Shazam: Fury of the Gods was actually supposed to arrive in theaters almost a year ago. In the time since then, the fate of the DC film universe--and content universe as a whole--has been turned on its head with James Gunn and Peter Safran taking over executive duties from Walter Hameda. While not a lot is known about where Gunn and Safran want to take DC's film universe, we do know that they are essentially burning the house that Zack Snyder and Geoff Johns built to the ground and starting (kind of) from scratch.
This brief lesson in Hollywood politics and inside baseball is all to say that Fury of the Gods has not only the pressure of a pandemic-delayed film but also the fate of the franchise on its shoulders. The question on the minds of viewers going into the theater is not just is the movie good or bad, but does Shazam: Fury of the Gods make a case for the Shazamily to live on? Kind of, but not really.
Shazam remains a bright spot of humor and heart within the dying DCEU. The second film keeps the comedy of teenagers morphing into the bodies of their super-powered, older alter-egos intact and manages to weave in a heartwarming backstory even more effectively than the first film. In the sequel, Billy (Asher Angel) is months away from turning 18 and aging out of the foster care system. Faced with the fear of being turned out of his newfound home once the state stops sending checks to his foster parents, Billy is ardently pushing for the Shazamily to fully mesh as a group and cement themselves as a family before circumstances tear them apart. Unfortunately, they each have individual interests and goals that don't leave them with much time or desire for teambuilding or family bonding. Trying to stick together only becomes more complicated when the three daughters of the vengeful god Atlas--played by Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, and Rachel Zegler--arrive, ready to take the Shazamily's powers to restore their decaying world after being stuck there by the Wizard (Djmon Honsou).
Jack Dylan Grazer, who plays Billy's best friend and surrogate brother Freddy, once again steals the show. He's the non-Shazam character given the most to do as he desperately wants to find his own path and figure out his own superhero identity after Billy gifted him with powers. He has the most compelling story out of Billy's counterparts and foes, but that's also the major problem with the movie.
The Shazamily is Billy's five foster siblings plus Shazam (Zachary Levi) himself, not to mention Billy's foster parents, who are not an insignificant part of Billy's crisis. Then you have to throw in not one but three villains, the Wizard, and a freakin' dragon. Shazam: Fury of the Gods is crushed by the weight of all of the characters it needs to surface. The movie does give everyone at least a moment to shine, but a moment should not be confused with development or purpose. It's hard to say that we come out of Fury of the Gods knowing any of Billy's siblings besides Darla (Faithe Herman/Meagan Goode) and Freddy any better than we did after the first film, despite getting more screen time.
While the story may be too big for the movie's confines (even when it's stretched to a long two hours and 10 minutes), it does look good. The villains feel more threatening. The destruction they bring feels more chaotic. The dragon lives up to the hype. The most pleasant surprise, without spoilers, is that Bronies and Horse Girls alike will walk out of Shazam: Fury of the Gods as vindicated winners, and that is no small feat in a superhero film.
Shazam: Fury of the Gods is a fun watch, and we love that, but it’s not breaking any superhero molds. In a pop culture landscape where there’s a new superhero movie or TV show every five seconds, being fun isn’t enough to stand out. Going to the theater requires money, and more importantly, time that people are being more precious with in a COVID-19 world. Shazam's unique humor makes him the most capable hero in the old DC to make the transition to Gunn and Safran's new regime (ahem, not to tell you what to do, but we recommend staying in your seat until all of the credits roll on Fury of the Gods), but we need more than fun to make the investment worthwhile.
Shazam: Fury of the Gods hits theaters on March 17.