Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023) Review
A BIGGER ADVENTURE,
AN AVEARGE SUPERHERO TALE
In 2019, the DCEU was continuing to struggle to find its footing amongst the superhero genre, especially with prior mixed receptions of feature films, including Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, and Justice League. That being said, this shared cinematic universe of DC Comic’s heroes and villains has shone effectively with other releases such as Wonder Woman and Aquaman; proving that the franchise still has life within its comic book source material (just needed to be tweaked more). This proved to be quite the foreground for the likes of other superheroes from the DC background to make their big-screen debut, including the likes of Shazam in the 2019 movie Shazam!, the seventh installment in the DCEU. Directed by David F. Sandberg, the film, which starred Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Mark Strong, follows teenager Billy Batson, who is chosen by an ancient wizard to his new champion by saying the name “Shazam”, allowing him to transform into adult superhero with incredible various superpowers, while also dealing with parental past struggles as well as stopping the evil threats from Dr. Thaddeus Sivana and his Seven Deadly Sins monsters. Shazam! went on to become a critical success amongst moviegoers, who praised the feature for Sandberg’s direction and the performances from Levi, Angel, and Grazer, as well as lighter tone / sense of fun. In addition, the film was also a box office success by grossing over $366 million worldwide, which prompted a follow-up sequel to be greenlit sometime after the theatrical release of the project. Now, after several years have passed and after the spin-off project in 2022’s Black Adam (being one of mixed thoughts), Warner Bros. Studios and director David F. Sandberg return to the adventures of Billy Batson (and his superhero alter ego) with the movie Shazam! Fury of the Gods. Does this sequel prove to be effective in its superhero genre or has the “spark” run out for this heroic “boy comes hero” yarn?
Being a superhero isn’t easy and gets quite messy for Billy Batson (Asher Angel) and his superpowered alternate form, Shazam (Zachary Levi), with the boy about to turn 18 years old and facing with aging out of the foster care program he’s grown to love. He’s accompanied by his heroic family, including fast talker Frederick “Freddy” Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer and Adam Brody), gamer Eugene Choi (Ross Butler and Ian Chen), older sibling Mary Bromfield (Grace Fulton), good-natured Darla (Faith Herman and Megan Good), and shy Pedro Pena (Jovan Armand and D.J. Cotrona), hoping to keep the gang together as they work to protect the city of Philadelphia from threats and problems, but teamwork is starting to fade as group makes plans for the future. Breaking into Billy’s existential superhero anxiety are the daughters of Atlas, Hespera (Helen Mirren) and Kalypso (Lucy Liu), who are looking to retrieve the Staff of the Gods, giving them power to control magic once again, who was recently reforged by the ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who had once stolen the power of the gods. With a revenge against the mortal world, the daughters of Atlas prepare to wreak havoc as Shazam quickly realizes he’s not able to contain the situation, while Freddy is distracted by Anthea (Rachel Zegler), a new student in school interested in the boy’s awkward kindness.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I’ve stated several times before in my reviews, I’m more of a Marvel fan than a DC fanboy. I don’t discredit the DCEU, especially since I love many of their superhero installments, including Man of Steel, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League, but I just felt that the MCU has found a winning formula in their cinematic storytelling of presenting Marvel’s heroes and villains in their shared franchise universe. Perhaps the difference is because Marvel’s MCU has an overseer (Kevin Feige) to over these particular projects, while DCEU did at one point (Zack Snyder), but that soon faltered, with a lot of movies installments after 2017’s Justice League feeling a tad disconnected from each other and more like standalone endeavors. But that’s neither here nor there as this brings up 2019’s Shazam! and how it proved to be quite effective superhero win for the DCEU. Granted, a lot of people (causal moviegoers and comic book fans) found this movie to be an interesting movie to watch, especially since it was a little bit more lighter (in its tone) and a more humorous bits that the previous DCEU past endeavors. Although, I do feel that the movie felt a little underwhelming at times and that the overall tone sometimes can feel a tad wonky, with most notable parts have a darker emphasis, which jarred against the lighthearted premise. That being said, I did feel like the film’s cast was solid, with actor Zachary Levi leading the charge in a strong way as well as Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer providing plenty of heart and laughter in their respective roles. Overall, I felt like Shazam! was a sort of “breath of fresh air” that, while not the absolute best of the DCEU entries, still had gumption to “dance to its own beat” with enough superhero swagger to its name for a fun (yet slightly conventional) comic book romp.
