Shazam! returns in the character’s second – and very possibly last – outing for this particular iteration. But if it’s the end of the character as we know him, Billy Batson goes out with a relatively thunderous bang, the film delivering on the promise of the premise set up in its predecessor.
The first Shazam! played like superhero version of Big, with teenage Billy Batson turning into a man with god-like powers when he says the titular magic word. Young Billy was played by Asher Angel with angsty charm, while he got a good deal dopier as a grown-up, thanks to Zachary Levi’s likably goofy performance.
The result was a pretty average comic-book movie, but one that improved vastly when his friends were also gifted superhero powers at the end, which they used to help Billy bring down the villainous Thaddeus Sivana.
With all that back-story in place, Fury of the Gods is able to hit the ground running before taking to the skies. But before we’re reintroduced to the kids, there are some new villains in town, and they want revenge.
Meet the ‘Daughters of Atlas’
The Daughters of Atlas are sisters who are very much doing it for themselves. Hespera (Helen Mirren) is the boss, Kalypso (Lucy Liu) is her number two, and this perfidious pair aren’t happy that Shazam has stolen magic from their realm, as well as the lifeblood of their father, and last breath of their mother. All of which suggests they have a point.
The sisters first appear in a museum in Greece, looking for the staff that harnesses the gifts of gods. Once they’ve tracked it down, the Daughters turn terrifying, with Kalypso first enslaving humans with a whisper in their ear, before Hespera turns them to dust.
Which makes them a worthy match for Shazam. But before the forces of good and evil do battle, Billy needs to do some work on himself.
Shazam’s crisis of confidence
That’s because Shazam is having an existential crisis. At the start of the movie, he’s getting therapy from a paediatrician, whom he tells about some pretty serious childhood trauma.
He’s also struggling as the de facto leader of this new superhero family, with his foster siblings neither listening to Shazam, nor respecting him during family meetings at their tricked lair on the Rock of Eternity. All of which is giving him a serious case of imposter syndrome.
The problems are played for laughs, with Levi hilarious in this scene. But it also sets up Billy’s fear of abandonment, which isn’t surprising considering his past, combined with the fact that he’s ageing out of the foster care system. These multiple crises become a key theme in the film, though first they take a back-seat to some super-powered action.
Introducing the ‘Philadelphia Fiascos’
As having been introduced to the villains, and reacquainted with the hero, it’s time for a big-budget set-piece. Here it takes place in Shazam’s hometown of Philadelphia, where the Ben Franklin Bridge is collapsing, with concrete cracking, cables cascading, and cars plunging into the icy waters beneath.
Billy’s foster family of Freddy, Eugene, Mary, Pedro, and Darla zoom over, in, and around the bridge as a combination of teamwork and their respective powers rescue those in danger. All to the strains of Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Holding Out for a Hero.’ A predictable song choice that the film calls out, acknowledging the cliché, and using it to undercut the action in a way that sets Shazam apart from other action movies. Save for maybe the Deadpools.
But in spite of those lives saved, the bridge still collapses, with the media now calling our heroes the Philadelphia Fiascos. Which only adds to Billy’s self-doubt.
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The fury – and maguffin – of the gods
But Billy has a job to do, and that job is retaining his powers in the face of the Atlas efforts to take them back. Though it also involves something that’s a bit more convoluted, regarding a Magic Tree, a Golden Apple, and the Seed of Life.
Those maguffins are an excuse for ever larger and more ambitious sequences which returning director David F. Sandberg helms with style. One involves Philadelphia seeming to fold in on itself, Inception-style. Another sees Lucy Liu riding into battle on the back of a dragon. Both scenes kick ass, as does the appearance of a bunch of mythical monsters, including a cyclops and minotaur.
The finale isn’t without its weaknesses however. The climax goes on too long, and features the kind of city-wide, CG-heavy destruction we’d all had enough of around the time the Avengers first hit. A big name cameo at the end of the movie feels very much tacked on. And a cynical piece of product placement that involves unicorns is absolutely unforgivable, and the worst moment in a Shazam movie to date.
The Verdict: Is Shazam! Fury of the Gods good?
Shazam 2 is good, clean, family fun. There’s an optimism to the character – and the movie at large – that sets it apart from other DC movies of late, and that lightness of touch is to be celebrated.
The villains have solid motivation, talk sense when they aren’t dealing death, and end the movie just scary enough to feel like a genuine threat, particularly Lucy Liu’s Kalypso. Rachel Zegler is a superb addition to the cast as a third, very conflicted sister, who gives Freddy a nice arc.
While the script – by Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan – also manages to circle back to both the start of this movie, and the beginning of Billy’s journey, tying up most of the loose ends for its large ensemble.
Which is probably a good thing, as with actor Asher Angel now a man himself – thereby undermining the central conceit of the movie – Fury of the Gods will probably be the last outing for particular iteration of the character. But happily Shazam’s story very much ends on a high.
Shazam 2 review score: 3/5
Shazam 2 is better than its predecessor, and a fun flick if you like your superhero movies light, and filled with positivity and optimism.
Fury of the Gods hits cinemas on March 17, while you can read more of our Shazam coverage below…
Shazam 2 Review | Zachary Levi interview | Easter Eggs | Daughters of Atlas explained | Post-credits scene | Does Wonder Woman appear? | Superman v Shazam | Rachel Zegler’s Anthea explained | Does Black Adam appear? | Shazam x Wonder Woman | Does Shazam die? | Streaming details | Shazam 3 |