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'Shazam! Fury of the Gods' Is Not What One Would Call 'Good'

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Ah, the comic book movie sequel. It's no exaggeration to say that the heyday of the comic book movie may have slipped past us. The days of excited engagement over the MCU or the Snyderverse or DCEU (whichever is your particular cup of super strong tea) have certainly come to a bit of a halt, and audiences are finding it harder and harder to drum up the excitement for the next entry in a seemingly endless stream of franchises. AndI say this as a) an avid comics reader and fan of superhero movies and b) the father of a ten-year-old who has similar interests. Of course, this is not helped by the fact that generally speaking, the movies of the past few years have simply not been that great.

Anyway, that's my way of saying that the interest in Shazam! Fury of the Gods has not exactly been boiling over. The first film was charming enough, an amusing and lighthearted break from the relentless darkness of the Snyderverse as well as the heavy-handed tones of the end of Marvel's Phase 3. It came at the right time and seemed a pleasant enough break from the norm. The sequel certainly tries to maintain that sense of childish affability, only ratcheting things up with a bit of teen angst, a healthy dose of imposter syndrome, and a trio (yes, trio) of villains whose motivations are a little deeper than we may expect.

This time around, Billy Batson/Shazam (Asher Angel/Zachary Levi) is now part of a team of Shazam-empowered kids, having granted his foster siblings the power at the end of the first film. However, the family is drifting apart, to his dismay, whether it be because best friend Freddy (Jack Dylan Glazer/Adam Brody) is having romantic feelings towards newcomer Anne (Rachel Zegler, who hilariously is basically just collecting a paycheck) or stepsister Mary (Grace Caroline, the only actor to play both her human and superpowered roles) is having thoughts of college and a future away from the family. In the midst of this, our antagonists Kalypso (Lucy Liu) and Hespera (Helen Mirren) appear, old goddesses who bear a centuries-old grudge towards those with the power of Shazam and want to steal their powers via a magical staff to … you get the point. There's a lot of goofy magical language bandied about, things like "the Rock of Eternity" and "the Tree of Life" and it's all so perfectly comic booky that you can't help but admire the screenwriters dedication to the genre.

Does it work? Sometimes. Sometimes it's downright fun, especially because we've got powerhouses like Mirren and Liu around to do much of the dramatic heavy lifting. Levi's plucky, aw-shucks charm wears thin this time around, perhaps the inevitable consequence of a grown man continuing to essentially portray a child, perhaps just because Levi's shtick (he's still basically playing different versions of Chuck) is wearing thin. If anything, the strongest parts of the family — or … Shazamily (sorry, not my idea) — are Glazer's Freddy and Caroline's Mary. Given slightly beefier roles, they do an admirable job of picking up the slack from Levi and adding more depth to the hero side of things.

Yet Fury of the Gods still isn't what I'd call "good." It's one of those films that will definitely please crowds as long as no one thinks about it too deeply, as long as no one overlooks the way it brutally drags in the middle — it could easily use 30 minutes trimmed from its unneeded 130-minute runtime. Levi can't carry the film and given that he's the lead and his charm is starting to dull, that makes large portions of it suffer. There's also a certain fractured feeling to it, as if someone had a story arc for one character but decided to instead spread it out among all of the family members. As a result, all of them have a "thing," but few of them are well-explored, making more than half of them feel like afterthoughts, pieces of a larger puzzle that never quite fit.

The action, when it comes, is fine. However, "fine" is hardly ringing praise when it comes to $125 million tentpoles, but that's where we are. It's murky in parts, with clumsy CGI and some monster designs that are either deliberately cartoonish (a viable possibility) or amateurishly rendered (equally possible). On the plus side, director David F. Sandberg (who directed the first film) generally eschews a big punch-em-up battle at the end and instead focuses on saving lives and doing the right thing, all while the city of Philadelphia is getting thoroughly torn to pieces. It's clumsily choreographed, though, and while it's fun to watch cyclopes and minotaurs rampage through the streets, it never gives you enough to really buy into it.

At the end of the day, Shazam! Fury of the Gods is fine. It's far from the worst superhero film we've seen in the past few years (*cough*, Thor: Love & Thunder), and far from the best (The Batman) either. But it's that relentless mediocrity that makes it frustrating — there's the blueprint for a better film here, had screenwriters Chris Morgan and Henry Gayden given the cast a little more to do. There's a bit of heart in there though, no thanks to Levi's hysterical red-faced eye-bulging, and that helps keep the project from flaming out, and some relatively fun sequences. You may well enjoy the hell out of Fury of the Gods (hell, my kid loved it), but you might not remember why.

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