Naturally, this brings me back around to talking about Shazam! Fury of the Gods, a 2023 superhero film, the 12th installment in the DCEU, and the follow-up sequel to the 2019 feature. Indeed, it has been some time since we (the viewers) have seen Levi’s Shazam, especially with a few delays in the works and other projects in the DCEU taking more of a centerstage. As mentioned, the movie was greenlit sometime after the release and was curious to see what lay in store for Billy Batson and his new found family. Of course, director David F. Sandberg was headlined to return to the project as director, while actor Zachary Levi would reprise his role as Shazam in the feature. In time, other acting talents began to be attached to the upcoming film, including actress Rachel Ziegler, Lucy Lu, and Helen Mirren. From that alone, this movie sequel looked quite promising. Soon, the film’s movie trailer began to appear online (and in theaters), which showcased loads of new feature and seemed to keep the more lighthearted tones from the first film as well as bring a more powerful threat for the heroes to face off against.
Thus, given the interest in potential that this sequel had, I was quite curious to see what Shazam! Fury of the Gods was going to offer and planned on seeing it when it was originally supposed to come out on April 1st, 2022. I say originally supposed to come out as the movie faced several delays and date shuffles, with some being due to the ongoing struggle of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as some moving around to avoid competition. Thus, the film was shifted around before landed on a final firm release date of March 17th, 2023. I did get a chance to see the feature on its opening day and decided to push to get my review done as soon as possible. And what did I think of this Shazam! sequel? Well, it was just okay. Despite upping the ante on the story and visual action, Shazam! Fury of the Gods is a fun (yet average) superhero romp that gets some things right and wrong during its execution and undertaking. It’s definitely not as terrible as say 2022’s Black Adam, but it plays it safe and keeps the familiar rather than taking the tale of Billy Baston (and his superhero family) to the next level.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods is directed by David F. Sandberg, whose previous directorial works include the previous Shazam! feature as well as Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation. Given his familiarity by helming the first film, Sandberg seems like the most suitable choice to direct the follow-up Shazam! sequel. In that regard, I think that Sandberg definitely succeeds, building upon what he started previously and building upon that the first film. Indeed, the director certainly makes Fury of the Gods have that classic touch of “larger” narrative, with plenty of more to see and do throughout the feature. Thus, the viewing experience (in general) is a better one than the last Shazam!, yet it isn’t as focused as that one (more on that below). Still, for better or worse, Sandberg approaches this new movie with the same type of zippiness and humor that the previous Shazam! was shaped to be, with Fury of the Gods feeling like a proper extension to its 2019 original. Of course, some changes are a bit made, which are a little bit for the better, including Sandberg making the story feel much broader with more at stake than the previous plot. Thus, immediately Fury of the Gods feels like a bigger movie with “save the world” type antics running ramped, which (given the nature of the story) feels right at home and does deliver on the larger-action set-pieces that Sandberg and his team employ throughout the narrative. In addition, there is a little bit of a mature story to tell that, while has plenty of time for humor and sight gags, feels like the characters are growing up a little bit; a nice touch in a few key moments. That’s not to say that Sandberg doesn’t make the Fury of the Gods completely altered, with a great majority of the feature feeling the same type of superhero bravado in several large portions, including the humor and comedy aspect.
Additionally, Sandberg keeps the film moving at a brisk pace. While certain scenes do go on a somewhat tangent with some unnecessary and / or superfluous details, the movie itself never feels dull or boring of which they is plenty to see and do throughout. Thus, the film’s runtime of 130 minutes (two hours and ten minutes) sort of rushes by at a snappy pace, with a lot of “bing, bang, boom” aesthetics for this superhero blockbuster. In the end, while not exactly the greatest sequel endeavor, Sandberg still manages to make Fury of the Gods a rollercoaster of feature film, with plenty of visual spectacle, larger-than-life characters (heroes and villains), and touch of humor and heart that blends into the superhero nuances.
