Review by Tim Robins
Ignore the bad reviews for Shazam: Fury of the Gods, and go see this thoroughly enjoyable movie; especially go with your children, who are likely to give this movie a warmer welcome than the nay-saying critics. There’s lots to recommend about the movie so you can bet I’m going to list a lot of them here.
A sequel to Shazam! (2019), the film continues the adventures of Billy Batson, a plucky young orphan who is granted the powers and the physical appearance of an adult superhero whenever he shouts the word “Shazam!” – an acrostic composed of the first letters of a list of godly abilities – Solomon (wisdom), Hercules (strength), Atlas (stamina), Zeus (power), Achilles (courage) and Mercury (speed). In this outing, Batson/Shazam (Asher Angel/Zachary Levi) is joined by a foster family of similarly powered characters.
In comics, Shazam was originally called Captain Marvel, a name rendered useless for today’s market because Marvel Comics own all things called Marvel. Indeed, one theme in the new movie is Batson’s quest for a name, especially after being dubbed “Captain Everypower Jnr.” by the press, thanks to a mischievous suggestion by his foster sibling, Freddy Freeman, who has been building up his own super career on the side. Onlookers are quick to offer suggestions for names, ‘Captain Marvel’ being one of them.
(If conversations among cinema goers in Britain are anything to go by, many people have mistaken Shazam for Shazzan – a cartoon screened in the UK during Hanna-Barbera’s 1969-71 show, The Banana Splits. It’s all very well creating an identity confusion, but it is the marketing department’s duty to resolve it).
This time out, Shazam and the foster family are pitted against the daughters of Atlas, out to reacquire the magic powers stolen from them and gifted to Batson by the council, represented by actor Djimon Hounsou. The daughters of Atlas include Hespera, played by the acclaimed British actress Dame Helen Mirren and Kalypso, played by the always commanding Lucy Liu, winner of numerous awards, including two Screen Actors Guild Awards. Golden Globe-winning Rachel Zegler is Athena who, disguised as a High School student, strikes up a teen romance with young Freddy, although she is thousands of years his senior.
Complaints have been levelled at the casting (could any woman win the approval of fanboys?), and the fact the Furies aren’t given much to do, other than ride a huge dragon or look particularly cross. But this criticism is wrong headed. The three women have considerable screen presence. Athena is granted the powers to reshape geography, an effect that looks a whole lot better than those seen in Doctor Strange (2016), and her friendship with Freddy is another, welcome, sweet, aspect to the story. As far as fisticuffs go, there’s an outrageously hilarious scene where Shazam repeatedly body slams Hespera into the ground. I was in tears of laughter – the scene certainly matches the Hulk throwing Loki around in The Avengers (2012).
Batson’s foster siblings all get something to do, even if it is only feeding Skittles to evil unicorns. And they share in the film’s light hearted moments. I chuckled at a moment where Batson decides that they must reveal the truth of their identities to their unexpected foster parents, but the kids end up declaring different truths such as “I’m stupid!” and “I’m Gay!”. Jack Dylan Grazer’s Freddy Freeman is very much at the centre of proceedings, blissfully unaware that his new crush is on a mission to rob him of his powers. Grazer is personable and I was happy to spend time with him, even if Billy Batson is rather marginalised.
When the film arrives at the inevitable CGI big-battle-with-the-monsters climax, the creature designs have the wit to reference the Cyclops in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and Harpies from Jason and the Argonauts (1963), famous monsters of filmland from the imagination of Ray Harryhausen. In fact, I wish they had made the creatures move more-like stop motion, but it was good to see the film channelling Harryhausen’s creations, as Sam Rami did with the not-Shuma-Gorath octopus in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022).
Special mention needs to go to the flying effects. These have come a long way from the days of Superman, asking audiences to believe a man could fly. X-Men: First Class was the first time I noticed that flying characters were being dramatically placed in the scene and filmed in a way that had an almost casual authenticity. Those scenes have dated a bit, so Fury of the Gods was a welcome step up, audaciously positioning flying characters in the far distance which gives a great sense of scale.
The film deftly incorporates magical elements, some reminiscent of the Harry Potter franchise. These include books that flutter around a library like butterflies and an invisible scribe who pens, rather too accurately, letters between the heroes and the Gods. We also get to see the Rock of Eternities chamber of secret doorways, that lead to various, off-screen menaces. One door is labelled “Beware of the Spider Dog”, another simply “Nightmare fuel”.
There are some traditional superhero tropes in the film. I really never wanted to see another suspension bridge disaster, but it’s well directed and as suspension bridge disaster scenes go, it’s up there with the best.
Fury of the Gods financial prospects have been described as “bleak”, “disappointing” and “dismal” according to the NZHerald. The film’s budget was $120 million and the opening weekend box office can be made to seem a disaster (only $14 million in the opening two days) or a success (number one at the US box office on its opening weekend), depending on how the cake is carved. People are still not returning to the cinema in pre-pandemic numbers, and I don’t think publicity around James Gunn’s new slate of DC films helped. The uncertainty around which character/performer is now in or out of the DC universe takes the edge off an humorous bait and switch scene, in which Shazam dates Wonder Woman.
A tweet from director David F. Sandberg stated that, as far as box office was concerned, he could see the direction it was going and was glad he was paid upfront. Great. People seem to have been willing Fury of the Gods to fail. This is deeply ironic. I suggest that the film gets the Marvel mix right.
It looks like Shazam will survive as part of “The Justice Society”, but I would rather see a third movie with the Shazam family alone – particularly if the heroes square off against Mr Mind as, once again, trailed in an end titles sequence.
Shazam: Fury of the Gods is in cinemas across the UK now
• Read Tim’s review of Shazam! (2019)
• Follow director David F. Sandberg on Twitter
• Check out Shazam! merchandise and DC Comics graphic novels on AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)
• Shazam! Volume 1 (2014)
By Geoff Johns and Gary Frank
Young orphan Billy Batson has bounced from foster home to foster home, but he’s far from the ideal child. Brash and rude, Billy is a troubled teen that just can’t seem to find a calling. But after a fateful night on a subway car, that all will change…
• Superman vs. Shazam (2021)
by Gerry Conway and Rich Buckler
The Man of Steel and the World’s Mightiest Mortal are two of the strongest men imaginable, but what happens when they find themselves facing up against each other?!
• Shazam! Thundercrack (2023)
by Yehudi Mercado and others
Super-heroics are dangerous, but joining the football team is an even bigger problem!
Billy Batson’s never been a team player, and becoming the superhero Shazam didn’t seem to change that much. But his new strength and stamina will make football a breeze. After skipping school one too many times, Billy is offered a choice: football or detention. The Fawcett Tigers need a new champion—their last quarterback ended up in the hospital, and the coach is pretty sure rival team the Fishtown Atoms are to blame.
Between football practice and superhero training, Billy’s muscles are getting bigger, but so is his ego. Will foster dad Victor’s wise counsel and memories of his own football triumphs help keep young Shazam grounded?
Shazam! Thundercrack is set within the movie timeline, showing Freddy’s vlog filled with superhero training montages, family pranks, and the new gig he took to monitor Billy’s football practices (the cheerleading squad really needed a new mascot!).
Categories: Features, Film, Other Worlds, Reviews, US Comics