power given to him by an ancient wizard (Academy Award nominee Djimon Hounsou, NEVER BACK DOWN) to say the word “shazam” and turn into an adult muscly cape wearing super strength lightning man (Zachary Levi, BIG MOMMA’S HOUSE 2) who flies around Philadelphia saving people from disasters or fighting criminals. Following up on the last act of the first movie, Billy has been able to share those powers with his foster siblings Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer, TALES OF HALLOWEEN), Eugene (Ian Chen, Fresh Off the Boat), Pedro (Jovan Armand, Snowfall), and Darla (Faithe Herman, BODIED), so they can turn into similar flying super heroes played by Adam Brody (SCREAM 4), Ross Butler (RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON), D.J. Cotrona (G.I. JOE: RETALIATION), and Meagan Good (THE INTRUDER). His oldest sibling Mary (Grace Caroline Currey, FALL) also turns into a super hero, and last time she switched out with an older actor too, but now she doesn’t. I’m assuming that’s because she’s considered an adult now, but if they addressed that I missed it.

Billy has a rule that they don’t do super hero shit alone, only together. But their foster parents Rosa (Marta Milans, ASHER) and Victor (Cooper Andrews, DARLIN’) don’t know about the super powers, so they all have to make up an excuse or sneak out at the same time to have fun together saving commuters on a collapsing bridge. Then they go hang out in their secret chamber full of magical statues and doorways to other dimensions and shit, which is decorated like a clubhouse. They generally stay in their super hero forms. I’m not really a fan of adults playing kids, so that’s not my favorite choice.

Luckily there’s a pretty big chunk of the movie where Freddy in his regular teen form is the main character and it’s about him flirting with a new girl at school, Anne (Rachel Zegler, WEST SIDE STORY). I actually thought that was the part of the movie that worked best – this underdog kid, with the confidence of a secret super hero, managing to sink a bunch of 3-pointers in his smartass banter with Anne and insults of the two bully kids trying to humiliate him in front of her. Freddy and Anne have a good enough chemistry that it didn’t bother me that I could guess what her significance was gonna be to the main plot.

That is SPOILER that she’s purposely getting to know Freddy because he was once visited in the cafeteria by Shazam. She’s the previously unrevealed younger sister of the sequel’s villains Hespera (Helen Mirren, SHADOWBOXER) and Kalypso (Lucy Liu, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS), goddesses who break into a museum to steal the broken staff of the wizard and then go to the Gods’ Realm, where he’s imprisoned, and force him to repair it. Now they’re after Shazam and family, who they say stole the powers from them. (Seems like a legit grievance, if true.) They steal Freddy’s powers and imprison him with the wizard (those two get a mismatched buddies subplot) and create a magical bubble over the city, trapping everyone inside. Shazam has to remove the bubble, protect his family, fight over magical objects with Kalypso riding a pretty cool dragon covered in tree bark, plus come out as a super hero to his foster parents and come to terms with his siblings growing up and having their own lives separate from him.

Recently I was theorizing that the popular interpretation that thousands of unseen, unmentioned, unimplied deaths happened during MAN OF STEEL’s great Metropolis battle contributed to the modern reality where all super hero battles have to take place in a boring CGI rocky field or empty void so we can all agree that no fictional characters were harmed. So hey, man – credit where credit is due: Shazam throws a dragon all the way through a building. And gets excited about how cool it was. I like when he gets knocked down, bounces off a series of parked cars, slides across the pavement and catches on fire. The flying and super power action is mostly pretty well done.

I never rewatched the first, and I admit I had trouble remembering who all the foster siblings are and which super heroes they turn into. Not that it matters too much, but it’s hard to keep track of seven different actors playing eight different supporting characters. I also think it’s just not as fun to see them as full-fledged (if still learning) super heroes as it was to see them just goofing around seeing what funny things they could do now and laughing about it. That was a more unusual comic book movie experience than this is.

But it’s okay and probly a good time for kids. Like in the first one, I enjoyed the CG monsters, this time of a mythological bent and including a tribute to Ray Harryhausen’s cyclops. There’s a good joke about how unicorns are real but they’re not pretty – they’re cruel, terrifying beasts. Darla figures out a way to win them over, which maybe you can guess when I tell you that as she rides into battle she yells “Taste the rainbow, motherfucker!”

