A dozen films into the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) and Warner Bros. continues to struggle to find its footing with the superhero franchise. Sure, it has had some recent successes with THE BATMAN reboot and JOKER, but titles like BLACK ADAM, THE SUICIDE SQUAD and WONDER WOMAN: 1984 have all underperformed. Last January, DC Studios head James Gunn announced that the DC Universe (DCU) would take over from the DCEU. Many projects were scrapped and the future of some characters that movie audiences have come to know was thrown into doubt. One of those includes Shazam, although Gunn has said that he’s open to bringing its star, Zachary Levi, back depending on how well SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS does at the box office. The film hit our movie screens in Hong Kong last night and Levi’s future in the new DCU is not looking good.
Remember when Shazam/Billy Batson (Levi, THE MAURITANIAN; TV’s THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL, and Asher Angel) broke the wizard’s magic staff over his knee in the first SHAZAM! movie to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands? Little did he, and many of us, know at the time that that wasn’t a great idea. It turns out that his bit of bravado broke the barrier that separates the mortal and godly realms. Now, in SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS, the three daughters of the god Atlas, get their hands on the two pieces of the staff, put them back together and decide to wreak vengeance on both the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou, THE KING’S MAN; A QUIET PLACE PART II), who stole their father’s powers away from him, and on 17-year-old Billy, who received them. What the women – Hespera (Helen Mirren, COLLATERAL BEAUTY; TRUMBO), Kalypso (Lucy Liu, CHARLIE’S ANGELS (2000); TV’s ELEMENTARY and ALLY McBEAL) and Anthea (Rachel Ziegler, WEST SIDE STORY) – don’t count on, though, it that Billy has shared his powers with his five foster siblings. This sets up an epic battle between the sisters and the teens that involves a blue-energy breathing dragon, a gaggle of grotesque monsters, a team of alt-unicorns and an energy dome that encases the city of Philadelphia.
DCEU movie #13 isn’t going to breathe one last gasp of air into this moribund franchise, not that it matters anyways at this point, but it needs to be pointed out that the fault lies not with the actors, who all seemed to be game, but with director David F. Sandberg and screenwriter Henry Gayden. They and story co-writer Darren Lemke previously teamed up on the first SHAZAM! movie but while that film was surprisingly fun and light, this one’s charms are hard to find. Few of the film’s jokes hit their mark. I only laughed once at a comment that the teens’ foster father, Victor (Cooper Andrews), makes upon learning what his charges have been up to. Instead, much of the film’s so-called “humour” comes from the film’s references to other IPs under the Warner Bros. Discovery banner, including the HARRY POTTER franchise and TV’s GAME OF THRONES, and from the quip delivered to Helen Mirren’s character about the FAST & FURIOUS. They, however, paled in groaning comparison to the shameless sponsored content by a candy company.
It’s not all a complete disaster though. Levi singlehandedly carries the film with his character’s wide-eyed innocence and the teenage dynamic that emerges between Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer, the IT films) and Ann/Anthea makes for a nice, if un-superhero-ish, diversion. Mirren, unfortunately, isn’t given too many chances to bring much depth to her character and Liu, as the film’s super-baddie, is even more one-note. Instead, Sandberg et al devote far too much time on chatter and on the mayhem caused by the monsters that Kalypso unleashes on the city’s residents who, I should add, don’t seem to be too bothered by the energy dome that she had earlier placed over them. Perhaps the biggest problem with the film, though, is the low stakes involved. We know that this is the last time we’re going to see these characters for a long time so it’s difficult, if not impossible, to get invested in their fates. Adding to that feeling are the film’s mid-credit and post-credit scenes, which tease at future events that may never happen. Even the first SHAZAM! film hinted at a meeting between the teens and Superman but that never happened either.
Even with all this, Sandberg et al still managed to throw a few headscratchers in at the very end. The first involves the return of one character who shows up at the foster home looking like a 1970s pimp. Maybe there was a reason for the bizarre costume but we’ll never know it. The other was the choice of closing out the film with an Elvis Presley song. I get that Elvis was a fan of Superhero Freddy (Adam Brody’s character), but I think that connection will be lost on most of this film’s targeted teenaged demographic.
SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS opened in Hong Kong and around the world yesterday (March 16th). It isn’t as bad as BLACK ADAM or WW84 but that’s not saying much. It’s just one more completely forgettable DCEU film.
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