The first Shazam! flick was a refreshing blast that proved the DCEU could go an entire movie without sticking its proverbial wiener in the mashed potatoes. Too bad, then, that Fury of the Gods spends 130 insufferable minutes plunging right back into the butter and chives. This is the worst kind of superhero sequel–bigger and louder, but also dumber and drearier. All the good will from the first film gets heaped into a raging bonfire of bad CGI and lousy one-liners. Suffer through this movie if you must, but just don’t ask how the potatoes got so whipped.
As Gods gets a-kickin’, Billy Batson (Asher Angel) and his teen superhero squad have settled into a nice little groove. They routinely save the world con brio, replete with cute quips and cool poses. Unfortunately, those second-movie plot cracks are starting to form: Billy/Shazam (Zachari Levi) is struggling to keep the family unified. Foster brother Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer, with Adam Brody as his avatar) bristles at Billy’s constant hen-pecking. His sister Mary (Grace Caroline Currey) has aged out of foster care, and just wants a little taste of adulthood. When the gang gets together at their bitchin’ superhero lair, they barely pay attention to Billy’s play-by-play of their adventures.
This dissension couldn’t come at worse time. As they do, three magical supervillains have broken through from some other realm. Or dimension. Or…you know, whatever. They are the Daughters of Atlas: Hespera (Helen Mirren) is the oldest and grumpiest. Kalypso (Lucy Liu) is the most ruthless. Finally, Anthea (Rachel Zegler) has a pesky streak of goodness running through her. Once imprisoned from the mortal realm, the sisters vow destruction on our world.
Most of that destruction stems from Liu riding around on a wicker dragon and planting a magic apple in a baseball field. And yes, that looks every bit as stupid as it sounds. Liu delivers an uninspired performance, but let’s see you mount a wooden monster, fire bolts from a blue glowstick, and say ridiculous lines with a straight face. Mirren could’ve picked this movie up and walked off with it, but the writers saddle her with an undercooked character. Hespera should’ve been a campy and vampy sorceress, giddy with her own devilry. Instead, we get another rice-cake bland bad guy, who delivers bare exposition with a spiritless scowl. Such a waste.
Not content to shortchange the noobs, the filmmakers also hobble the series regulars who gave the first film its sparkle. Poor Levi is forced to spout torrents of dorky pop culture riffs, all designed to make the movie look lightweight and fun, but they only highlight how hard everyone is working to keep this parade balloon from deflating. That goes ditto for Grazer, who’s been reduced to nothing more than a plucky, quippy sidekick. In fact, there isn’t a holdover character in this film who isn’t a little bit louder and a little bit worse.
Shazam! 2’s mediocrity is amplified by its punishing overlength. The story drags on and on, from one predictable scene to the next. Major plot points between Billy and his family feel like Very Special sitcom moments, and nothing generates any real feeling. (Unlike the first film, which had genuinely moving things to say about the bond between loving foster parents and their children.) Much like Black Adam, Shazam Deux is dramatically hollow, rendering all those CGI brawls especially meaningless.
On that subject, if and when superhero movies go the way of the passenger pigeon, one reason will be CGI fatigue. Put another way: Most of these action orgies–I’m looking at DC and Marvel–feature a final battle in which fake-looking hordes of computerized creatures slam into each other for thirty minutes. All I really see are buncha goobs on Macbook Pros, frantically hot-keying their way through Final Cut Pro. I’m pretty sure I yawned through this movie’s big action scene. Superhero studios need to find a different tack, before the genre sinks altogether.
Yes, I’m aware that DC and James Gunn are about to do a CTRL-ALT-DEL on their cinematic properties. And I get it: Their mashed potatoes have always tasted a little, you know…off. All those limp Batman, Superman, and Aquaman flicks built up to a dour, pitiful Justice League epic that sucked a bowling ball through a stirring straw. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Zack Snyder went ahead and shoveled two more hours of hogshit onto that one, just to make sure our souls were sufficiently crushed under all the stink.
With that rant outta the way, I loved that first Shazam movie. It was a bright light in the DCEU’s drab existence. There were moments of real wonder and humor, and I harbored some hope those could be expanded on in future movies. Alas, nope. The only thing Shazam! Fury of the Gods results in is one more superhero flick I could care less about.
130 min. PG-13. On demand.