SHAZAM! got some mileage from Billy’s search for the mother who abandoned him, and ultimately finding a place with this family. I don’t think this one was able to find quite as sturdy of an emotional hook, and I think it was a mistake to have him in his Shazam form so much more than his Billy form. But it’s still cute to see the interactions of the various kids and the loving foster parents (who do get to be in on the action – mostly just by driving a van around). And there are two important character moments I appreciated because they establish Freddy and Billy as heroic apart from just having been given powers by a wizard. One, when Freddy does better than the wizard himself at withstanding magic mind torture, and two, when Billy makes a decision to fight a battle he believes will kill him but save his family. He also ultimately earns his place as the main character by using his powers more effectively than the others and saving the day in spectacular fashion (or at least with lots of dramatic lightning and glowing eyes).

The connections to other DC movies are kinda weird. (SPOILER) Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot, CRIMINAL) shows up. If you stick around for the mid-credits you also get to see two characters from Peacemaker, which apparently came about because The Rock forbade them from using characters from BLACK ADAM. Oh well. More money for Steve Agee (SLEEPING DOGS LIE, GOD BLESS AMERICA).

Like the first SHAZAM, FURY OF THE GOODS is directed by David F. Sandberg (ANNABELLE: CREATION) and written by Henry Gayden (THERE’S SOMEONE INSIDE YOUR HOUSE), now with additional writer Chris Morgan (FAST & FURIOUS 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, WANTED). I don’t think they were able to make one of those sequels that builds off of and really surpasses the first one, but I won’t hold it against them.

This was considered a bomb, and Levi publicly groused about The Rock both refusing to appear in the movie and interfering with their other plans. But I don’t know. They have Billy wearing a GOONIES shirt in part of it, which I take as a “we’re making kind of a modern GOONIES” message. And they only made one GOONIES movie. So these guys should be happy they got to make two.

P.S. It occurs to me that this is one of the only modern super hero movies where most of the super powered characters wear capes. I’ve noticed lately that people have been using the term “cape movies” (or “cape shit”) instead of “super hero movies” or “comic book movies,” and I don’t really like it, mostly because it sounds corny, but also because it’s a less accurate description of the genre than “super hero” or “comic book.”

Think about it. In DC who wears a cape? Batman, Superman, now Supergirl. Not the Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Catwoman, Cyborg, Black Adam (except the cloak at the beginning), Blue Beetle, anyone on either Suicide Squad or the Birds of Prey or in Peacemaker. So, a couple of the important ones, but not most of them, except in SHAZAM!.

In the MCU you got Dr. Strange, Thor and Mighty Thor, Vision (sometimes). But not Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Spider-Man, Eternals, Guardians, Shang-Chi, Daredevil, She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, Venom, Moon Knight or anybody else I can think of. Black Panther often wears a cape in the comics, but never in the movies. It’s just not in fashion for modern super hero movies, even as they get more comic booky. There was even a joke about that in BLACK ADAM. I’m sorry but I have no choice but to stamp ‘INVALID’ over the term “cape movie” unless you’re talking about one of the two SHAZAM! pictures.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 20th, 2023 at 7:06 am and is filed under Reviews, Comic strips/Super heroes. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

20 Responses to “Shazam! Fury of the Gods”

  1. Since this didn’t do well in theaters and I didn’t hear good word of mouth about it, I secretly expected, like the contrarian I am, to like it. But I didn’t. It solves some of those tonal issues I had with SHAZAM! 1!– how it was basically a kids’ adventure movie punctuated by some gross violence– but it doesn’t have much of a reason to exist. Feels weird Billy is worried about aging out of his foster family when his older foster sister is still living with them. We can blame The Rock for keeping Black Adam out of this movie, but it’s an unforced error to tease Mr. Mind, not deliver, and then tease it again for a movie that will never get made. They could’ve used the Monster Society of Evil– an eclectic group of visually interesting weirdos– instead of treading water with bland baddies they invented for the movie.

    Also, still no Tawky Tawny. For shame.

