Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023) Review

After last year’s disappointment with the much-ballyhooed Black Adam, I was hoping for the remaining DCEU films would bounce back with Shazam! Fury of the Gods marks the first of the last four entries (the others are The Flash, Blue Beetle and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom) before James Gunn and Peter Safran hit the reset button to pave the way for their new DC Universe.

The good news is, Shazam! Fury of the Gods is an entertaining sequel with enough action to keep you occupied. But only to a certain extent, especially when compared with the superior first film. Whereas the 2019 original combines an effective mix of a body-swapping comedy in the vein of the Tom Hanks-starred Big with superhero elements, the sequel doesn’t quite strike the right balance this time around.

But first, the story: Billy Batson (Asher Angel) and his foster siblings continue to play their parts as superheroes as Shazams whenever the city of Philadelphia needs them. They are back in action when the daughters of Atlas including Hespera (Helem Mirren) and Kalypso (Lucy Liu) arrive on Earth to wreak havoc after retrieving a weapon. Apparently, the weapon grants them the power they have lost as they plan to destroy mankind.

The main story in this sequel is pretty much a typical revenge story of a mad antagonist — and in this case, we have two here — seeking payback. Screenwriters Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan made little effort to develop these antagonist characters other than merely depicting them as angry goddesses determined to annihilate the world. This, in turn, results in sadly underwritten characters, even though Helen Mirren does her best to give her all as Hespera.

The sequel did include the coming-of-age angle that preceded the success of the first movie as we see moments of Billy realises that things change as he grows up and Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) is looking forward to the next phase of his life, especially after he falls in love with a newcomer in school, Anne (Rachel Zegler). But these moments are only a few and far in between. Superficial, to be exact as Gayden and Morgan’s screenplay is more interested in focusing on the aforementioned revenge story.

Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu in "Shazam! Fury of the Gods" (2023)

Interestingly enough, it was the subplot that I find it more entertaining. A subplot revolving around Jack Dylan Grazer’s Freddy’s solo moments of (mis)adventures with Djimon Hounsou’s Shazam. The buddy-comedy element is spot-on, thanks to their distinctly mismatched partner personalities. Grazer and Hounsou end up stealing most of the show here.

Zachary Levi’s man-child character as Shazam still hit all the right notes even for a 42-year-old actor. I thought he may age out of his usual comic schtick that would have annoyed me instead. Thankfully, this isn’t the case as Levi is both fun and goofy without going overboard while maintaining some dramatic weight in his acting in some of the more serious moments. Franchise newcomers Lucy Liu and Rachel Zegler deliver adequate support in their respective roles as Kalypso and Anne/Anthea, who happens to be the third and youngest daughter of Atlas.

The comedy-drama parts may have been a hit-and-miss affair but there are a few scenes that Shazam! Fury of the Gods excels in some of its hilarious moments, notably the bizarre dream and the letter-reading sequences. Returning director David F. Sandberg continues to showcase his flair for delivering a popcorn-worthy superhero-movie blockbuster. The set pieces are both thrilling and tense with the earlier attack on the history museum being one of them and of course, the action-packed third act involving Shazam fighting against a dragon. The only setback about the latter is Sandberg repeats the same mistake of the first movie’s third act by stretching it too long for its own good. The special effects are a mixed bag with some of the scenes of the character(s) and the background looks spotty in places.