There’s something weird about watching Shazam: Fury of the Gods in terms of stakes. Now, it can be debated is any superhero movies as of late feel like they have actual stakes or not, but this entry is especially interesting because it feels like, quite possibly, watching a lame-duck franchise. With James Gunn taking over DC at Warner Bros., Shazam: Fury of the Gods has the lowest stakes possible: basically just don’t damage an already polarizing cinematic brand. During the course of this movie, we see an appearance from another, more famous, superhero that I won’t give away, even though it doesn’t matter – but knowing that his or her last appearance in that role might come as a Shazam cameo is pretty weird.
Anyway, these current DC movies just kind of feel like the game is over and the other team has taken a knee and is running out the clock. And under those circumstances, I kind of feel bad for these movies. In the end, people worked hard on them. To the point that when I went to my screening, before the movie started, it felt like I was wasting my time. What’s the point of this?
Now that you know what my headspace was the day I saw Shazam: Fury of the Gods, having said all that, yeah I kind of found myself enjoying it. At least, my expectations were low enough that the four or five laughs I had while watching felt like, “good enough.”
(I can’t help but feel for director David Sandberg, who seems like a genuinely nice guy. And since he started directing these two Shazam movies, he’s worked under multiple regimes and edicts at Warner Bros. Think how stressful it is at your job when you get a new boss. He’s had to do that a few times now. He mentioned how he just kind of wants to make a small horror movie next. Yeah, I don’t blame him for feeling that way.)
It’s not as good as the first Shazam movie, which explored what it’s like to be a superhero when, in reality, you’re still just a kid. In this sequel, that aspect is still mentioned quite a bit, but not really explored. There’s a lot of Billy Batson saying that he can’t do something, then figuring out a way to do it pretty quickly. But where the first movie gave us a lot of Asher Angel as the young Billy, this one really does not give us much of him at all. To the point, there’s a scene late in the movie where Zachary Levi’s Shazam turns back into Billy for what felt like just an excuse for poor Angel to have one more line of dialogue. The same could be said for Adam Brody’s unnamed superhero that goes by Captain Marvel Jr. in the comics, but can’t here for legal reasons. (Though he starts referring to himself as Captain Everypower a few times, which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.)
Obviously, the filmmakers wanted to tap into the chemistry between Zachary Levi’s powered-up Shazam and Jack Dylan Grazer’s unpowered-up Freddy Freeman, so many, many excuses are made so one of them is using the Shazam powers and the other is not. (Two things here. First, Jack Dylan Grazer looks about twice the height compared to what he looked like in the first movie and he’s the best part of this movie. Also, I bet Adam Brody and Asher Angel had a couple of heart-to-hearts about not being in this movie very much.)
The plot is so convoluted it barely matters. Like, honestly. Three immortal sisters (Helen Miran, having a ball; Lucy Liu, and Rachel Zegler) need a magic staff so they can find something they refer to as a seed and avenge the death of their father, Atlas. Standing in their way is Shazam and his family of superheroes. I guess, writing it out, it’s not that complicated. But, boy, this movie sure makes it feel complicated. By the end, there are goblins and monsters and unicorns and a fire-breathing dragon and it all feels like a lot, but there’s a lightheartedness to the whole proceedings that makes it enjoyable and amusing enough. But, at one point, I thought the goal of the sisters was to take away Shazam and his family’s powers? Which happens on and off the entire movie. But it seems they just do that as a means to “the seed” and don’t care about it much one way or another. But like I was saying earlier, once I stopped caring about following the plot, it was a much better experience.
But knowing that, most likely, these movies will end up folded into “the prior regime,” what’s it matter if Philadelphia gets destroyed? (At one point Philadelphia is trapped inside in an inescapable bubble and I found myself thinking, I don’t know, would that be the worst thing?) What’s it matter if Shazam somehow doesn’t live through this movie? The chances of another Shazam movie ever happening looks iffy at best, so watching this under these conditions, it actually wasn’t the worst thing. It truly felt like something that has no repercussions to any future movie, because it probably certainly won’t.
To the point, at my screening there was no post-credit scene because I was told they weren’t done yet, so I do wonder if there were plans for one to exist that teased an eventual showdown between Shazam and Black Adam, because that seems to be where all this was headed until recently. (Though, director David F. Sandberg says this isn’t the case.)
Anyway, I guess it doesn’t really matter. The whole concept of superhero universes, especially recently, is to create a feeling of importance, even when that really isn’t the case. So it’s weird and strangely refreshing to watch one of these where that’s 100 percent not the case.
’Shazam: Fury Of The Gods’ opens on March 17th in theaters everywhere. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.