  2. The box office failure of this one really doesn’t make sense to me, considering how beloved part 1 one was. Some blame it on sUpEr HeRo FaTiGuE, but other superhero movies were doing pretty well at that time (even if they weren’t from DC). Some blame it on Black Adam not appearing, but I think the general public doesn’t even know that he was supposed to be Shazam’s arch enemy. Some say it was because Zachary Levy came out as anti-vaccer but I didn’t even hear about it until after the movie had already bombed. (Also BLACK PANTHER 2 also had an outspoken anti-vaccer in it, but did pretty well.) Even the pretty mediocre reviews that it got never stopped anybody from watching a movie.

  3. Even I, someone who in 2019 was an appreciator of the then-new motion picture SHAZAM!, a few months ago had and right now still has somewhere around zero interest in watching the 2023 movie SHAZAM!: FURY OF THE GODS, and as such would like to put myself forward as a key witness for the defence in the case of The People of SHAZAM!: FURY OF THE GODS vs Mr The Rock. I enjoy goofing on The Rock’s empty hubris as much as the next disappointed action fan (see the BLACK ADAM comments), but I don’t think pinning the blame on him for the failure of a movie he wasn’t even in, as Mr. Shazam (aka Zachary Levi, aka whatever his real name is) and others have done, is unfair. So let me get the argument straight; BLACK ADAM wasn’t really a hit, and FURY OF THE GODS was even less of a hit, but it would have been if the first not-a-hit had done more to hype the second non-hit? Doesn’t track to me. And even if it didn’t pan out, The Rock was absolutely right to think teasing a match-up between himself and the guy from THE WITCHER as *the* iconic superhero would be a bigger deal than THE ROCK vs the guy from CHUCK as a character who was most famous when they were called what a different character is called now. Heck, as it was it *did* get a lot of the limited interest BLACK ADAM got. I can’t imagine a Levram Niatpac cameo in BLACK ADAM would have got any more interest than the big cameo in FURY OF THE GODS did. And as for Black Adam showing up in FURY OF THE GODS to goose interest, well of the two he isn’t the character who has a hit film under his belt.

    I think this flopped because it was four years between films; that would be kind of a long time between any successful-but-not-a-smash, good-but-not-that-memorable-or-unique film and its sequel, but that’s especially long when those years are 2019 to 2023, which has been both an unusually long time in the world, and a long time in the films and TV of super heroics. Put it this was; SHAZAM was before ENDGAME. Before the word “multiverse” had been introduced to live action super hero films. When The Snyder Cut seemed like a crazy pipe dream. Before Robert Pattinson had been cast as Kurt Cobatman. Before the first “proper” MCU TV/Streaming Series had been made. A different era. All this seemed to promise from the trailers was the same again but less fresh, soundtracked to an annoying loop from a musty lesser Eminem song about how great he is. Plus you promised an evil worm, and instead you give us three random witches? And they’re not Sabrina and her aunts? What are you doing?!?

    (I guess they are Gods and not witches like I assumed. I perhaps should have known that from how it is explicitly stated in the title. I guess that one’s on me)

    (This was drafted as part of my BLACK ADAM comment until I saw Vern had written a SHAZAM 2 review, sorry if there’s any gaps missing in me jumping between the two universes)

  4. I think I liked the first one more than most in these parts. You know when people say “It’s a superhero movie, but it’s also a [insert genre here] movie!” or whatever? SHAZAM is one of the very, very few of those which actually means it.
    This… well, this wasn’t that; it’s very much a generic superhero movie, and not a very good one. BLACK ADAM is probably the better one at that, but this one at least is pretty (intentionally) funny. And I liked the villain’s motivations, that was kind of clever, in the same way most of these movies throw an interesting concept or two and then completely fail to follow up or expand on it.

    Pacman, I think you’re probably right that the time between them is one of the main factors in its failure. Also, the trailer did not help at all; it made it seem generic as all hell, and seemed to require familiarity with the SHAZAM! lore.
    One thing I don’t hear very often is praise for Levi, so I’ll go: His portrayal of Shazam is possibly my favorite active superhero. The dude just exudes joy.

