Review: Shazam! Fury of the Gods Brings Back a Teenage Super-Hero with an Overly Complicated Plot

If you needed me to give you an accurate, detailed summary of the plot for the Shazam! sequel, Fury of the Gods, well I’d probably die of old age and a broken brain trying to do it. But following up fairly quickly after the first one, young Billy Batson (Asher Angel)—who transforms into the god-like hero with a teenager’s mentality, Shazam (Zachery Levi)—and his foster brothers and sisters (all of whom also have superpowers) have become known in their native Philadelphia as crime fighters who always seem to mess something up when trying to save something or someone. Shazam insists they only work together—no solo missions—and demands an extensive debrief to go over what they could have done better, but the others want to concentrate on honing their unique abilities and just living life and getting school work done. Some of them are still quite young and don’t have the bandwidth or patience for some intense super-heroing.

Meanwhile, a pair of actual god sisters, Hespera (Helen Mirren) and Kalypso (Lucy Liu) invade a museum to retrieve the broken staff of their father Zeus. Turns out, Shazam snapped it in half in the last film, and now the sorcerer who gave him his powers (Djimon Hounsou, who I guess didn’t actually die in the last movie), has to repair the staff against his will, because he knows having it fully functional is a danger to the young team of heroes. The crowded story also includes a subplot in which a new girl at Freddy’s high school, Ann (West Side Story’s Rachel Zegler) seems to be flirting with him, which of course is suspicious and for good reason.

From returning director David F. Sandberg (who also gave us Lights Out and the glorious Annabelle: Creation), Fury of the Gods does up the fantasy quotient compared to the first film. A great deal of the film has to do with magic and monsters (including a dragon made of wood) and the staff literally sapping the kids of their powers one by one. Remember, each hero is played by two actors—a younger and and older (with the exception of eldest sibling Mary (who is played in both of her incarnations by Grace Caroline Currey). It’s still a little strange to see known-quantity actors, like Adam Brody and Meagan Good, in such small supporting roles and acting like young teens or preteens. One of my criticisms of Levi’s performance, which is mostly strong, is that he tends to lean into the man-child personalty a little too heavily. It gets to be a little much, especially in the scenes in which he’s directly confronting the adversarial sisters.

The other thing that works in Shazam’s favor is that he exists on the fringe of the DC superhero universe. He’s a fan of Batman, Superman, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman, but he understands that he isn’t at their level. But after taking on the task of saving the world this time around, he’s rewarded in a couple of scenes (including a fun mid-credits sequence) by an acknowledgment that he maybe ready for the majors. Who knows where the James Gunn-led DC Universe is going to take us with this character (if anywhere), but it’s clear that the old regime had plans for Shazam to intermingle with some of the more top-line heroes in their slate, and this film gives us enough of a sense of stakes to see how that might have looked. 

I’m always rooting for Levi to take this character somewhere interesting and less dark than his DC counterparts, but director Sandberg has a tendency to go big when he should make things intimate, and so small when things need to feel massive, never really allowing the character to settle into his more relaxed skin. But sometimes the filmmaker does strike the right balance, and those are Fury of the Gods’ best moments. Having a veteran of every-sized movie like Helen Mirren certainly helps determine the stakes of any given moment, and she’s easily the best thing in this movie. Themes concerning abandonment, imposter syndrome, and what is actually means to be a hero are prominent here as well, but at its core, the Shazam! movies have always been about a kid who was actually stoked about being a superhero; the other DC films could learn a little something from that very simple premise.

The film is now playing in theaters.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.