If you think about, you rarely see superheroes smile or really exult with wild abandon in what they do.
Sure, you’ll see moments of quiet celebration or the exhilaration of a job well done as the Big Bad of the moment is banished into the darkness from which they first emerged, but by and large, silly fun is not something you’d immediately associated with superherodom.
The fact that it’s liberally sprinkled throughout both the Shazam movies – 2019’s Shazam! and this year’s Shazam! Fury of the Gods – marks this latest instalment in DC’s sputtering movie universe as something that’s a little lighter and brighter than your average superhero outing.
The buoyant, quip-heavy, woohoo-this-is-a-blast vibe is helped along considerably by the fun loving Shazam!-heavy family at the heart of the story, which you’ll recall, is made up of six foster kids who have now found a forever home with dream parents, Rosa and Victor Vásquez (Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews respectively).
Charismatically and garrulously led by Zachary Levi/Asher Angel as Billy Batson / Shazam – each Shazam!-gifted kid transforms into a powerful adult when they utter the magic word – the family made up of Frederick “Freddy” Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer and Adam Brody), Mary Bromfield (Grace Caroline Currey; old enough as a character that she plays both roles), Eugene Choi (Ross Butler and Ian Chen), Pedro Peñ D. J. (Cotrona and Jovan Armand) and Darla Dudley (Meagan Good and Faithe Herman), all of who form the tightest and loveliest of found family units.
While Billy still hasn’t committed himself entirely to calling Rosa “Mum”, and is still keeping his emotional distance from his new siblings – he’s been hurt a lot so this makes sense; still, it’s delightful to see how much they embrace them and how he grows into belonging to them too – these are people who, more and more, when their super powers are in force and not, are increasingly there for each other.
It lends a warm-and-fuzzy vibe to proceedings, full of sibling ribbing, silly jokes and the sheer exultation of being teenagers and young adults with the power to do some very cool things, which is a good thing because there are moments in the story when things get dark, almost chilling so.
Take the opening scenes where the furious gods of the title – the daughters of Atlas played by Helen Mirren (Hespera, the eldest), Lucy Liu (Kalypso, the middle child) and Rachel Zegler (Anthea/Anne) who haven’t taken too kindly to their powers being taken from them by the Council of Wizards, represented in the film by their last surviving member, Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), mainly because Atlas was being rather despicable to an enslaved humanity – do some pretty terrible things to a lot of museum patrons in Athens, Greece to recover a staff which will go some considerable way to restoring their lost powers.
Full of violence and anger, and almost resembling one of those scenes at the start of a zombie apocalypse story where people lose their humanity to forces controlling them in darkly terrible ways, the scene is only playful to Hespera and Kalypso, and certainly not to the people trapped in the museum who undergo cruel, barbaric acts by gods who have no heart, soul or conscience.
If you’re expecting the vim and endless vigorous fun of the first film, keep in mind that this jarring scene, though well executed, is emblematic of Shazam! Fury of the Gods which doesn’t always manage the shift between light and fun and seriously, darkly action-ish as well as it could have.
You expect action scenes of course because what kind of superhero movie would it be if they weren’t there, but the scenes where the daughters of Atlas, bar Anne who forges a bond with Freddy which causes to wonder if they are doing the right thing by humanity, do their heartless thing are so different to the lightness of Billy and his family that you sometimes feel considerable emotional whiplash shifting between the two.
Overall, Shazam! Fury of the Gods does a great job of keeping things moving along while giving key characters like Billy, who goes big on the personal sacrifice front to save the day, and Freddy, his devoted brother and a wisecracking, awkward bundle of sunshine all his own, a chance for some intimate moments of affecting character development.
Narrative-wise, it’s not really out of the box, recycling the old angry villains, or in this case, villains, seeking revenge against the world they spurn, with only [insert superhero here] able to save them which, naturally enough, they don’t do at first because TENSION, but it rumbles along well enough that you’re swept up into the action and carried along reasonably happily on the tide.
The key thing here is that the close family vibe and all-for-one feel of the first film carries over, meaning that while the storyline is reasonably generic, the joyous celebration of lost souls finding their home and greater sense of self in their found family bonds is palpable.
It influences so much of Shazam! Fury of the Gods, imbuing it with a light, connective soul which is critically important when there’s so much next level darkness making it soul crushing presence felt.
So well done are the character interactions, especially among the Vásquez Six with their Shazam! powers which they treat playfully until it becomes clear there are consequences to playing an active role in saving the day, that they carry the film over the clunky transitions from light to dark and back again.
Was the celebration of human connection not so vibrantly and boisterously done, armed with sparklingly fun dialogue and joyously upbeat performances, Shazam! Fury of the Gods might have felt far more of a heavy slog.
Instead, it feels like a lot of fun, and yes, while there are moments when there’s searing pain and real world consequences, and action scenes where the very worst of gods and men are on display with violent action to match, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, it’s the bond of family and the love that cements the Vásquez clan together, plus unicorns and Skittles (leave that one to the movie but it’s a hoot) that really powers this film that, while it celebrates how cool super powers are, knows the greatest gift of all is the power of unconditional love which is never cheesy but muscular and world saving and a real change to the usual superhero movie fare.