The first Shazam movie from 2019 was praised for its lighter, brighter worldview, its Gen-Z brio and for being generally unencumbered by the portentous and spurious gloom of earlier DC films. This is true of this sequel too, only it’s hard not to notice that it could simply be fitting into another boilerplate model (there’s a cheeky gag about The Avengers). A group of superheroes, all with cartoony character traits and a sprinkling of funny lines, wind up battling an intergalactic invasive menace, culminating in the usual spectacular but unserious CGI urban apocalypse, with people saying things like: “This ends tonight!”
Billy Batson, played by Asher Angel, is the teen kid in Philadelphia living with foster parents and foster siblings, who with the cry of “Shazam!” has the ability to transform himself into a clean-cut but anxious superhero whose impostor syndrome worries are not helped by the fact that he often makes an awful mess of crime-fighting. He is played by Zachary Levi with the chiselled look of Mad Men’s Don Draper. With him is disabled friend Freddy Freeman, played by Jack Dylan Grazer, who like all the kids has a superhero alter ego: his is smirkingly self-aware Captain Everypower (Adam Brody). Interestingly, it is Freddy who appears almost always as his vulnerable non-superhero teen self and so upstages Billy/Shazam.
Billy and his friends must battle two Greek gods, daughters of Atlas, who want absolute control over planet Earth: they are Hespera and Kalypso, played by Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu with their own absurd outfits and pointy headdresses. Back in high school, Freddy is being bullied by giant blond jocks but falls hard for new classmate Anthea (Rachel Zegler, from Spielberg’s West Side Story), who has a secret of her own.
This new Shazam film is cordial, with a puppyish good nature and an awareness of its own silliness; it gestures towards diversity with a gay character (although we might not stop at one as the Shazam franchise develops). There are some nice lines here and Mirren, Liu and Djimon Hounsou (as the ancient wizard) have some fun with their roles – albeit while looking as if the subject of what they’re having for supper after the day’s shooting isn’t far from their minds. I have to say that we don’t entirely break free of the superhero-movie template, but Shazam two has a just-out-of-the-fridge orange juice taste that makes it likable.
• Shazam! Fury of the Gods is released on 16 March in Australia, and 17 March in the US, UK and Ireland.