The Plot: Best pals Billy (Asher Angel) and Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) have found a new foster family and have formed a close bond with their fellow foster kids. They also double as their adult superhero alter egos (Zachary Levi and Adam Brody) when required to save the city, unknown to their foster parents. However, the gods are angry that their ancient powers have been stolen and bestowed upon mere mortals. Daughters of Atlas Hespera (Helen Mirren) and Kalypso (Lucy Liu) arrive in Philadelphia intent on destruction, starting with a powerful staff that could hold the key to salvation or annihilation…
The Verdict: When Shazam! arrived on the cinematic scene in 2019, it was a breath of fresh DC air. A superhero film that had a grounding in ordinary kids caught up in an extraordinary adventure, it played around with the concept of what exactly a superhero – and by default a superhero film – should attain to be. It also had a wicked sense of humour, helped along in no small part by the square-jawed, amiable Zachary Levi as the superhero lead. A sequel was announced shortly after release, but then a pandemic came along which no superhero could halt. Better late than never, here comes that sequel in the attractively-packaged Shazam! Fury Of The Gods. It picks up where its predecessor left off and with the young cast having aged noticeably to the point where they’re not really teenagers anymore. But that’s par for the course in Hollywood. At least they’re not thirtysomethings pretending to be teenagers. Then they might as well play their superhero alter-egos.
David F. Sandberg returns to the director’s chair here and it’s an easy enough transition for him to pick up the story of Billy, Freddy and his crew. They save the day, but make mistakes along the way. They’re not perfect, but they’ll do. They’ll need to up their game though when the divine Daughters of Atlas appear and cause havoc, with varying degrees of intention to cause harm. It’s not so much a Greek tragedy but a Shakespearean alliance along the lines of King Lear’s daughters. They mean business and are not above turning civilians into stone or casually tossing them off a roof either. Casting Helen Mirren as an all-powerful deity is a smart move by Sandberg. She brings a touch of class and firm conviction to the role with her customary attention to detail and commitment to character. Without her, the film would be less convincing when posing the question of why otherworldly gods would wantonly cause destruction to those who mean no harm to them. There’s a complex power struggle going on between the sisters too which gives the film a sharper edge.
Stronger than that ancient familial bond though is the opposing force of Billy and Freddy’s crew. Sandberg works hard with his cast to portray a different kind of family unit of foster kids and parents. It’s not your typical superhero set-up – there are no brooding superheroes here with daddy issues. Instead, the switches between the younger and older cast work well with the performances mirroring each other. As before, Levi comfortably steals the show with his Tom-Hanks-in-Big-style performance, all goofy optimism but with an acknowledgement that protecting your family matters more than anything. He’s delightful and really should be a star by now. As is often the case with superhero films, it resorts to the kind of predictable, climactic citywide destruction where the human cost is glossed over and the end credits list extras as ‘terrified pedestrian’ or ‘panicked citizen’ instead. It doesn’t display much original thinking. Well, maybe the crazy unicorns are original amongst the other weird assortment of mythical creatures on display but not much else.
It’s a familiar showdown scenario that doesn’t push at the boundaries of what a superhero film can be. One might expect the boundaries to be pushed in a sequel, but Sandberg and his crew have decided to stick with the DC formula and play it safe throughout along with dropping in a welcome cameo and two end credits scenes. Nothing majorly wrong with that when it’s intended as undemanding, fun entertainment for all the family. It still looks and sounds an explosive treat on the big screen with a bigger helping of cinema snacks on hand to go with the salty popcorn mayhem. There’s room enough for at least one more film if Sandberg and his team are up for it and the powers that be greenlight it, which would not be unwelcome.
Rating: 3 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
In short: Popcorn mayhem
Directed by David F. Sandberg.
Starring Zachari Levi, Jack Dylan Grazer, Asher Angel, Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, Rachel Zegler, Djimon Hounsou.