The Magic Fizzles As Lightning Doesn’t Strike Twice On This DC Franchise
Mar 18, 2023
One of the things that made “Shazam!” so engaging, entertaining, and different was that it brought humor, an endearing irreverence, and an exploration and development of character that satisfied the initiated but also drew in the unfamiliar. It felt natural, full of vigor, and inspired.
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An attempt to recapture that with “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” manages to feel like too much more and also not enough at the same time. While the sky is the limit in so many areas, including creatively and narratively, way too much here feels flat, stuck on the ground, and even labored. There is a difference between leaning into something and pushing it.
In the sequel, things aren’t quite going to plan for Billy Batson, played by Asher Angel, and the other kids in his foster family. Aside from struggling with their real-life identities as teenagers, their ham-fisted attempts to save the day as superheroes in Philadelphia make them front-page news for the wrong reasons. Throw in a side story about a Jack Dylan Grazer’s Freddy Freeman having a crush on a mysterious new girl at his school, and the foundation is laid.
READ MORE: ‘Shazam’ Director Says Franchise Could Continue In New DCU But Only If People Support The New Film
Meanwhile, out of the blue, three ancient gods, the Daughters of Atlas, turn up to claim the magical staff that was broken in half in the first film and takes back the magic that was stolen from them and bestowed on Batson and co. Cue a series of battles between the two sides as they fight for ultimate power and world domination, resulting in Shazam!, once again played by Zachary Levi, and his team’s abilities being removed. All this plays out within the city under a magical dome created by the vengeful sisters to prevent outside help from coming to the rescue.
Helen Mirren plays Hespera, Lucy Liu is Kalypso, and Rachel Zegler plays Anthea, collectively known as the Daughters of Atlas. There’s a star power there that will impress, and they are fun to watch, but that’s about it. When it comes to Mirren and Liu, the menace is pantomime-like, and the villainy has a touch of “Power Rangers” to it. The performances lack the power of the peril they pose. Out of the three, Zegler’s character is the most engaging, getting a better crack of the whip.
The same can be said for the majority of “Shazam! Fury of the Gods.” While returning director David F. Sandberg serves up a feast of ideas and visuals, it lacks the punch and sheer thrill, and while the audience gets fed, it’s bland and lacks the fuller flavor of the first film. Whereas “Shazam!” drew audiences in and engaged them, here it feels much more like they are a spectator. The same connection isn’t there.
Even when it fails to follow through on the promise, “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” fills the screen and does not scrimp on the action sequences, which come thick and fast, but while they deliver on spectacle and scale, they fail on thrills. It doesn’t translate nearly as effectively as in the first film. The sequel is a largely good-looking movie but tries so hard to take everything up a notch that it feels like they overlooked upping the substance to match the style.
One of the biggest things that pull you out of the film is the surprisingly inconsistent and occasionally distractingly off-kilter some of the effects are. It’s the visual equivalent of a movie’s sound and vision being just enough out of synch to irk. If that was an oversight, it’s disappointing, but it’s a choice that doesn’t turn out as well as perhaps was expected. It’s most noticeable in the action sequences, where it sometimes looks almost cartoonish and sometimes just cheap. There are moments in the film’s finale where it looks and comes off more like a photo op on a studio tour than an actual sequence in a movie, but perhaps even worse, mythical beasts that look like they come from a far smaller budgeted film. Worse, what is on screen more than once or twice gives off strong “R.I.P.D.” vibes.
“Shazam! Fury of the Gods” has its moments, and it’s clear that a lot of time and effort went into it, but it can’t stick the landing after such a smooth flight the first time around. It’s a bumpy and uneven ride with many narrative threads that don’t deliver on their promise, feeling a little thin, lost, and wasted. Levi provides more of the same in the lead role, but not much we haven’t seen and enjoyed before, which is disappointing, but a returning wizard, Djimon Hounsou, fills those spaces nicely. One of the most dependable elements in the sequel is the comedy which, when it lands, has you willing the elements to follow suit. Darla, played by Faithe Herman, gets and deserves one of the movie’s biggest laughs with an inspired line that serves nicely as some product placement.
The first film was a real win for the DCEU and brought something unique to the table, even appealing to many from outside the fan base. All the ingredients are here, but it just doesn’t come together in quite the same way. “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” is not bad, but it can’t hold a powerful staff to its predecessor. Every franchise has its blips, but the magic has fizzled here. Lightning hasn’t struck twice, and it’s a real shame. [C+]
“Shazam! Fury of the Gods” opens Friday, March 17, via Warner Bros.
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