“Shazam! Fury of the Gods” – It’s All About Family [Review]

As the DCEU struggled to find its footing in the latter half of the 2010s, solo movies like Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and the first Shazam! really seemed to demonstrate that this franchise did a lot better when they weren’t doing forced team up movies too early on in their narrative.  But as the years have gone on and movies can’t exist in a vacuum, separate from behind the scenes news, one such casualty is this year’s Shazam! Fury of the Gods.

While it didn’t suffer as much as Black Adam, whose Henry Cavill cameo was immediately nullified by a public announcement several weeks after the movie came out, the sequel to Shazam! likewise was left in an awkward position.  As the DCEU prepares to “reboot’ as the DCU under James Gunn, movies like Fury of the Gods, which were already complete and ready for release, are left unintentionally obsolete.

We’ve yet to know for sure what the future plans are, or whether or not we’ll see this family of superheroes again.  But in the meantime, Shazam! Fury of the Gods deserves to be evaluated for what it is.  And what it is, is a decent and fun family superhero adventure that doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, but it does right what a lot of DC projects did wrong before.

Daughters of Atlas
Following the events of the first film, the magical staff that Billy broke has wound in a museum in Greece, where the daughters of Atlas (Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu) violently retrieve it so that they can use it to bring back their world of Olympus.  Meanwhile, Billy and family have been keeping the citizens of Philadelphia (somewhat) safe as a group of superheroes that definitely have good intentions, but because they’re kids, don’t always think everything through and sometimes make things worse.

They may not be based on existing comic book characters, but they hold their own among other DC movie villains.
They may not be based on existing comic book characters, but they hold their own among other DC movie villains.

The daughters of Atlas are downright offended that the power stolen by their father (and other Olympians) has been given to children, and between a series of kidnappings and both sides thwarting each other’s plans, we come to a final conflict that winds up threatening the world itself, but that was never (initially) the villains’ goal, so the stakes still remain somewhat low to help keep everything grounded.

Well, as grounded as you can be with a dragon…

Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu do a particularly great job of elevating material that easily could have been very silly.  But they kind of know that going in and just seem to have fun with it.  When you’re dealing with ancient immortal beings, it’s easy to have “being powerful” as their only personality trait, but they bicker and fight, much like Billy and his own siblings in a manner that shows the reflective nature of sibling relationships, be they foster siblings, or even ancient siblings.

Unlike a certain other superhero franchise film from last year that involved Greek (and other) gods, Shazam! Fury of the Gods has fun with its characters and lets them be funny, even the ancient ones.  But it never feels like it’s parodying them.  You get the daughters’ of Atlas completely underestimating Billy because they’ve been alive for thousands of years and don’t think that anyone could ever dare outthink them.

A lot of superhero movies are criticized for the villain being too close to the hero. That very much isn’t the case here.

All About Family
Freddy is also given an arc of his own that wasn’t as present in the first film.  Taking him from powerless sidekick to superpowered partner in (fighting) crime was a big step for him, and this movie does what it can with that idea.  It makes sense that Freddy would want to escape being a sidekick and go fight crime on his own, despite Billy wanting it to be the whole family or none.

They really get the sibling dynamic right too.  You get the sense that Billy, Freddy, Mary, Darla, Eugene, and Pedro all love each other as brothers and sisters, even if they fight a lot and are always riffing on each other.  Because that’s what siblings have done since the beginning of time.  They also work great together as a team because they have such different personalities and their strengths compliment the others’ weaknesses.

In a really cool move, actress Grace Caroline Currey is “promoted” to playing both Mary and her superhero version. Although it does beg the question about how she keeps her identity secret.

Part of what makes both Shazam! films feel so special among the DC universe is that this franchise has always been about the idea of “gods amongst men”.  Wonder Woman is a demigod, Superman is an alien and the last of his kind, Batman is a billionaire, Aquaman is heir to Atlantis; all of these characters are larger than life in some way, shape, or form.

But the “Marvel Family” (for lack of a better term) is entirely made up of kids/teens who came together as foster kids living in the same house.  They’re the epitome of the everyman becoming a superhero.  None of them are titanic beings that the rest of us look up because we’ll never be like them.  We look up to them because they’re just like the rest of us, but are still capable of being superheroes, which strikes at the larger theme of the entire film.

Sure, Freddy can fly around fight monsters, but he’s still an awkward teenager who blushes when he talks to a girl at school.

The daughters of Atlas want the magic to be only for those from the divine bloodline of the Olympians.  One could argue they represent the old aristocratic nature of society that existed for centuries, while Billy and family show us that anyone can be a hero as long as they have the heart and willpower to do good.

Embracing the Absurdity
A lot of what makes this movie so much fun is in how it delves into Greek mythology and fantasy in general, holding absolutely nothing back.  We get a magic room filled with doors that go all over the universe, we get a dragon made of wood that taps into your fears, and we even get unicorns that turn out to be far more deadly than you would have thought.

Once again, director David F. Sandberg proves that horror directors make the best comic book directors because of their flair for visual creativity and willingness to go dark places (look no further than Scott Derrickson and Sam Raimi at Marvel and James Wan at DC).  The entire final act sort of turns into a monster movie, and gets way more creative than the first one did with a similar premise.

Granted, Fury of the Gods is in no way a perfect film.  It sort of has Billy learn the same lesson he did in the first movie, and doesn’t really take anything further into new territory plotwise.  In fact, its entire premise is based around something that happened in the first movie.  That said, it has a lot of fun and knows exactly what kind of movie it wants to be.

It remains one of the better DCEU movies, even if its whole existence is now in question going forward.  Hopefully James Gunn will recognize the charm of the Philadelphia Fiasco (as they’re called by the press in the movie), and continue to tell stories with them, with minor connections to other larger characters and stories.

What did you think of Shazam! Fury of the Gods?  Where do you see the DCEU going from here? Let us know in the comments!

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