DC’s Shazam! Fury of the Gods is the sequel to the 2019 teen superhero film. Directed by David F. Sandberg. In the new part, the heroes confront the vengeful daughters of Atlanta, played by Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu and Rachel Zegler. Film critic Anton Dolin talks about how, amid the crisis of superhero cinema around the world, DC continues to make simple family films.
The crisis of superhero movie comics is no longer denied. After the triumph of the fourth “Avengers”, even the all-powerful head of Marvel Kevin Feige can not repeat his success. Increasingly modest box office receipts allow bored characters to survive rather than win at the box office. Not only grouchy classics like Martin Scorsese, but also younger experts admit that the peak of comics aesthetics is behind us, it needs to be reinvented.
Against this depressing backdrop (only in recent months, both Black Adam and the third Ant-Man and the Wasp have disappointed viewers) you rarely see a picture that would keep alive without pretentiousness and could entertain without tiring. “Shazam! Rage of the Gods” by DC and former horror director David F. Sandberg, who also directed the first part, is one of such relative successes.
If movie comics are not your favorite genre, it is unlikely that the second Shazam will convince you. If, on the contrary, you miss high-quality attractions, devoid of the messianic ambitions of The Avengers or Avatar, you are here.
The hidden resource of the DC Extended Universe, which has been trailing behind the all-conquering Marvel for so long, has been the ability to relax and make a movie that is a little silly. Stories about well-dressed saviors are initially charged with schematism and infantilism – so, maybe, stop being shy and turn these qualities into an additional resource? Aquaman followed this logic (and therefore its upcoming sequel is one of the most anticipated of the year), and the Shazam franchise is subordinate to it.
Recall that in the center of the intrigue is Billy Batson (Ashen Angel), a difficult teenager, an adopted child in a large family, to whom a grouchy magician transferred magical power – the ability with the help of the Shazam! transform into an adult superhero with a lightning bolt on his chest (comedian Zachary Levi). Billy generously shares this power with his adoptive siblings: crutch-walking Freddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), honor student Mary (Grace Fulton), shy Pedro (Jovan Armand), gamer Eugene (Ian Chen) and good-natured Darla (Faite Herman).
In the second part of the franchise, they will have to challenge another family – the three daughters of the titan Atlanta, who decided to avenge centuries of imprisonment and subjugate the world of people to chaos. It stars Hespera, Calypso and Anthea, respectively Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu and newest superstar Rachel Zegler (Maria from Spielberg’s West Side Story). Once again, the main weight in the superhero movie falls on the performers of the roles of villains: not only the magical, but also the acting abilities of the three heralds of the apocalypse clearly exceed the resources of the children’s team.
Retelling the vicissitudes of the plot, from the destruction of the Pantheon in Athens (there, to the common misfortune, they delivered a magic staff dug out in a Philadelphia landfill) to the inevitable final apocalypse followed by a happy ending, it is empty. An extremely primitive and predictable intrigue is built from the bricks of conventional scenario patterns. Sandberg is not trying to improve the genre at all – he prefers to ride it like the crazed Calypso the dragon, and the fearless Darla the unicorn, and control the comic with witty dialogue.
He almost always succeeds. There are mistakes too, but they are easily forgiven. The author does not rise above his hero, whose superpower is not at all muscular strength or lightning speed, but invincible innocence and inexplicable faith in his abilities. The director happily agrees with him. The world is going to hell (and it’s not just about the painted on-screen Philadelphia, which for some reason was filmed in Atlanta), so why not fool around in the end?
Antique mythology is quite organically woven into the Shazam! universe, replacing the equally superficial fantasy game from the previous part – it’s not for nothing that the not-too-read Billy confuses the Old Testament Solomon with Tolkien’s Saruman. The Tree of Life takes root in a prosperous American metropolis. Buds swell, from which ancient Greek evil spirits climb: harpies, cyclops, minotaurs. The end is near.
Nevertheless, Billy, who has not yet come up with a superhero name for himself (a passer-by calls him -man, a joke for Philadelphians), traditionally does not lose heart, because he is arrogant and optimistic, as a teenager should be. He’s supported by a thinking self-penned pen named Steve, by far the most charming new character in the franchise. At night, Billy daydreams about Wonder Woman, sort of from the same expanded universe, but too grown up and cool for him. The comic book is good because everything is allowed in it, even the strict rules of fairy tale morphology do not work. So the radiant Diana will also appear here.
“Shazam! Wrath of the Gods” is a genre nonsense that has the super ability, if not to console, then at least to distract the viewer. He or she has every right to feel like a child for those two hours. The Miracle of the Shazam! (like the charm of the film of the same name) lies precisely in this: by giving the teenage heroes the guise of adults, it gives the adults in the audience the opportunity to at least briefly fall into childhood.