For the film’s presentation, I would say that Fury of the Gods certainly does surpass its predecessor, with the sequel managing to craft a more visual aspect for the project than the previous Shazam!. True enough, the feature’s budget is bigger, which is seeing throughout the entire motion picture presentation, with plenty of more location and set layouts that are more intricate and more detailed….regardless if they are portrayed in realism or fantastical. Thus, the idea of bringing more action and visual aspects helps build upon this notion and make the whole endeavor quite a visual feast for the eyes and feels more like a proper blockbuster than the last outing. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” key players, including Paul Kirby (production design), Danielle Berman (set decorations), Louise Mingenbach (costume designs), and the entire art direction team for their efforts on this Shazam! sequel. I also have to mention the film’s visual effects, which the movie has plenty to boast and I do find a lot of the mythological creatures that the movie has to offer. It definitively is a treat for the eyes and does improve (visually speaking) in comparison to its 2019 counterpart. In addition, the cinematography work by Gyula Pados does some impressive work through his techniques of filmmaking, which keeps the movie layered with some dynamic shots and usage of creativity to keep some scenes fresh and dramatic superhero flair to them. Lastly, the film’s music, which was composed by Christopher Beck, was pretty good throughout the movie, which added a lot of the movie’s more bombastic moments of action and heroism as well as some quieter dialogue moments as well. All in all, good job on Beck’s score.
Unfortunately, Fury of the Gods isn’t all that it is cracked up to be, with some problematic areas that are scattered throughout the feature that definitely hold it back. How so? Well, for starters, much like all sequel movie endeavors, Fury of the Gods doubles down on a larger story with twice the number of visual effects. While I did mention that I did like the film’s visual aesthetics, it does get a bit too much, especially in the third act of the feature, with most of the feature drenched in computer generated imagery. While I’m usually a fan of this, especially in superhero movies, Fury of the Gods is oversaturated in such nuances that it becomes a bit too messy and loud, which does pull away from some of the emotional / poignant moments that the movie wants to convey. CGI effects are supposed to enhance the experience / aiding the scene….not overtake it. Also, like sequels, the film tries to “go big or go home” within in the presentation, with Sandberg and his team trying to make the project much larger (and bigger) than the previous installment. This somewhat works, but it definitely gets messy along the way.
In addition, Fury of the Gods, while always on the move, is quite bloated. It doesn’t feel boring, yet there is still loads of time when the narrative feels superfluous with sequences that really don’t go anywhere. Perhaps the movie could’ve been easily trimmed down some (maybe a good five or ten minutes) for a more tighter runtime in order to “trim the fat”. Even with that notion, Fury of the Gods’s story, while engaging, feels all over the map and quite sloppy. Who’s to blame? Well, I would first say that the film’s script, which was penned by Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan, would be one of the main component in that criticism, with the narrative path being a little bit sloppy. The movie definitely has a lot of characters (heroes, villains, and side characters), so there is already plenty to juggle and I felt that the script for the movie sort of buckled underneath that unevenness. Thus, certain characters (even one of the main ones) gets placed on the backburner in favor of more spectacle action flair or redirects certain attention to other characters who the movie wants to focus in on. Plus, the actual story for Fury of the Gods could’ve definitely been tweaked in the storyboarding process. There are definitely some good ideas in the narrative plot, yet, at the same time, something about it feels a tad wonky. Some story beats aren’t fully explored, a few motivations aren’t explained in detail as much, and some things just don’t go anywhere. Again, there’s definitely a certain “room for improvement” in the script as aspects of the story could’ve been (or rather should’ve been) ironed out for a more well-rounded plot for the feature.
Another component in that statement is found within Sandberg himself and, while I did praise him for the film’s continuity feeling, Fury of the Gods still struggles in its overall execution. Given the lengthy amount of story and character narrative threads to flesh out and measure, Sandberg definitely struggles to make a balance within the film and its clear that his ultimate vision for the project wasn’t exactly what was produced in the final edit of the picture. Another problem with Sandberg’s direction is still the overall tone of the feature. The comedy aspect, while fun at times, still feels a bit too juvenile, even if the characters themselves have grown up a little bit. This, of course, makes some of the lighthearted moments a bit forced and cheesy at times. The juxtaposition of that with the more darker elements are abrasive rather than harmonizing. This was sort of the problem that I had with the first film and it rears its ugly head again in this sequel, with some dark tones and scenes that feel a bit too much and don’t really “jive” with the more adolescent nuances (physical or dialogue) that the movie wants to convey. Thus, Sandberg makes Fury of the Gods a (tonal) mess as if the movie’s franchise (as a whole) still can’t figure out what it really wants to be.
