Friday, March 24, 2023

Shazam! Fury of the Gods: A Review



I was surprised while going over my review for the first Shazam film that I actually gave it a mildly negative review. More surprising, though, is how Shazam! Fury of the Gods somehow managed to be worse. While I doubt anyone will pick the first as one of their favorite films (let alone favorite comic book film), Fury of the Gods will more than likely find a place among the Worst Films of 2023.

It's been a few years since Shazam (Zachary Levi) and his foster siblings have become superheroes. It is irrelevant that they sometimes do not get things right in their efforts, earning them the sobriquet "The Philadelphia Fiascos". It is, however, vital that they pull themselves together for a new enemy.

The three daughters of Atlas have come for the Wizard's staff that will allow them to restore their own world. Shazam's alter ego, Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is worried about aging out of the foster care system and losing his family in the process. He is especially miffed about his BFF/foster brother Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), who has been doing solo superhero work despite Billy's insistence that it is all or none.

Freddy has other things on his mind, such as the beautiful new student Anne (Rachel Zegler). In truth, Anne is Anthea, the third Daughter of Atlas, who is working with her sisters Hespera (Helen Mirren) and Kalypso (Lucy Liu) to restore their world. That, at least, is Hespera and Anthea's plan. Kalypso has her own secret agenda, one that will bring forth total destruction to Earth. Shazam and his family, along with the Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) to stop Kalypso's mad scheme.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods is two hours and ten minutes long including mid and post-credit scenes (for the record, feel free to skip them). There is no need for the film to be two hours and ten minutes long. I am not even sure that it needs to be an hour and ten minutes long. There is such a massive bloat to Fury of the Gods that it sinks the film. The entire Benjamin Franklin Bridge sequence should have been cut. 

As a side note, it does not help that it is reminiscent of the 2005 Fantastic Four film. Certain elements in Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan's screenplay attempt to give some of the characters more depth (Billy's fear of abandonment, another character's homosexuality), but they are undercut by the almost crazed desire to be funny. Take one of the foster siblings, Pedro Peña (Jovan Armand). Chosen to be the LGBTQ+ representation, he chooses the worst and most predictable time to officially come out. His sexuality is irrelevant to anything in Fury of the Gods, not just plot-wise but character-wise. 

We get near-endless scenes involving self-writing pens named Steve and a truly bizarre dream sequence that is a cross between bad CGI and Djimon Hounsou in drag that looks horrifying.

Granted, not as horrifying as seeing schoolteacher Mr. Geckle (Diedrich Bader) commit suicide under Kalypso's spell. For a film targeted at families, I was startled at seeing someone kill themselves. Even worse, the subject is never brought up again. It seems like a strange decision on so many levels. Mr. Geckle is there for one scene to give words of encouragement to Freddy, then the next he's killed. Technically, he's in two scenes, but in the second he's background (and curiously, having lunch in the school cafeteria with other students).

Fury of the Gods has a simply awful script, shifting from predictable to stupid. From seeing Helen Mirren speak the confused words of idiots to Shazam insisting he did have "the wisdom of Solo-Man" (meaning Solomon), Fury of the Gods leaves one almost aghast about how bloated and horrible it is. It is bad enough when you have a character state that Skittles is the closest thing to ambrosia to feed unicorns. However, when she literally says, "Taste the rainbow", the laughter that I already had thanks to audience members whispering the line just exploded.

I look at the performances and wanted to cover my eyes. I cut Zachary Levi some slack in that I think he was directed to play a 12-year-old in a 40-year-old man's body. We, however, come to a point of logic. In Shazam, Billy Batson was between 12 to 14, so his behavior made sense. In Fury of the Gods, Billy Batson should be almost 18. Why then does he still act like he's 12? There's a subplot about him aging out of foster care, but this is not a major drive in the film. This is a serious situation, but Shazam's entire behavior is too childish to make it important.

As a side note, Shazam tells Hespera that he is ready for her because he's seen every Fast & Furious film. Was that some kind of in-joke given that Mirren is part of that franchise? 

Shazam also has a major issue in that, like Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania, he is a supporting character in his own film. A lot of the focus is on Freddie Freeman, which is such a strange choice. Adam Brody (curiously looking older than his 41 years) and Jack Dylan Grazer are hit-and-miss, the former more miss. For reasons known only to the filmmakers, Fury of the Gods focuses more on Superhero Freddie and his evolution from cocky to humble than on Shazam. 

Shazam! Fury of the Gods does not take its premise seriously. If it cannot bother to take the premise seriously, we cannot either. The DC Extended Universe is a shambles, and Shazam! Fury of the Gods should kill off the hopes for more films with this character. 


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