More than most superhero films of its era, 2019’s “Shazam” truly feels like a live-action comic book. It’s bright, ludicrous, fun, and embraces a decided lack of gritty realism. Unlike so many superhero outings of its era, it doesn’t celebrate soldiers, spies, deities by birth, or inventors, but instead centers the central question “what if good but underprivileged foster kids gained the powers of the gods?” It’s an excellent premise that the first film successfully milks for both comedic and dramatic purposes.
In the sequel “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” the stakes, of course, are raised even higher. We first meet a Shazam (Zachary Levi) at a crisis. Try as they might, the Shazam Family’s super heroics continually sour their reputation with amateur-hour mistakes, and he doesn’t know how to lead them. At the same time, he’s worried about his foster family falling apart, with Billy Batson (Asher Angel) nearing adulthood while his foster family increasingly pursues their own independence. Enter the Daughters of Atlas, Hespera (Helen Mirren), Kalypso (Lucy Liu), and Anthea (Rachel Zegler), ancient goddesses who seek to avenge their fallen father, conquer the Earth for the gods, and take the powers of said gods back from their accidental thieves: the Shazam Family.
“Shazam 2” largely lives up to its predecessor, boasting strong performances, considerable imagination in its worldbuilding, colorful but often suitably intense comic book action, and humor that, by and large, really works. There are some weaknesses when it comes to particular character arc development or instances of internal logic, and a few missed opportunities, but it’s a breezy, frequently charming outing that delivers where it counts. If you’re looking to experience the vibrant extravagances of a comic book projected onto a massive silver screen, “Shazam 2” is one of the most satisfying comic outings in recent years.
A Superheroic Family Feud
Here, Zachary Levi is as good as ever as the titular hero Shazam, capturing the fact that Billy Batson is a stone’s throw from 18 (despite superhero appearances) and as lost as ever. He’s trying to find his voice as a leader while struggling with his lack of experience, emotional notes that Levi embodies well alongside the humorous oddities of being an edgy young man in a godlike adult body. His character arc in this sequel is handled a little clumsily, with the film thoroughly establishing his lack of Solomonic wisdom, showcasing his routine mistakes, then waving it all away via Wizard decree instead of truly paying it off. The emotional beats still largely work in context, but the journey as a whole rings somewhat hollow.
The rest of the family certainly pull their weight, with the kids once again excelling alongside their adult counterparts (Adam Brody and Meagan Good are routinely note-perfect). The team’s villainous antagonists do provide a real set of stakes but could benefit from a fleshed-out sense of character and context. Lucy Liu’s Kalypso provides raw menace but is written as a one-note hate machine. Helen Mirren is great as the stern but principled Hespera, but her complex principles could be sewn better upfront to anchor her varied Act III choices. Rachel Zegler’s Anthea gets the greatest complexity among the trio, with a multifaceted set of principles that are performed with nuance and charisma.
The real MVP of “Shazam 2,” however, is Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman, here coming into his own as both actor and character. Freddy wants a life of his own, struggling to get out from his famously powered friend’s shadow while finding his own strengths in the struggle. It’s the best and most satisfactory arc of the film, and Grazer lands both its comedic and its most emotional moments. It’s a film in need of a little character development polish here and there, but which is largely brought home by a set of strong performers.
A Few Logic Issues, But An Overall Great Visit With The Shazamily
While results may vary with some of the more nuanced character elements in “Shazam 2,” a lot of the sequel lands well. The humor really plays, from a number of Freddy’s lines and Levi’s comedic timing to subtle lines from the Family’s foster parents, to the best and most literal magical pen this side of Olympus. There are great action sequences that work quite well, and like “Shazam” and its monstrous sins, “Shazam 2” smartly doubles down on a slew of creative monstrosities. We see a veritable horde of the beasts of Greek legend (including notable Harryhausen design inspirations, genuinely always a good choice), and a wonderful unicorn reinterpretation that’s less Lisa Frank and more Sleepy Hollow.Some of the story’s finer details do provoke some uneasy questions that don’t admit elegant answers. Much is made of the staff sought by the film’s villains, and by and large, it’s well explained that it effectively closed off our realm to the Gods … but it’s curious how that squares with film-established Wonder Woman lore, like the continued Earthly activities of Ares in “Wonder Woman,” Dolos’ powers in “Wonder Woman 1984,” and the Amazonian deity herself.
Similarly, the villains’ powers are a little inconsistent. Kalypso starts out exhibiting tremendously chaotic and destructive powers (think “The Empty Man” by way of “28 Days Later”), badass abilities she never uses again (but which are frankly better than her later plan). Hespera is supposed to have elemental powers, but we mainly see her use some vague telekinesis and shields that make the Invisible Woman look lazy.
Inconsistencies and issues aside, “Shazam 2” hits the comic book movie sweet spot. The performances are strong, the humor lands, and the stakes feel high with comic book panache and the kinds of visuals one only gets in a comic book (business-destroying minotaurs, anyone?). Billy Batson’s arc may need a little more honing, but Freddy gets a chance to actually shine, and it really works. There are certainly criticisms, but if the goal is a flashy good time where a kid in a god’s body uppercuts a dragon, look no further.
/Film Rating: 8.5 out of 10
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The post Shazam! Fury of the Gods Review: A Reminder That Superhero Flicks Can Be Fun appeared first on /Film.
/Film – Shazam! Fury Of The Gods Review: A Reminder That Superhero Flicks Can Be Fun
Author: Jeff Ewing
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March 15, 2023