The cast in Fury of the Gods is solid for the most part, with a lot of the acting talent involved (both old and new) giving their best to portrayal these particular heroes and villains in this superhero tale. While most are good, there are a few that are just too broad for this feature and just don’t amount to much. Leading the charge in the film continues to be actor Zachary Levi, who plays Billy Batson’s adult superhero alter-ego form Shazam. Known for his roles in Chuck, American Underdog, and Tangled, Levi has certainly produced a number of films and other projects throughout his career and even so more since the last go around with his iteration of the Shazam character. That being said, he clearly hasn’t lost a step in the role, with Levi imbuing the character with plenty of zippy one-liners and charismatic energy throughout the entire endeavor. It’s a testament to Levi’s acting ability to carry the film (whether that’s a good thing or bad thing depends on the viewer) and it clearly shows that the actor is passionate about this particular film and the character himself. It’s quite a little strange, however, because Levi gets more screen-time that his teenage counterpart, with the physical adult superhero Shazam. Yet, Levi makes the most of the additional screen time than before and certainly carries the weight (for much of the feature) on his shoulder, which makes Fury of the Gods enjoyable for his bits. In short, Levi continues to perfectly imbodies that childish / teenager character persona that is trapped inside an adult superhero persona and definitely continues to be the best part that the movie has to offer.
Sadly, while Levi’s Shazam gets more screen time and continues to shine, actor Asher Angel (Darby and the Dead and Andi Mack) gets pushed to the backburner in his portrayal of Billy Batson in Fury of the Gods. While the first film gave plenty of room for Angel to embrace the character of Billy and his own personal struggles of identity and ideals of a family, the script for Fury of the Gods doesn’t offer much room for the actor make an important impact on the feature. Yes, the narrative lays some groundwork in the beginning with a few personal problems for Billy’s fear of growing out of the foster care system and leaving his family, but the movie never fully fleshed this particular point out correctly. Thus, Angel’s character of Billy gets sidelined in the film, which is disappointing. He’s still good in the role, and his arc in the feature is the natural place for his character to go through, but it’s just a shame that we (as the viewers) don’t get many scenes with him in this sequel.
One of the other changes made in the movie is more time spent with the character Freddy, Billy’s close friendship within his adopted family and who is once again played by actor Jack Dylan Grazer (IT and Luca). Grazer has certainly made a name for himself throughout his young career and playing such various tween / teenager character archetypes, which makes him the most recognizable of the younger cast. Grazer knows how to play such a character as Freddy quite well and continues to be a source of humor throughout the picture, with his ability to be fast-talking and quick with his wit. Interestingly, the movie has a bit more attention placed on him, with a subplot involving one of the Daughters of Atlas. To me, Grazer is the best of the young talents involved in Fury of the Gods…..even more so than Angel’s Billy. Plus, Grazer gets paired Hounsou’s character in the movie, which produces some comedic timing scenes that work well. All the other siblings of Billy, including actor Jovan Armand (Snowfall and The Middle) as Pedro Pena, actress Faithe Herman (This is Us and Doe) as Darla Dudley, actor Ian Chen (Fresh Off the Boat and Fancy Nancy) as Eugene Choi, and actress Grace Caroline Currey (Fall and Annabelle Creation) as Mary Bromfield, gets their moments in the spotlight once or twice and makes for the good continuity understanding in the franchise, which (again) provides plenty of context for the younger players.
Additionally, the adult alter ego superhero characters of Billy’s family get a little bit more screen time in Fury of the Gods, which offers a fun take on the younger counterparts. This includes actor Adam Brody (The O.C. and Mr. and Mrs. Smith) as Super Hero Freddy, actor Ross Butler (13 Reasons Why and To All the Boys: Always and Forever) as Super Hero Eugene, actor D.J. Cotrona (Windfall and From Dusk Til Dawn: The Series) as Super Hero Pedro, and actress Megan Good (Brick and Think Like a Man) as Super Hero Darla, with actress Grace Caroline Currey playing the Super Hero Mary. As I said, it was nice to see these acting talents a get little bit more screen time and emulate their younger teenage personas and to see them once again partner up with Levi’s Shazam.
The last remain returning players in the movie, includes actor Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond and The King’s Man) as the ancient wizard (aka Shazam), and actress Marta Milans (White Lines and El embarcdero) and actor Cooper Andrews (The Walking Dead and Halt and Catch Fire) as Rosa and Victor Vasquez, the foster parents of Billy and his siblings. This go around, Hounsou has more screen time in the picture, with his character of the wizard getting a little bit more to do in the movie’s plot. Plus, he gets paired up with Grazer’s Freddy a lot, which offers some great comedic banter between the two, while Milans and Andrew, who are still effectively good as Rosa and Victor, are delegated to the same amount of screen time that they had in the previous film, helping out in a few comedic bits as well as in a few poignant scenes.
