Review: ‘Shazam! Fury of the Gods’ (let no editor put asunder)

Even with its heart in the right place, the sequel feels hamstrung with studio interference.

After empowering his foster family to defeat Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong), Shazam (Zachary Levi) broke the staff that enabled the Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) to bestow the power of the gods. A few years and misadventures later, the Daughters of Atlas — led by Hespera (Helen “Morgan Le Fay” Mirren) and Kalypso (Lucy Liu) — recover the remains of the staff to enact a plan and reclaim their stolen magic. In his mortal form, Billy Batson (Asher Angel) struggles to keep his super-family together, often leaning on older foster sibling Mary (Grace Caroline Currey) as a voice of wisdom. After a dream sent by the Wizard warning of the goddesses, the super-family snaps into action… only to discover Billy’s best bud Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) and a sudden would-be girlfriend Anna (Rachel Zegler) are already in danger…

The first Shazam! film was a surprise success, driven by Levi’s boyish enthusiasm, humorous takes on superhero tropes, and a smart script. Again directed by David F. Sandberg with two of the writers from the first film, Shazam should have been brought into the fold as part of the DCEU… which fans already know is being overhauled by James Gunn and Peter Safran after sidelining Zack Snyder’s guidance. The trailers suggest more of what the first film brought, now with bigger special effects, more star power in the villain ranks, and more comedic quips — but something feels off. Is the bloom merely off the rose? Has so-called superhero fatigue finally set in? Or is it just the viewers imagination, fit to be ignored and maybe just go with it?

It’s easy to see the climatic finale battle was planned early on — and for all intents and purposes works exactly as it should — but getting there is a chore. Freddy’s whirlwind romance with Anna, where certain macguffins are kept, and the meandering story until the third act feel like heaps of deleted scenes were slashed from the film. In one scene the villains know nothing; in the next they know everything, yet they still can’t figure out they’re holding an entire city hostage and never once leverage it. One explanation is lazy writing, but intuition suggests important character and story moments were discarded in favor of keeping the SFX budget and money shots on the screen… and all the no-name, non-bronze, no-prizes in the DC universe can fix it once the final cut goes out.

One of the shortcomings of Levi’s performance as a man-child gifted with Superman-like powers is the expectation Billy Batson has to grow up sometime. In comparison to Mary in her early twenties and still sticking around, Billy is supposed to be nearly eighteen, yet he’s still talking like what writers think middle-schoolers sound like. Calling attention to it allows it to be somewhat forgivable, but the story/script/dialog problems earn no such apology. Some of the best zingers from trailers are noticeably absent from the theatrical cut, while name-calling and playground dialog serve as humor in scenes that exist merely for the attempt. As usual, the production team went all-out on design work, from mythological creatures to a fearsome dragon — let’s just call it out: it’s a dracolich and y’all damn well know it — but the gutted story lessens the impact, boiled down into rehash of the original instead of organically growing beyond it.

Zegler and Mirren are somewhat glorious in their roles, while Liu was given little more than revenge and anger to spew without nuance. One of the mid and after-credit scenes suggest Gunn and Safran have a future super-team in mind for Shazam, but releasing a shallow cut like this into theaters doesn’t exactly empower the IP. Again, who knows what’s on the cutting room floor or if a director’s edition could fix everything, but after retrofitting Justice League, shouldn’t fans get the version that was intended? The director seemed to be at least aware of the problems after the fact, so maybe Warner Bros. should bite the bullet and #releasethesandbergcut.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods is rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, language, and tasting the rainbow.

Two skull recommendation out of four

Speak up, Mortal -- and beware of Spoilers!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s