In the pantheon of DC superhero movies, ‘Shazam!’ by David F. Sandberg was a breath of fresh air and oxygen, and having seen Marvel’s Phase 4, it still stands out as something special: an emotional film, based on and supported by its characters, with good humorous gags and for the purpose of making sure the show never gets in the way of telling a story with soul. It was not easy to repeat the small miracle, and certainly ‘Shazam: The Fury of the Gods’ is far behind that one.
It would be nice to report that the sequel is still just as witty, clever and imaginative, but the truth is that it seems overwhelmed by the “bigger is better” spirit that haunts the big studios when they get nervous. Fortunately, what worked before it still works but is marred by “tachyllitis” and the need to compete with Marvel event movies, forgetting that in this specific case less is more.
Worse than the previous one, better than many current ones
‘Shazam: The Fury of Gods’ reunites us with Billy Batson, but now Asher Angel appears much less, perhaps because he has become a big man and his attitude can clash when he has the form of a superhero, with the face of a Zachary Levi who perhaps has pushed to increase his screen time. We find the hero with impostor syndrome and a fear of losing his foster family, with whom he has made sort of superpowered “Goonies” that are quite fun to watch interact with.
Although they save many lives, their inexperience and immaturity cause such great property damage that they have been dubbed “The Philly Duds” in the news, and Billy’s adoptive brother and best friend, Freddy, always great Jack Dylan Grazer, spends more and more time to pursue his goal, courting a new girl at school named Ann, played by Rachel Zegler (“West Side Story”). The sequel continues to play with the fact that children they’d rather play video games or do homework than have superhero duties.
The bad guys here are Hespera, played by Helen Mirren, and Kalypso, played by Lucy Liu, who have returned to Earth in search of the magical staff that Billy broke at the end of the last movie. We learn that the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) used it to keep gods and magic out of the mortal realm, and now that he’s broken, those threats can return. The presence of the daughters of Atlas is not the forte of the film, and its introduction scene is so generic that it is reminiscent of movies or series that we have already seen in these years, from ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ to ‘Moon Knight’.
The end of an era on DC+
An exhaustion of the formula is noticeable, a recipe that we begin to receive as a constant return to the same thing, with a certain intuition that superhero cinema begins to devour itself. When ‘Shazam 2’ focuses on comedy and the characters are fabulouswith details like his interaction with a magical fountain pen named Steve, who takes dictation too precisely, leaving some comic sequence that brings us back to the ‘Shazam’ we liked in the first place.
But it’s impossible to avoid the classic flashy climax, where CGI monsters run amok in Philadelphia, with effects that, while unconvincing, do have a dark design that reminds us of the director’s horror roots—who returns to make his cameo from the Annabelle doll—and displays a series of Delightful homages to legendary Ray Harryhausen’s mythological monsters from movies like ‘Clash of the Titans’ and ‘Jason and the Argonauts’.
But what makes the film not fall into the grounds of ‘Black Adam’ is his humor and a lot of heart in the excellent superhero family dynamic, which when alternated with action and balanced visual dazzle reveals the potential that has never been fully realized. Its fairly well-worn and sometimes incoherent plot gives way to an overly overloaded ending, which nevertheless knows how to plant and collect ideas, giving meaning to the acts of heroism that are supposed to give meaning to the name of the genre.
Pipe cinema as harmless as it is entertaining
And it is that, even with its defects, we cannot help but enjoy watching Levi and his co-stars, both in the young version and in the superhero version, while they devise plans and solve them with different carambolas, such as the genius of using a pack of candies. There is a feeling of naivety that is reminiscent of the old comics, simpler and more classic that, despite everything, ‘Shazam 2’ manages to recover, reminding us that sometimes superhero movies don’t have to be anything other than a recreation of that type of cartoon without too much load.
There are two additional scenes during the end credits that we won’t reveal here, but the first is somewhat embarrassing and the second seems to point a way in the DC movie/TV universe now in the hands of James Gunn and Peter Safran, which isn’t easy to play. It is not clear if Shazam, Billy Batson and company have room in the plans for the future with the great reboot, but in many moments, the way in which the action is presented and the visual imprint are reminiscent of a DC that already was.
To some extent ‘Shazam: The Fury of Gods’ seems a farewell to that cycle, a stage finale that is certified by a certain bittersweet, uncomfortable appearance, as a way of making it clear that a new course is needed. We get that feeling when the film tries to look like a big hit action movie, more shallow and full of lightning bolts and barrage of pointless effects, but at the same time it’s the rare comic book adaptation that does an excellent job of reminding its heroes that they can be childish and ridiculous, with moments designed to excite the little ones, perhaps to remind us that the genre has always been theirs first.
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