San Francisco Chronicle
No wonder the gods are furious about ‘Shazam!’
DC Comics’ once-special series flat with tired formula
Too bad about the “Shazam” series. DC Comics actually had something special but wrecked it in the second installment, “Shazam! Fury of the Gods.”
The first “Shazam!,” from 2019, was funny and charming but also had a feeling of myth about it. It was the story of three boys who, because of their parenting (or lack thereof ), are each destined for a very different fate. For the climax, it degenerated into the usual superhero street battle, but that ending felt almost like a halfhearted concession to convention. The heart of the movie was in its characters and relationships.
The comparative deadness of the latest film in what has been a sad string of DC Extended Universe superhero films is hinted at by the generic, self-important subtitle, “Fury of the Gods,” which is not meant ironically. At this point, the name “DC Comics” on a picture is practically a sign saying, “Stay Away.”
Last year, we learned that Shazam and Black Adam are interconnected, in that they derived their powers from the same wizard. Now they’re related on a deeper level — they’ve both been at the center of really awful movies.
Anyway, there are these gods, and they’re furious, and they’re about to launch an attack. Along the way of detailing that assault, “Fury” makes a few feints in the direction of human feeling, but these mostly consist of phony, maudlin speeches that can’t move anyone except the poor actors who have to speak them.
There’s one good action scene, however, and it comes near the start of the movie. It presents a devastating but small-scale problem that is easy to care about — the collapse of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, which connects Philadelphia with Camden, N.J. Shazam (Zachary Levi) and his siblings, fellow foster children like him who can transform into adult superhero bodies, use their powers to rescue all the motorists. But that’s the last
superhero-type scene in the movie that is of any quality.
For the rest of “Fury,” the only scenes that truly work are the ones that make you forget the superhero aspect. For example, Rachel Zegler (2021’s “West Side Story”) plays a transfer student who, on her first day in her new high school, meets Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), Shazam’s younger brother. Freddy is a superhero in his own right, but in his normal, usual incarnation, he walks with a crutch and is something of an underdog, though he compensates with good humor and a quick wit.
A high school romantic comedy featuring Zegler and Grazer — add some music by Leonard Bernstein, a couple of street gangs, and they might have really had something. But no, the gods are angry.
Helen Mirren plays one of these angry gods, alongside Lucy Liu, who plays an even angrier god. They say they want their powers back — though they still seem to have plenty of power already — so they can destroy the world, or something like that. (If you quizzed an audience that has just seen “Fury,” I doubt 10% will be able to tell you what their anger is all about.)
The rest of the movie follows a pattern that’s so familiar and so lazy: These beings from another realm show up out of nowhere and are seemingly invincible. And they stay pretty close to invincible, until the movie nears the finish, and then, lo and behold, they’re not invincible anymore.
Because “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” presents battles between superhuman entities that supposedly can’t be destroyed, there’s no logic to who wins what skirmish and who ultimately ends up the victor, though some excuse is always found. It’s simply all about stretching a movie until feature length and then getting out quickly.
The formula is tired, and it’s particularly sad to see “Shazam!” surrender so completely and pathetically to it, when it might have been DC Comics most human superhero franchise. With only brief interruptions, the last 75 minutes consist of various CGI grotesqueries growling and rampaging through the streets of Philadelphia, while being chased by — wait for it — unicorns.
It’s a monster movie, and really a bad one.
Zegler can do better. Levi can do better. Certainly, Mirren and Liu can do better, and we know from the look of the original “Shazam!,” as well as from the humanity of the performances it contained, that director David F. Sandberg can do better. But we must suppose that screenwriters Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan couldn’t do better, or else they would have.
Then again, what’s the incentive to make a halfway intelligent superhero movie, when you can sell mediocrity?