When Shazam! arrived in 2019, its lively tale of a foster kid bestowed with superpowers brought a breath of minty-fresh air to the DCEU. If only that were the case for Shazam! Fury of the Gods, a troubled and tiresome follow-up. Of course, second time round it was always going to be tough to maintain the novelty of Zachary Levi playing Shazam, the caped alter ego of teenager Billy Batson (Asher Angel). But the bigger issue is returning director David F. Sandberg’s struggle to move the story on.
It starts promisingly, as the vengeful Daughters of Atlas – Kalypso (Lucy Liu) and Hespera (Helen Mirren) – arrive at a museum in Athens to steal the magical staff that Shazam previously snapped in two. Meanwhile, our hero himself is in therapy, dealing with imposter syndrome, especially as he feels others now look up to him. After using his powers to zap his friends, there’s now a whole gang of supers, including his foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), who becomes Captain Everypower (Adam Brody).
Freddy gets a further boost when he meets new girl Anthea (West Side Story’s Rachel Zegler) at school, in one of the script’s more charming subplots. The film also features a great early set piece, where Shazam and the gang come to the rescue as Philadelphia’s Ben Franklin Bridge starts to collapse. It’s a thrilling scene, and funny too – especially when Shazam stops a car from plummeting while the driver is playing Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Holding Out For a Hero’ on her stereo.
Sadly, everything else starts to sink soon after. The CG-heavy plot is increasingly incomprehensible and derivative – everything from Game of Thrones-like dragons, a magical pen that feels plucked from Harry Potter and nods to the Fast & Furious franchise are thrown at the wall to see what sticks. It doesn’t help that among Shazam’s five caped comrades, most are entirely forgettable – both as ordinary teens and as hero figures.
True, it’s great to see Mirren in a comic-book movie and Liu is an actor who always lights up the big screen. Zegler is also a fine addition. There is also the occasional comic delight (like Djimon Hounsou’s returning wizard, appearing in a dream, in an unexpected new guise) but the innocence that made the first film so watchable is absent. With the story lacking real jeopardy, the feeling this leaves isn’t quite fury, but it’s certainly apathy.