On the villain’s side, Fury of the Gods showcases three new characters in the Hespera, Kalypso, and Anthea (the daughters of Atlas), who are played by actresses Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, and Rachel Zegler. Of the three, Mirren, who is known for her roles in Gosford Park, The Queen, and The Good Liar, has the best screen presence and definitely chews through her dialogue with gleeful fun. Her character is a bit straightforward, which makes Hespera a bit flat, but it’s just seeing Mirren playing a villain in a superhero film makes all worthwhile. Thus, Mirren’s Hespera, while not the most creative villain in the DCEU, still manages to be a find role for the acclaimed actress to play and (anyone can clearly see) that she is having fun playing such a character. In the middle, Liu, who is known for her roles in Elementary, All McBeal, and Kill Bill Vol. 1, gets the most “broad” character in the movie, with Kalypso acting as the sort of “big bad” for latter half of the feature. Like her character’s personality, Kalypso can manifest chaotic rage and Liu projects that amount correctly, yet it kind of comes off as a little bit cheesy at times. Maybe that’s how Sandberg wanted to portray it as, but I just felt that something was off. Plus, it doesn’t help that Liu is wooden in the role and doesn’t share the same type of energy as Mirren or Zegler does. Thus, Liu’s Kalypso ends up being probably the least interesting and generically forgetful character in the movie. As for Zegler, who is known for her roles in West Side Story, she probably has the most balanced character of the three, with her portrayal of Anthea being the voice of reasoning amongst them. This is mostly due to her character interacting a lot more with Grazer’s Freddy for most of the feature as well as having a more “human” connection with the cast / story. That being said, much like Hespera and Kalypso, most of her plot development is rather rudimentary and very broad, which can be seen as being predicably formulaic. Still, I felt that Zegler did a good job in the role. Just wish that she had more time to develop her character, for Anthea had the most interesting aspect of a god. Plus, I did find her powers of “access” to be quite interesting.
Lastly, Fury of the Gods does have two secret Easter Egg endings that help teases some interesting ideas, with one at the mid-credit mark and the other at the very ending (after the credits). I won’t spoil it on what is covered in those two particular post-credit scenes, but they are little interesting and have “zinger” to them. However, it’s a bit disappointing because these scenes are further teasing future events for a dying cinematic universe that may never come to cinematic light….. much like the Knightmare future seeing in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
The daughters of Atlas have returned and seek dominion over the mortal world as Billy Batson and his adopted family must thwart their plans and save the day in the movie Shazam! Fury of the Gods. Director David F. Sandberg’s latest film continues what he was able to establish in the 2019 film and builds upon it, with a follow-up sequel that’s just as fun and easily accessible as it was last go around. While the movie does struggle to find a proper balance of action and drama as well several flat characters, the feature still manages to make an entertaining impression with enough silly moments, visual blockbuster spectacle, a great score, and a mostly overall solid cast. Personally, I thought that this movie was somewhere between okay and good. Basically, it sort of met my expectations (I didn’t have a whole lot for this sequel), but didn’t exactly “blown me away”. Thus, it kind of breaks even a little bit. It’s not completely terrible as some are making it out to be, but its clearly not exactly the “slam dunk” win that they were expecting it to be. So, my recommendation for this movie would still be a “recommended” one as I’m sure casual moviegoers and fans of the first Shazam! will enjoy the feature, but a viewer might have to lower their expectations a little bit, which is why I would also give the film a “iffy choice” as well. As mentioned, the ending teases a continuation of the adventures of Billy Batson and his Shazam superhero family, but, given the state of the DCEU and the reboot of the cinematic universe, such an event seems unlikely. Still, regardless of that notion, Shazam! Fury of the Gods manages to find a decent presentation within its undertaking and, while it isn’t the best and brightest from this franchise of heroes and villains, is an adequate enough for a distraction.
3.4 Out of 5 (Recommended / Iffy Choice)
Released On: March 17th, 2023
Reviewed On: April 22nd, 2023
Shazam! Fury of the Gods is 130 minutes long and rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, and language