  5. I actually quite liked the first one. More than I expected to. I rewatched it on Christmas day last year. The first year of COVID I was alone on Christmas so I bought myself some expensive, comfy flannel pajamas to spend the day in, made myself all my favorite foods to gorge on all day, and lined up a day of action movies with a Christmas element. I enjoyed it so much I’ve done the same thing each year since. Last Christmas I was kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel in my movie selections and SHAZAM! made the cut. You start out with DIE HARD, LETHAL WEAPON, BATMAN RETURNS, ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE but by year three they aren’t all gems. I didn’t like it as much the second time around but I still liked it better than this one.

    I thought it was too much adult/superhero Billy and not enough teen Billy. I don’t *hate* Zachary Levi but I admit knowing he’s such a wanker has impacted my enjoyment of watching him onscreen.

    I really liked at the end of the first one all the kids became heroes but it wasn’t interesting seeing them all be heroes for an entire movie. I’m sure there could’ve been a compelling story about all of them but this wasn’t it.

    It wasn’t the worst. I liked it okay. I doubt I’d watch it again.

  6. Poor Mark Strong has now been in two post credit scenes that will never pay off.

  7. Don’t forget Green Lantern, Fred!

  8. I was counting Green Lantern and Shazam.

  9. It didn’t have a post-credit scene, but I believe they were setting up Mark Strong as the main villain in a future John Carter movie. If you’re relying on Mark Strong to set you up for a sequel, he’s just going to let you down.

  10. I would say it’s Hollywood that has failed Mark Strong.

  11. I’m usually up for a good superheroing, but this is one of those weird sequels that seems determined to walk back everything in the original movie, from bringing the Wizard back to life to depowering all the superheroes to only Shazam (when the first movie was so keen on how awesome it would be to have a whole passel of one-note child actors/superheroes–I guess they didn’t figure they were going to make a sequel about these umpteen characters when they ended the first movie teasing a sequel).

    And I was shocked to find that the villains were made up for the movie, since they seemed to be adapted from decades of convoluted and contradictory comic books. They’re an oppressed minority who are sympathetic because they were mistreated, but they kill innocent people for laughs, but one of them is still a good enough person to date, and they want to get their powers back, but they already have powers, and they also want to steal a seed so they can either bring their universe back to life or destroy our universe… I guess at the end the last one decides she can just have a good time living on Earth? So that’s an option.

    it’s so complicated and this is supposed to be the special for-kids superhero movie! I think most of the X-Men movies with a naked blue lady walking around are easier to grok.

  12. Gotta say I loved this one. I saw it with a couple buddies and we all laughed and had a good time. I like it more than the first one which I only thought was okay. This movie and I clicked.

  13. This movie’s got a Zachary Levi problem. And I don’t mean whatever shithead views he holds in his personal life. I’m talking about how when Billy is his true self, he seems like a relatively grounded, sensitive young man struggling to do the right thing. Then he turns into Shazam and turns into a mentally challenged eight year old. This may have worked in the first one when Billy was younger but Levi didn’t evolve his performance at all since then. Now it seems like they’re playing two completely different characters, and the one that gets the most screentime is the obnoxious idiot who thinks he’s on a Disney channel sitcom. This is often a problem with body swap movies: Tom Hanks seemed five years younger than the pre-teen he played in BIG, for example. But as Billy becomes nearly old enough to smoke, vote, and join the Army, Levi still playing him like an overcaffeinated fourth grader becomes even more glaring. It’s a featherweight caricature of a performance in a movie that was already struggling to feel grounded. It’s got some cool stuff in it but the annoying dope at its center is not one of them.

  14. Maj I agree 100%. I almost think in roles where someone is playing someone else, like this age swap one or body swap or even just 2 actors playing the same characters at different ages, they need to let the one actor film the scene so the other actor can study how they would do it and then work with that. I don’t know, maybe they do work together to come up with a performance and one of the actors, or perhaps the director, is just bad.

    I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head but I know there have been ones where someone has blown me away by “playing” someone else. The only one I can think of is Orphan Black, but that’s a different impressive acting skill because it’s the same actress playing multiple characters, but when she’s one character pretending to be another character and it’s totally clear that’s what is happening it’s amazing.

