The first Shazam film was a much-needed bright and big-hearted burst of fun. It beautifully balanced superheroics with tongue-in-cheek wit and some surprisingly touching emotion as young teen Billy Batson discovered his powers and also battled for his new adopted found family of waifs, strays and adorable moppets. Rather like the first Ant-Man film, it felt rather smaller and more intimate than so many other overblown genre blockbusters. Four years later, the kids have started to grow up, the main DC big screen universe has completely imploded and the Shazam family is fighting for our hearts and its own DCEU future. The late arrival of a major superhero cameo (WARNING: Small spoiler at the end) sums up exactly where this franchise is going.
Full disclosure, I haven’t been a huge fan of the ponderous tone of films like The Eternals nor the purposefully subversive last Suicide Squad, both of which seemed rather embarrassed to be a superhero film.
As with the brilliant first outing, Shazam: Fury of the Gods revels in it, even when it is affectionately making fun of itself. I’m always going to be up for a film that gleefully blasts out Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out For a Hero over a major action sequence.
It also rolls out some gorgeously epic visuals and sequences, especially the adrenalised final act filled with mythological creatures (including a brilliantly unexpected twist on unicorns), that dramatically raise the stakes and spectacle from the first film.
Family remains at the heart of the film as Billy’s new one is pitted against the three daughters of the Titan Atlas, played with clear relish by Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu and West Side Story’s Rachel Zegler.
They want to use Shazam’s staff, which he carelessly broke and tossed away in the first film, to restore their own world – with potentiallly catastrophic results for the rest of us.
As if that’s not enough, Billy (Asher Angel) is upset that turning 18 will mean he ages out of the foster system, convinced he will lose his home and new family.
Both sides of the story, especially once the three goddesses start turning on each other, are loaded with drama. The issue is that there are now simply too many people, all competing for increasingly little screen time.
Billy and his five siblings all have adult superhero versions they transform into which gives us twelve people to keep track of. As before, Jack Dylan Grazer is superb as the cynical but vulnerable younger Freddy, while Adam Brody does equally strong work as his cocky adult alter-ego.
Zachary Levy continues to be a dynamic, dizzily ditsy presence as Billy’s alter-ego Shazam. Despite how entertaining it is, however, he rather jarringly still portrays a kid in an adult body when Billy is now actually a young adult.
All the other siblings, in both incarnations, have scant screen time and almost seem even less defined than before. This is exposed by a refreshing and (very brief) touching moment when the younger Pedro comes out to his family, while youngest sibling Darla is pure joy and gets the best line of the entire film.
The family moments shine and still have the power to move, especially at the emotional end, but it just highlights how much potential feels wasted. Normally, I moan about endless dragged-out superhero spin-off small-screen series but the Shazam gang would actually benefit from a more episodic approach with more time for the fabulous family dynamics.
WARNING: SMALL SPOILER BELOW
It’s all great fun, the special effect gleam, and the humour and heart remain almost untarnished. There is definitely potential for more but the very late arrival of Wonder Woman, I fear, signals the future of this franchise.
Previously any such cameos have been greeted with whoops and roars in screenings. This time there was dead silence. We all know Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman has been phased out by the new James Gunn DC regime, along with Henry Cavill’s Superman. We all have strong feelings about it but, either way, her presence now makes Shazam feel like part of an old DCEU that WB repeatedly squandered and mishandled.
I definitely want to see more of the Shazam ‘famalam’ but perhaps on a smaller screen.
RATING 3 1/2 STARS