The film continues the story of teenage Billy Batson who, upon reciting the magic word “SHAZAM!” is transformed into his adult Super Hero alter ego, Shazam.
Without question, filmgoers are suffering from an extreme case of superhero fatigue. Marvel Films’ plan to bombard its followers with not only a steady stream of theatrical releases but also constant flow of television series’, all of them narratively interconnected, has proven that more is not always more. The exhaustion their glutting of the market has caused only makes it more difficult for their rival, Warner Brothers, to generate any excitement for their DC Comics features. The fact that studio repeatedly shoot themselves in the foot, producing movies that often don’t take advantage of the best qualities of their characters, certainly doesn’t help.
As a result, I don’t think David Sandberg’s “Shazam: Fury of the Gods” is going to get fair shake from fans of the genre. I hope I’m wrong because in many ways, it’s the perfect anecdote for all that’s turned viewers away from these movies. Effortlessly charming and genuinely funny, this just-as-good-as-the-first-one sequel lampoons the genre as often as it delivers an impressive piece of superhero derring-do. To be sure, it hits the same beats movies of this sort are seemingly chained to, but the good humor in which it’s all executed breathes some much-needed life into these hoary conventions.
Unlike his idol, Superman, and his crush, Wonder Woman, Billy Batson (the invaluable Zachery Levi) is suffering from a crisis of faith. He’s convinced he’s not worthy of the powers bestowed upon him by the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou). That the local press has dubbed him and his surrogate brothers and sisters he’s shared his abilities with the “Philadelphia Fiascos” certainly doesn’t help. While they may have the best of intentions, while in superhero mode Mary (Grace Currey), Freddy (Adam Brody), Darla (Megan Good), Pedro (D.J. Cotrona) and Eugene (Ross Butler) sometimes cause as much damage as they do good. Soon turning 18, Billy is also concerned that in aging out of the foster care system, he’ll have to leave his “family” behind.
Their mettle is tested when the Daughters of Atlas – Hespera (Hellen Mirren), Kalypso (Lucy Lui) and Anthea (Rachel Zegler) – escape from what was supposed to be eternal confinement, to retrieve the Staff of the Gods. This talisman bestows upon and takes away superpowers and this trio is far from happy that some of these supernatural skills have bestowed upon Billy and his brethren. The trio sets out to retrieve them, creating as much chaos and destruction as possible along the way.
One of the things that separate the “Shazam” films from other superhero fare is the youthful exuberance they contain, realized by the conceit that the consciousness of kids reside in the bodies of these mighty mortals. Each of them is constantly amazed by what they can do a refreshing change from heroes in other films take who their powers for granted. This sense of innocence not only generates a great many laughs, especially where Levi is concerned. His efforts cannot be understated where the appeal of this franchise is concerned. At times manically excited, but always wide-eyed and naïve, the actor skillfully taps into the childlike nature of his muscle-bound character to great effect. Levi’s earnest approach is one of the film’s strongest elements, winning over the audience from the start.
And yet, beneath all the fun, a worthwhile theme is at play. Billy’s need to keep his surrogate family together, due to his own insecurities proves poignant and relatable. He must come to terms with anxiety and doubts not simply to become a worthy hero but a complete person. How he ultimately achieves this proves surprisingly poignant.
Those familiar with the lore surrounding the “Shazam” characters will appreciate the many in-jokes Sandberg supplies. Seeing the Rock of Eternity, the Wizard’s lair, transformed into a teen hangout, replete with strings of LED lights and empty pizza boxes is a hoot, while those with a keen eye will catch a quick call back to the 1970’s television series. Another highlight is a magical pen the group dubs “Steve” who transcribes everything – and I mean everything – that’s said in its presence.
Again, there’s not much new here, but the light-hearted approach – which puts Mirren’s serious turn in a humorous light- makes all the difference. A post-credit scene indicates more of the Shazam family was planned when the film was made. Since, a shakeup at Warner Brothers has seen director James Gunn put in charge of the DC characters, his intention being to reboot the entire universe. Here’s hoping he stays the course where this franchise is concerned, as Levi and his co-stars deserve another big screen adventure or two.
3 1/2 Stars