By Josh Reilly B. and George Bate
The DC universe is in yet another state of change, this time brought on by the arrival of David Zaslav (the new Warner Bros. CEO), and the subsequent hiring of James Gunn and Peter Safran to lead these heroes and this world into the future.
That restructuring has begun, but now the franchise is in an odd middle period, not quite there yet in terms of actualizing the creators’ new vision for this world while also being stuck releasing (and marketing) some films that were part of the old plan. 2023 is full of movies like that for DC, with The Flash and Aquaman: The Lost Kingdom. First up, though, is Shazam: Fury of the Gods, in theaters today.
A follow up to the wholesome, family oriented 2019 superhero film, Fury of the Gods follows the Shazam family as they are now full-fledged superheroes in their city of Philadelphia, yet still very much children in their everyday lives. Their routines are upended with the arrival of three evil gods from another world that have plans to destroy Earth and avenge their father. From there, the Shazam family must fight to stay alive and stop them from turning the planet into a hive of demons and monsters.
One of these three sisters is played by Rachel Zegler, who is arguably the standout of this film. Zegler appeared in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story in 2021 and has sourced to stardom since, and is set to appear in Disney’s Snow White remake next year. In Fury of the Gods, Zegler brings an element of believability to a film that, at times, feels like it’s on autopilot and unfortunately appears more like a car commercial than it does a story of any actual substance. Zegler is often paired with Jack Dylan Grazer, and the two have chemistry that is enough to hold the audience’s interest throughout. Their growing relationship is perhaps the only part of the film that invokes any sort of emotion that can be considered close to the first outing.
The other two villains are played by Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu, and the trio overall have some similarities to the sisters in the Hocus Pocus films. A superhero film invoking the feeling of a classic Disney movie from the 90s sounds promising, but the potential is ultimately wasted as Fury of the Gods fails to capture the magic of the original. So much time is spent on exposition, yet the villains are still somehow underdeveloped and feel like shells of characters rather than real people. There are countless scenes in which the villains, who they are, what they’re doing, and what their plan is are all discussed, but with all that dialogue and conversation, it’s shocking how little is learned.
Zachary Levi and Asher Angel return as Billy Batson/Shazam, but with the latter appearing noticeably older than he did in the first. That works well for the story and Angel’s character arc in the film, but there is a problem that was evident in the first outing that is even more apparent in the sequel. Zachary Levi plays Shazam with a chaotic energy, whereas Angel is much more subdued and serious. There’s a real disconnect here and one that dissolves the necessary connectivity of the character, which brings down the whole film as a result.
More broadly, Levi was serviceable in the first film but struggles throughout in this sequel. His chirpy, fast talking nature becomes more of an annoyance than anything comedic or enjoyable, and has a knack of frustratingly being the loudest person in the room and, therefore, drowns out the rest of the performances. It might be Levi’s last appearance as this character, and based on this, it wouldn’t be a huge loss.
Shazam: Fury of the Gods is a forgettable superhero film that fails to capture the magic of the original. Rachel Zegler and Jack Dylan Grazer do well with what they’re given and are the standouts of an otherwise weak film, but Zachary Levi fails to lead in a convincing way. DC are clearly in a state of transition, and one can only hope that the end product is better on the other side.