Released during an era of DC Comics movies when the franchise on the whole was focused on producing dark and serious blockbusters, David F. Sandberg’s Shazam! proved to be a sweet and funny reprieve. The film isn’t without drama and some scares (a reflection of Sandberg’s established sensibilities and history with horror), but mostly it’s a colorful and bright adventure that succeeds thanks to the wonderful dynamics between the characters and the impressive, heart-filled emotional stakes. It hits the trifecta of having a compelling villain plot as well as strong everyday life and hero stories for the protagonist, and it all works with exciting and fun action set pieces.
Release Date: March 17, 2023
Directed By: David F. Sandberg
Written By: Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan
Starring: Asher Angel, Zachary Levi, Jack Dylan Grazer, Adam Brody, Faithe Herman, Meagan Good, Ian Chen, Ross Butler, Grace Currey, Jovan Armand, D. J. Cotrona, Djimon Hounsou, Rachel Zegler, Lucy Liu, and Helen Mirren
Rating: PG-13, for sequences of action and violence, and language
Runtime: 130 minutes
Approximately four years later, DC Comics movies are now in a very different place. The run that’s been dubbed the DC Extended Universe is coming to an end this year, with plans for a new continuity to be introduced called the DC Universe – shepherded by DC Studios co-CEOs James Gunn and Peter Safran. Andy Muschietti’s The Flash is incorporated into this big change, as events in the plot will end up making titanic changes in the canon, but that has left some major question marks around all of the other 2023 releases.
It’s unclear what to expect from Angel Manuel Soto’s Blue Beetle and James Wan’s Aquaman And The Lost Kingdom, but right now it can at least be said that David F. Sandberg’s Shazam! Fury Of The Gods functions similarly in a macro sense to its predecessor: it primarily functions on its own individual wave length and succeeds because of its light energy and terrific ensemble of wonderful characters.
Picking up a few years after the events of the first film, Billy Batson (Asher Angel/Zachary Levi) and his foster siblings Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer/Adam Brody), Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman/Meagan Good), Eugene Choi (Ian Chen/Ross Butler) Mary Bromfield (Grace Currey), and Pedro Peña (Jovan Armand/D. J. Cotrona) are more experienced working as a superhero team, but they aren’t great at it. They attempt to stop disasters and help people, but their efforts have earned them the collective nickname “The Philadelphia Fiascos.”
Not having their act together very much has consequences when a new evil arrives on the scene. The daughters of Atlas, Hespera (Helen Mirren), Kalypso (Lucy Liu), and Anthea (Rachel Zegler), have long been kept prisoner and without access to magic in an alternate dimension, but they are able to seize an opportunity when the broken staff of the wizard (Djimon Hounsou) – destroyed and disregarded by Billy at the end of the first movie – is put on display at a museum. When the antagonist gods make plans to destroy the Earth as a means of making a new world for themselves, the heroes desperately search for a way to stop them.
Shazam! Fury Of The Gods has a familiar plot, but it finds moments and ways to be clever and creative.
The villain’s plot in Shazam! Fury Of The Gods is pretty basic stuff coming from the standard superhero blockbuster playbook, and it holds it back from doing anything particularly special or genre-changing. There are also some cool ideas that don’t get as fleshed out as they should – namely the city of Philadelphia getting trapped in a giant, magic dome – but the film all the same does find ways to get creative. Hespera and Kalypso end up using the wizard’s staff to rob most of the heroes of their abilities, giving the kids active and entertaining roles to play in the conflict; there’s an excellent running bit involving a magical pen that is a bit too good at transcribing for the heroes; and the movie delivers some wonderful mythical monster mayhem in its third act along with some terrific surprises that arrive with a fun wink (it’s worth noting that they’re definitely more fun if you haven’t seen the spoiler-y marketing for the movie).
Jack Dylan Grazer is a terrific scene-stealer, regardless of who he is sharing the screen with.
Zachary Levi is once again able to do a fantastic job channeling the spirit of a kid in the body of a superhero, and playing with the drama and comedy of Billy dealing with a pediatrician-diagnosed case of Imposter Syndrome ultimately yields a solid arc for the character. As good as he is, however, Shazam! Fury Of The Gods ends up being The Jack Dylan Grazer Show whenever the IT star is on screen. While working with a supporting role in the plot, his charisma comes from having chemistry with every character in the ensemble, and he’s front and center in some of the best scenes in the film.
While the first act of the movie is a bit rocky as Anthea is introduced as a classmate of the heroes (a twist that carries zero weight), you don’t really care about the obviousness of her being a god in disguise because of the instant way that the character clicks with Freddy and the apparent strong connection between Rachel Zegler and Jack Dylan Grazer. The young actor’s energy and enthusiasm also once again fits well among Freddy’s foster siblings – but perhaps the biggest and best shock of the film is what plays out between Freddy and the Wizard. Grazer and Djimon Hounsou get paired up when they are imprisoned together by the villains, and they have tremendous complementary timing that gets the most out of funny material.
You’ll want to see more of the Shazamily after Shazam! Fury Of The Gods.
Because of the aforementioned behind-the-scenes shakeups at DC Studios and the forthcoming birth of the DC Universe, it’s unclear what the future presently has in store for Shazam & Co. One thing that Shazam! Fury Of The Gods most certainly accomplishes, however, is inspiring the desire to see more. While the story may be overly familiar during the on-going golden age of superhero movies, the special intangibles that Shazam has as a franchise are as effective as ever in the sequel, and it still finds its own ways to feel different and engaging.
NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.
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