Furry of the Gods

‘Shazam! Fury of the Gods’ is a dumb, cute superhero movie for the kids, and also there’s Helen Mirren

If it’s possible for a superhero movie to be “cute,” then Shazam: The Fury of the Gods fits that brief perfectly. After the murky Black Adam, the misbegotten star vehicle for The Rock that brought the DC Cinematic Universe to a thundering halt, this kid’s movie serves as a kind of refreshing, dumb palate cleanser while James Gunn prepares his overpublicized DC reboot. Fury of the Gods feels like a gee-whiz version of what people liked about Marvel movies before they bogged down in narrative complexity and self-mythologizing.

SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: David F. Sandberg
Written by: Henry Gayden, Chris Morgan
Starring: Zachary Levi, Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, Rachel Zegler, Dijmon Hounsou, Jack Dylan Grazer
Running time: 114 min

Though this movie is called “Fury of the Gods,” there’s actually not a lot of fury, and not even that many gods. When we last left our teen hero Billy Batson, he’d turned his entire adopted orphan family into Spandexed superheroes. But they’re actually kind of incompetent at their jobs, and also are unfortunate enough to live in Philadelphia, a city that mostly just makes fun of them, about what you’d expect from Philly. The “Shazam Family” soon runs afoul of some displaced Greek-type gods, the “daughters of Atlas,” whose mythological names escape me, but on Earth we know them as Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, and Rachel Zegler.

Anyone who thinks Zegler deserved an Oscar nomination for West Side Story surely will change their mind after seeing this. She is a pleasant enough screen presence, but delivers many of her lines, which admittedly are ridiculous, with Razzie-worthy intonations. Her romance with Shazam! sidekick Freddy Freeman, not the first baseman for the Dodgers but just as gee-whiz, is about as YA as screen relationships come.

Liu is pretty corny herself, though mostly she spends the movie riding around on a CGI dragon, zapping things. Somehow Helen Mirren fights through her mostly horrendous dialogue to be menacing, charming, and hilarious, while wearing a costume that Cate Blanchett must have rejected from Thor: Ragnarok because it looked too ridiculous. Also strangely entertaining is Djimon Hounsou as the mystical wizard who gives Billy his powers. In the first Shazam! he was basically a cameo, but he’s actually in the sequel a surprising amount, given that he’s supposed to be dead.

Fury of the Gods suffers because of a  bizarrely overplayed performance by Zachary Levi, as the hero. His boy wonder schtick worked in the first movie, maybe because it was new. But in this sequel, he takes the “gosh mister!”  intonation to 11, and it grates after a while. Billy Batson is nearly 18 years old, but Levi pitches Shazam! like a horny 12-year-old at best. An 18-year-old is mature enough to drive, and vote, and join the Army. So it doesn’t make sense to play him as someone who has wet dreams about Wonder Woman, which he actually does in the movie.  Asher Angel, who plays Billy Batson when he’s not Shazam!, comes off as more mature than Levi does in the costume, which makes zero narrative sense in a movie that already features a magical apple destroying Citizen’s Bank Ballpark.

Fury of the Gods is full of mediocre and inconsistent CGI, thundering music, and improbable plot coincidences. There’s an absolutely pathetic piece of product placement for Skittles that lands like a thud. But like the first Shazam! movie, it has a warm heart and semi-believable family relationships. It certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously. Like Shazam! himself, it’s noisy and occasionally obnoxious, but also kind of fun.

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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