Shazam’s the Problem, It’s Him
Mar 16, 2023
When we first see Shazam (Zachary Levi) in Shazam! Fury of the Gods, he’s explaining his problems to his pediatrician as if he’s a therapist. He doesn’t feel like a hero—there are several other heroes in the DCEU that he admits are better at this job than he is—and his family of foster siblings/superheroes is starting to pull apart as a group. Simply put, Shazam feels like he’s a disappointment, still struggling to get a hang of this hero thing, and not quite sure where he fits in amongst everything. The problem with Shazam! Fury of the Gods is that Shazam is right: he is a disappointment—much like this movie—and Shazam still doesn’t warrant his inclusion into this larger universe.
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Fury of the Gods shows that since 2019’s Shazam!, Billy Batson (Asher Angel) and his foster family, who he also turned into heroes, have been fighting crime in the Philadelphia area, and it hasn’t been going well. The group has been named the “Philly Fiascos” by the local press, and the group seems to have theirs heads in different places. Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) is using his hero (Adam Brody) to go on his own solo adventures, while Mary (Grace Caroline Currey) wants to go to college, but hasn’t done so because she doesn’t want to abandon her family.
But the family/superhero team has to face another family—the Daughters of Atlas—(Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, and Rachel Zegler), who want to use a weapon to get back their powers and restore their realm. And if they kill a few puny humans in the process, so be it. The “Philly Fiascos” need to prove themselves worthy heroes as they unite against their biggest threat yet.
Image via Warner Bros.
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Let’s get right down to it, the character of Shazam is annoying. Shazam! Fury of the Gods is an opposite Poochie situation: whenever Shazam isn’t on the screen, we should be grateful that he’s not around. Levi is unbearably unfunny in this role, and the screenplay by Henry Gayden (the first ShazamI) and Chris Morgan (the Fast & Furious franchise) always goes for the most obvious joke, which always lands with a thud. It’s the kind of comedy where simply calling someone on a dragon “Khaleesi” constitutes a joke. Considering that Shazam is largely thought of as the comedic relief for the DCEU, it’s probably a good thing that James Gunn will soon be taking the reins on this entire cinematic universe.
But beyond the cringeworthy humor, the irritating performance by Levi, and the fairly bland villains and their simplistic quest, there often feels like there’s not enough time to give these other characters their due. For example, almost nothing is made of Mary’s desire to go to college, and most of the other family members are relegated to little more than a sentence of character. Darla (played by Faithe Herman as a kid, and Meagan Good as a hero) has two characteristics: she likes Skittles and unicorns. Pedro (Jovan Armand as a kid, D. J. Cotrona as a hero), is gay, and has been watching baseball lately because he likes watching the players. But there’s really only enough time to present the bare minimum for these six heroes in order to keep the story moving.
Fury of the Gods finds its most interesting and fun moments through the character of Freddy, who feels like more of a fully fleshed-out character than Shazam ever does. By day, Freddy is picked on at school, but falls for the new student Annie, who he doesn’t know is really Anthea, one of the daughters of Atlas. At night, he becomes his hero, who fights crimes by himself that we never get to see. Both Grazer and Brody are extremely fun here, and it’s a shame that this story isn’t centered around them. Brody is great in hero mode, while Grazer is always a joy when we see him, particularly when he’s teamed up with the wizard (Djimon Hounsou), who has no time for Freddy’s antics, and Zegler is particularly charming in the quieter moments of the film. In fact, the mismatched team-up of Grazer and Hounsou is where Fury of the Gods shines brightest, a nice reminder that this film can actually be funny.
Image via Warner Bros.
But director David F. Sandberg’s sequel doesn’t give the audience and real reason to care about anything happening. We don’t spend enough time with these characters to have any real connection with any of them, while the fights manage to feel generic even when they involve dragons made of wood and dark unicorns. And while Shazam has always felt oddly out of the circle when it comes to the DCEU, the attempts to make him more ingrained with these heroes is laughable in its approach. Between a sequence that feels like a direct Skittles commercial, and a pandering attempt to bring another hero into this film, Fury of the Gods will likely leave you rolling your eyes more than it’ll have you cheering or laughing.
Which is a shame, because there is potential within the Shazam! films that have never quite been met. Especially with this latest installment, this often feels like DC’s attempt at having a Spider-Man-esque character in their roster, and if you squint, you can almost see that possibility. But beyond the failed attempts at humor, and the possibility of interesting characters that is just left on the table, the bones of bland DC superhero films is what shines through. Again, there’s promise for Shazam!, but it just hasn’t had the chance to achieve its full capabilities yet.
Who knows what will happen to Shazam in the future of the DCU at this point. Gunn has said he wants to retain Levi for other projects, and the door is left open for what that could mean, which could honestly be the answer to this conundrum. But much like Shazam at the beginning of this film, we’ve seen the desire for something greater, we just haven’t seen the realization of that just yet.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods comes to theaters on March 17.
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