  15. In nearly every instance where someone has to play a child in an adult’s body, they don’t try to play a specific child. They play “Generic Kid.” Every kid is different but all adults play them as the same spastic, gibbering goober. Even when there’s an actual child actor giving a unique and distinctive performance to take cues from, they still just ladle on every single childlike tic they can think of and call that a character. This tends to stand out because child actors are often precociously adult-like in their bearing and behavior, making the discrepancy even more obvious. (Judge Reinhold playing Fred Savage in VICE VERSA is a particularly egregious example.) I think it’s like playing drunk: Drunks are always trying to hide how drunk they are, so you have to underplay drunkenness. Kids are trying to come off as more mature than they are, so you need to underplay their childishness. It’s weird that nobody ever seems to figure that out.

  16. If you want to see how it’s done, though, Meagan Good is right there. She does a credible job of capturing the essence of the actual child actor she was tasked with doubling. She understood the assignment in a way Levi did not.

  17. “child actors are often precociously adult-like in their bearing and behavior” It’s so weird to me when child actors who are really good at this cannot transition it to adulthood. Like on Modern Family, the kid who played Manny was so good as a precocious child but was terrible as a teenager/young adult. I’ve often wondered what happens there. I think maybe it’s that they’re a good mimic, but not actually a good actor? Like they can touch the surface to pretend and because they’re children, who are just weird and awkward inherently, it works, but when they’re asked to actually dig under the surface of a character and understand the feelings and motivations and how best to convey them, they can’t do it.

  18. Good child actors are good because they’re not self-conscious. That’s hard to carry into adulthood, even for people who don’t grow up in the spotlight. How are you supposed to act like no one is watching when you know everyone is watching? They have to replace naturalism with technique, and not everyone can do that.

  19. One of the absolute worst body swap acting bits I’ve seen in a long time (haven’t seen any Shazams) is Vince Vaughn in Freaky. The teenage girl seems to be an intelligent, wry person, but then Vaughn acts like he’s playing a five year old with brain disease. It’s insane how idiotic he’s playing this girl, I think if they wanted to go that route at least they should have made the actress act dumber so it matched. It’s just embarassing and finally Vaughn has done worse acting that he did in Psycho.

  20. Okay, so this is another one those movies that I liked more than most people seemed to. Don’t get me wrong, it IS a disposable popcorner that doesn’t leave any lasting impression, but I had fun. I maybe enjoyed it a bit more than part 1 even, although the sequel admittedly lost any edge. The first had the boardroom meeting of terror that made parents complain that the movie was wrongly marketed as harmless, light hearted wish fulfillment kiddy comedy, plus the adoption subplot that ended with a realistically soul crushing “My mom simply didn’t want me”. None of that is in the sequel. Although honestly it doesn’t matter that much, because trying to repeat it would’ve just felt phony.

    That said, I did enjoy the kids-in-superpowered-adult-bodies hanging out angle. The family had some good chemistry in either form. And Mirren and Liu may have been underused, but it was still nice to see them together on screen, shoot lighting out of their fingers and even ride a dragon at one point. Plus: Even though he was more comic relief than expected, this was probably Djimon Hounsou’s biggest role in a blockbuster movie in decades, so that’s a bonus point.

    Let’s be honest, I doubt that it will ever land in the top 10 of any “Best Superhero movie” ranking. Not even in the top 20 of “most underrated superhero movie” lists. But some motherfuckers put it in their “worst of the year” lists, sometimes even on top and all I can say is: Motherfucker, you really need to watch more movies if THIS is the worst for you!

    Also with the end of the S*****verse, the post-credit scene is way funnier than it was probably supposed to be. Would be cool if James Gunn would put every 5 or 6 movies a scene with Mark Strong at the end, still waiting in his cell while the talking caterpillar tells him that “it” is gonna happen soon, but he has to do one more thing, without us ever seeing what these things are and of course “it” never happening, because it’s a different multiverse.

    Random observation: According to the end credits, the movie received a bunch of money from several German film subsidies and I have no idea why. It wasn’t shot in Germany, it didn’t feature any German actors, etc. We have some pretty strict rules about which movie can get money from them. Which is one of the reasons why the German movie industry has been struggling for decades. But here they are, just throwing money at the big American studio tentpole movie. Oh well, at least it’s not my problem. Just a headscratcher.

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