As DC’s rambling superhero sequel Shazam! Fury of the Gods (★☆☆☆☆) gallops towards a climactic clash between a team of brave, god-powered siblings and a pair of evil sibling gods, the action suddenly stops for a message from our sponsor.
In this world populated by mythical Furies and fantastical beasts, somebody tosses Skittles at a ferocious creature, hoping to soothe the savage beast with sweets. Watching the monster chow down on the colorful treats, our hero exclaims the candy’s catchphrase, “Taste the rainbow!”
It’s a moment so egregiously cringeworthy, you expect a character onscreen to respond, “Oh, come on!” More than a few in the press screening couldn’t hold back.
There’s no shortage of “Oh, come on” moments in this 12th film in the DC Extended Universe, a follow-up to the 2019 hit Shazam!, which introduced foster kid Billy Batson (Asher Angel), endowed by a mysterious wizard with the power to transform into a dashing goofball superhero (Zachary Levi) with godlike abilities.
The first film — like this one, directed by David F. Sandberg — found a sweet spot between colorful, kids-movie charm and macabre, occasionally fearsome creature effects. (Sandberg previously directed horror features Annabelle: Creation and Lights Out.) Shazam! injected some dearly needed fun into the often self-serious DC franchise, which is impressive considering Billy Batson’s dire backstory of parental abandonment.
But Billy found a family and a home in Philly with kind couple Rosa (Marta Milans) and Victor (Cooper Andrews), and their loving tribe of five other orphans who all welcomed him into their hearts. Billy’s found family served as the warm center of Shazam!, highlighted by Jack Dylan Grazer’s appealing turn as Freddy, Billy’s closest bud in the house and at school, and Faithe Herman, as adorable moppet Darla.
Their collective journey as a family culminated in Billy sharing his amazing powers with his new siblings, creating a six-person super team. But now, in Fury of the Gods, they’re all flying off in their own directions, and Billy’s the one struggling to hold the family together.
Unfortunately, Fury of the Gods also flies off in a dozen directions, barely holding together, as it chases down the siblings’ various subplots; introduces the equally fraught family dynamics of villainous sister gods Hespera (Helen Mirren) and Kalypso (Lucy Liu); sparks a questionable teen romance between Freddy and the new girl at school, Ann (Rachel Zegler); brings back the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) for a comic relief redemption; and attempts to service the continuing DCEU saga with cameos and callbacks that, given the state of corporate affairs at DC and Warner Bros., might amount to nada.
In general, despite all the family drama, the god vs. god beefs, and crushing FX-driven battles that practically decimate Philadelphia — including the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and Citizens Bank Arena — the film exudes an overwhelming sense of weightlessness, a lack of conviction.
Intermittently entertaining, the movie hits with the buddy team-up of Grazer and Hounsou, as Freddy and the wizard fall into the villains’ clutches, but really misses with the pairing of Grazer’s lovestruck teen and Zegler’s Ann, who obviously is not the teen she claims to be. Similarly, Mirren strikes a winning tone mixing godly gravitas and winking comic book humor, while Liu’s performance misses that mark by a wide margin.
The soapy subplot of Billy fully accepting Rosa as his adopted mom feels forced, while the coming-out moment for a queer member of the hero family feels earned and organic. The film’s showpiece gargantuan CGI dragon, Ladon the World Eater, is somewhat of a visual marvel, while the droves of mythic monsters born from the villains’ replanted Tree of Life are visually underwhelming.
Especially compared to the terrifying Seven Sins in the first film, the creatures here don’t have the corporeal presence to earn our suspension of disbelief. The same might be said of a majority of Fury of the Gods.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods is rated PG-13, and is playing nationwide. Visit www.fandango.com.
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