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Review: DCEU Experiments with Cross-Pollination in ‘Shazam! Fury of the Gods’

Review: DCEU Experiments with Cross-Pollination in ‘Shazam! Fury of the Gods’

Please be advised that this review does come with mild spoilers.

There are elements that always make a great comic book movie: intense action scenes, groundbreaking performances, and impressive special effects. However, sometimes the most simple of things, like character development, can set a movie back from being the best it can be.

Billy Baston (Asher Angel) and his foster siblings of superheroes are back again as they come under the threat of a different foe in Shazam! Fury of the Gods. This time, they’re not fighting against one evil villain but a trio of sisters referred to as the Daughters of Atlas. Led by Hespera (Helen Mirren) the daughters also include Kalypso (Lucy Liu) and Anthena (Rachel Zegler). And while there is some complexity to Anthena’s motives and they don’t quite align with Kalypso and Hespera’s, the daughters are in fact furious with their magic being taken away from them and they want it back. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and our team of teenage superheroes have certainly met their match in fury of the gods. 

What complicates this what would otherwise be a black-and-white, good guy vs. bad guy superhero story is the relationship that builds between Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Anthena, who refers to herself as Ann at the beginning. The two meet at his local high school — her being the new girl — and the two hit it off pretty well. In fact, Freddy builds an affinity for her. Not only is Ann attractive, but she’s sympathetic to him when he’s bullied by his classmates and comes to his aid. She’s a friend to him. But when Anthena exposes who she is, and he, in turn, exposes who he is as a superhero, it further complicates not only their relationship but her motives with her sister’s intentions.

Meanwhile, Billy is also involved in a romantic relationship of his own. And let’s just say she knows a thing or two about the lasso of truth. While it is quite awkward seeing a teenage Billy out on a date with a woman more than twice his age although he’s in adult Shazam (Zachary Levi) form, one thing for certain is that Billy still hasn’t fully matured yet with his sensibilities even when it comes to dating.

While Shazam! Fury of the Gods offers more action a more sustainable crafted storyline that moves the plot forward that is a bit more sensical than its predecessor, seeing Shazam still remain as naive, silly, and lacking in scruples with the experience he’s acquired so far is a bit disappointing. Billy hasn’t matured much from the first film to this sequel, and whether it is intentional or he’s just using this silly persona as a guise to lead people on because it works for him, it feels a little mechanical at this point. 

I would have liked to see a bit more character development with Billy, especially given the fact that he’s got a super rich backstory that offers a lot to help craft and inform his decisions and motives as to why he makes the choices that he makes. The movie seems to focus more on the humor, slapstick, and levity of who and what Shazam is rather than the Billy Baston story, and I honestly think you can do both and still make for a great and entertaining comic book movie.

The Daughters of Atlas storyline and the performances of Mirren and Liu especially are incredible, and their characters are terrifying. Kalypso gets to ride this otherworldly dragon at one point and is even referred to jokingly as “Khaleesi” in the film. And I must add in comparison to Game of Thrones and even House of the Dragon, the special effects on this dragon were far superior than what the HBO series was able to provide.

As for Liu’s and Mirren’s depictions of the antagonists, they know and understand how to play villainy well. It was great seeing them on screen together. The story structure behind the origin of how they lose their power and their vengeance behind getting it back felt much more plausible than the one-dimensional villain the teen heroes had to contend with in the first Shazam! film. 

The DCEU is playing with more cross-pollination of their other franchises within the Shazam universe. While the first film revealed Superman during the last scene, we see another Justice League character appear in the sequel. We also welcome back the Wizard, played by actor Djimon Honsou. We thought we lost him in the first film, but he has in fact, returned. He has a bit more fun in this one and takes himself a little less seriously it seems. His character also plays a pivotal role in the story’s trajectory, which is fitting since he set off the series of main events that kicked off what happened to Billy becoming Shazam in the first place.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods offers a substantive story, incredible performances, and three-dimensional villains that push the conflict forward in a way that makes sense. I just wish Billy’s character was developed better to show he’s grown up a bit since his last adventure. 

Shazam! Fury of the Gods opens in theaters nationwide March 17, 2023.

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