While Shazam! Fury of the Gods is being released amidst a DC cinematic universe that is in transition, the film continues the heartfelt coming of age story of Billy Batson and family, and also gives us a glimpse into what could’ve been, had the entirety of the DCEU been guided with more focus.
Fury of the Gods comes at an awkward time for the franchise and the DC superhero films as a whole. Earlier this year, Warner Bros. formally announced that Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn and Peter Safran would be taking over the newly formed DC Studios. With that announcement came plans for a rebooted DCU, which is looking for a fresh start. Fury of the Gods, in production long before Gunn and Safran took over, is caught in the middle of that transition. As part of the DCU announcement, Gunn briefly addressed the film, saying that it “connects very well” with their future plans because it’s been “off in its own part of the DCU.” That ambiguous comment seems to leave the door open to future films, while not necessarily making a commitment.
For general audiences, it’s best not to put too much focus on how, or even whether, Fury of the Gods fits into the upcoming DCU. The film itself is a thoroughly enjoyable experience that’s worth watching on its own merits, and if Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that the future is always changing.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods premieres in theaters March 17th! Light spoilers below!
REVIEW – A Fun and Wild Ride with Family
Beneath the spectacle and layers of lore, humanity has been the key to Shazam!’s cinematic allure. Fury of the Gods finds Billy Batson older—but not much wiser—attempting to reconcile his supernatural life, as the superhero of Philadelphia, with his home-life, as he begins to age out of the foster care system. Couple that with a super-powered family that is each carving out their own place in the world, using the abilities that he gave them while seemingly distancing themselves from him, and it’s easy to understand Batson’s growing pains.
The difficult adjustment for all of the Shazam family members is reflected by the fact that the local news has taken to giving them various monikers hinting at their heroic ineptitude (they do destroy a suspension bridge in the introduction of the film, after all), while Billy struggles with finding a good “superhero name” for himself. We find Billy taking a collegiate approach to their outings: dissecting recordings of their missions and calling for regular briefings, which the siblings seem to have little to no concern for.
This is where Zachary Levi and Grace Caroline Currey shine as Billy and Mary respectively. The two have a heart-to-heart about Billy’s fears of growing up, while Mary expresses her acceptance of it. While the Five Stages of Grief aren’t new, Levi and Caroline Currey begin navigating the narrative course with the viewers by keeping it light but honest in their deliveries and performances. Meanwhile, Freddy Freeman (portrayed with continued dedication by Jack Dylan Grazer) has met a girl who, against what he feels are all odds, seems to genuinely accept him as is—but this doesn’t stop him from feeling the need to try to impress her.
It’s a completely relatable setup that’s only slightly hindered by the somewhat cheesy bullying angle that continues from the first film. Call me cynical, but the “throwing the scrawny kid in the dumpster” visual is a bit overplayed. While not in the same wheelhouse, Fury of the Gods could’ve taken a page out of a film like Missing’s playbook and presented the bullying in a more modern fashion. It feels a touch cliché for the kids to pull up in leather jackets and hoodies looking for nerds like it’s still the ’80s.
Unfortunately for Freddy, all is not quite as it seems. Freddy’s girlfriend-to-be, Anne, is actually Anthea (Rachel Zegler) – an evil magical goddess of ancient lore and one of three sisters, along with Hespera and Kalypso, known as the Daughters of Atlas. In addition to Zegler, the Daughters are played with conviction, but also a touch of lightheartedness, by Dame Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu. The multiethnic casting of a Latina, English and Asian woman works when you take into account DC’s method of creating gods and their offspring so far: The racially mixed Daughters of Atlas are conceived through the same touch of magic and with the same logic that had Hippolyta (played by Danish actress Connie Nielsen) creating Diana of Themiscyra (Israeli actress Gal Gadot). In other words: it works because the story says so, and the results are splendid as chemistry abounds.
Just as the viewers discover that Anthea is the youngest of three villains, the Shazam Family finds out the same, which establishes forbidden love trope. Anthea is torn between wanting to reclaim the powers of her father with her sisters, and her blossoming love for Freddy. Zegler plays the reluctant villain with deft and brings a genuineness to the role that makes it easy to cheer for her no matter what side of the fence she straddles.
Disappointingly, Anthea’s sisters are a bit underdeveloped and one-dimensional. The Shazam Family all have their moments to shine, and each has a breakthrough moment somewhere during the course of the movie, and Anthea has many as well. Unfortunately, we never get to sit and reflect with Kalypso and Hespera. They get their father’s powers back and then what? Each of them seems to have a different idea of what to do with it and we don’t get too much insight into why they each think their plan is the best one. Maybe it was a matter of time constraints, but a little more elaboration felt necessary.
Fury of the Gods is a beautiful movie for two primary reasons: First, the filmmakers and VFX artists lean into it the fantasy elements, with a bright color palette from top to bottom, and no apprehension towards special effects or more dramatic color and lighting saturations. Second, I assume that the effects house that handled this and the first Shazam! film have a strong understanding of the desired aesthetic, and had necessary time to build it out. If you want to be picky, there is always a dust particle or ember better shifted to one direction and maybe a cape could billow more dramatically, but overall, Fury of the Gods is a visual delight. It feels like DC finally found its design language for some of its recurring abilities as well (Anthea and Doctor Fate’s reality bending powers for example).
Musically, I can’t say anything particularly stood out. But that could be a good thing; Christophe Beck’s soundtrack accompanies each scene adequately. Strings swell when they need to, lows rumble as per course, and there’s room to breathe for everything in between. It would’ve been nice to see a little more personality in the compositions now that the Shazam Family is more fleshed out in the second outing, but that’s where Junkie XL (long time DCEU composer Tom Holkenborg) picks up some of the slack; when his themes and remixes make their appearances, they’re always attention grabbing and scene stealing.
A few of the overarching themes of Fury of the Gods are acceptance and redemption, and all of the major players have beautiful and well executed final acts. The Wizard (embodied by the ever-intense Djimon Hounsou) overcomes both physical and mental captivity to reaffirm his trust in choosing Billy Batson as The Champion of the Gods; Billy gains the strength to let go of his fear of loss by embracing sacrifice; Freddy realizes he can be loved by being himself and even Hespera shows growth in the last moments.
While Shazam! Fury of the Gods doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it is a fun and wild ride. It’s full of tropes you’ve seen and cliches you’ve heard, but dressed up in a dazzling package with both fresh and familiar faces, and it addresses evergreen topics that should resonate with viewers young and old alike. At the heart of it all, outside of the gods, monsters, magic and heroes there’s an incredibly human story here. And, like the Daughters of Atlas, The Wizard and Billy Batson’s adoptive parents discover, family is who you make it.
- Each member of the Shazam Family plays an important role at some point, avoiding the feeling of characters being under-utilized.
- The Daughters of Atlas are perfectly cast in Rachel Zegler, Lucy Liu and Helen Mirren.
- Massive boss fights and a larger-than-life third act round the movie out perfectly.
- Predictable plot points.
- Lack of character development with the Daughters of Atlas.
- Somewhat forgettable music score.
RATING – 4/5 Pocky
Elijah Isaiah Johnson is a writer/illustrator/animator. His most recently published works include the Amazon best-seller Nightmare Detective, Noir is the New Black, the Comixology Indie best-selling series Leaders of the Free World, The Formula and much more.