I've always disliked the term "sophomore slump", especially when there are plenty of films and filmmakers who clearly disprove the notion that things are never as good the second time around. Unfortunately, 'Shazam! Fury of the Gods' is not one of those films, and it is one of the weakest, messiest DC Extended Universe films in recent memory.
Picking up right where the first instalment left off, 'Shazam! Fury of the Gods' sees Billy Batson (Asher Angel, TV's 'High School Musical: The Musical: The Series' and Zachary Levi, 'Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood', in superhero form) and his foster siblings adapting to their new superpowers, which are activated by saying "Shazam!" Known by the media as the "Philadelphia Fiascos," their attempts to use their powers for good are continuously (and often humorously) hindered by the fact that they're just kids with more power and pubescent anxiety than they know how to handle; with great power comes great responsibility and all that jazz. And as if the pressure to look after his city wasn't enough, Billy's looming 18th birthday brings with it his graduation from the foster care system and a renewed fear of abandonment from his family. Dissatisfied with the very valid stakes of the story's coming-of-age elements, director David F. Sandberg ('Shazam!') decides to shelf these early on in the film in favour of introducing new villains in the form of the Daughters of Atlas, Hespera (Helen Mirren, 'F9', 'The Hundred-Foot Journey') and Kalypso (Lucy Liu, 'Strange World'), who are on a revenge mission to take back Billy and his siblings' powers with the help of the wizard's staff that Billy broke at the end of 'Shazam!'
SWITCH: 'SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS' TRAILER 2
Similar to the identity crisis Billy is facing, 'Shazam! Fury of the Gods' struggles to weave its many plot threads into something coherent. 2019's first 'Shazam!' instalment was a refreshing exercise in sincerity and lightheartedness amongst a sea of increasingly brooding and overwrought DCEU films. However, the temptation (or is it obligation?) to go bigger in every sequel sees 'Shazam! Fury of the Gods' become a bloated mess. The overly-convoluted plot is primed to confuse the series' youngest fans and bore its older ones – not at all aided by jumping timelines, including an opening scene that we aren't told until later takes place days before the film starts – and at times it's hard to tell who this sequel is even for. Even worse is the film's third act, which devolves into yet another epic CGI battle that has absolutely no stakes because the outcome is obvious from the jump. It's a shame because, despite the grating nature of Levi's performance (more on that later), the film's goofy tone in the first act is actually working, but as is often the case with comic book films, gets lost in the sea of rote saving-the-world shenanigans. The film's few surprises up its sleeve are also ruined in its marketing; from the reveal of Ann's (Rachel Zegler, 2021's 'West Side Story') true identity to a special cameo from a DCEU heavy hitter, moments that would have actually held audience interest are spoiled for anyone who was even slightly paying attention to the film's posters and trailers.
2019's first 'Shazam!' instalment was a refreshing exercise in sincerity and light-heartedness amongst a sea of increasingly brooding and overwrought DCEU films. However, the temptation (or is it obligation?) to go bigger in every sequel sees 'Shazam! Fury of the Gods' become a bloated mess.
Perhaps the film would also be a bit more bearable if there was any chemistry or consistency between the leads that share their roles. The most noticeable difference is between Angel and Levi, whose performances are so radically different that it doesn't even feel like they are playing the same character. Where Angel delivers nuance with the gags, Levi is a walking joke factory that gets old super quickly. Jack Dylan Grazer ('Luca') and Adam Brody ('Promising Young Woman') are both delightful and try their best to make Freddy's real-life and superhero alter ego gel, but the rest of the foster clan are not given any screen time to flesh out their identities beyond a single defining trait, if they're lucky to even get one. Lucy Liu and Helen Mirren are having fun with the scenes that are just them, but everything else seems so beneath them that in recognising the mess around them, they don't really try.
'Shazam! Fury of the Gods' is a frustratingly middling entry into the DCEU, made even more disappointing by the fact that the formula was already working so well in the first instalment. It would be easy to blame my ambivalence on superhero fatigue, but this actually isn't the case; in fact, it's simply exhaustion from yet another slog through a franchise-mandated tent pole that does nothing to build on its sturdy storytelling foundations.