Sunday, March 19, 2023

Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Although the DCEU consisted of mostly duds (depending on who you ask), one of the few films that stood out was Shazam!, a 2019 film about the DC hero of the same name (previously known as Captain Marvel). While not without its flaws, it was still a very fun time, enough that we eagerly awaited the 2023 sequel, Fury of the Gods. Unfortunately, while Fury of the Gods still entertains, it feels like something got lost along the way.

Two years after the events of Shazam!, Billy Batson (Zachary Levi) and his “Shazamily” of foster siblings are going through family struggles. As superheroes, they’re rejected by their city, Philadelphia, who call them the “Philly Fiascos” in reference to the destruction involved in their heroics. At home, they’re slowly drifting apart as they grow and have more personal interests, with Billy worried that he’ll lose his newfound family once he turns eighteen and ages out of the foster system. As he tries to navigate his worries, he is approached in a dream by the Wizard (Djimon Hounsou), who somehow survived the transfer of his powers to Billy. The Wizard explains that the daughters of the titan Atlas have restored the broken staff and are hunting Billy and his family to reclaim the powers that they had lost long ago. Unsure of how to solve the issue, Billy seeks the help of his siblings, as he needs them now more than ever.

Billy Batson (center right) with the "Shazamily".

In concept, Fury of the Gods is a natural next step for the characters, showing the pains of growing up and how groups that are otherwise tight knit express themselves differently as they grow older and fall into different interests. As a result, Billy is forced to confront his own feelings of abandonment, which manifests in part as imposter syndrome. The villains also help establish the origins of the Wizard’s staff while drawing more from the hero’s background in Greek mythology.

In practice, however, the film feels at best unfocused. Without spoiling anything, the villains’ motives feel inconsistent at times and don’t feel quite as compelling as Thaddeus Sivana from the first film, who felt like an inspired dark reflection of Billy. While the members of the Shazamily are fleshed out more in their roles both in and out of the Rock of Eternity, Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) once again receives the most focus and a subplot that factors into the film’s main theme of what really makes a hero. Some elements also feel predictable, including how a new girl, Anne (Rachel Zegler), factors into the story while others, like the reappearance of the Wizard, don’t feel fully explained. The biggest missed opportunity, however, is that nothing comes of the post-credits scene from the first film, which formally introduced Mister Mind as a potential future villain.

Unfortunately, the humor also doesn’t land quite as much here as it did before. There are still some laugh-out-loud moments and great jokes, but every good joke has a few that come off labored or half-baked. This includes a plot-critical joke about Skittles that feels forced for the sake of product placement and a punchline that’s a variant of the famous “Taste the rainbow” slogan. Zachary Levi’s charm can only carry the film so far. That’s also not getting into how the scale of the damage goes up in the climax from a carnival and minimal collateral damage to entire city blocks.

Compared with the original Shazam!, Fury of the Gods has a noticeably increased reliance on CG. Where the original had used CG relatively sparingly for a superhero film, entire shots and sequences in the sequel, especially during the latter half, are created almost entirely from computer effects as opposed to a healthy mixture of digital and practical. Though the CG is at least a step up in quality from before, and feels justified during the climax, it has the side effect of making some sequences feel more “fake” to an extent. Oddly enough, Shazam's costume looks noticeably different, featuring somehow more and less detail, including the lack of a constant glow on the lightning bolt on his chest or his cape not featuring the hood and most of the Greek-inspired edge pattern, though that may not necessarily be a deal breaker for some.

There's plenty more CG this time around.

As for the music, while the original score itself isn’t all that memorable, the way the film incorporates “Holding Out For A Hero” by Bonnie Tyler is funny, though it arguably loses a little impact when Billy specifically calls out the timing. While I also personally find “Sabotage” by Beastie Boys overused in film, it’s thankfully only heard for a few seconds. One interesting choice, however, was the use of the Junkie XL remix of "A Little Less Conversation" by Elvis Presley, as I personally liked that it got more exposure.

If you’re going into Fury of the Gods expecting something on par with the original Shazam!, you may find yourself disappointed. While there’s some enjoyment you could get out of it, it’s not enough to help you ignore the 130-minute length (slightly shorter than the original by two minutes). One can only hope that if they make a third Shazam! film, DC will have learned their lesson from this one.

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