Shazam! Fury of the Gods is a fun and wholesome adventure for the whole family
It's an undervalued skill knowing what kind of film you're making.
Today, most blockbusters try to be a bit of everything. As a result, they often feel glib and pointlessly snarky. Like they're ashamed of what they are.
Shazam!, released in 2019 amidst DCs “I'm darker and edgier than you” phase, was not that.
Instead, it was a heartfelt and surprisingly fun romp that worked because it knew what it was – and who it was for. Four years later, Shazam! Fury of the Gods pulls off the same trick, which is no small feat.
Some months after the first film, Billy Batson, Shazam, suffers from imposter syndrome. His family now shares superpowers, but life is pushing them apart. People grow older, college beckons, and change is around the corner. But Billy doesn't want any of that. He wants to go on adventures with his siblings, fight wizards, and live without the burdens society expects us to carry.
As if on cue, The Daughters of Atlas descend upon the realm. They steal a staff that holds power to bring about the end of our world – and a new beginning for theirs. Unprepared for what's to come, Billy must come to terms with his place in the family, his powers, and the knowledge that sometimes the hardest choices are made alone.
Those sound like heavy topics for what is ostensibly a film for the whole family. But luckily, Shazam! doesn't bog itself down at any point. It understands what story it's telling, but also who its audience is. In an early scene, one of the characters prominently wears a Goonies shirt, and it's a telling nod to the kind of movie that director David F. Sandberg aims at.
Naturally, the best bits are between the siblings. Shazam! is never more alive than it is when the talented cast gets to do their thing. In these scenes, it has the energy and freewheeling fun of any old Amblin film.
But since it's a comic book movie, there has to be a lot of effects work, and action, especially towards the end. These bits are less joyful and more contractual. They're expected because everyone else does them, too. A couple of gags sneak their way in nonetheless. They're easily the high points in the cacophonous final act.
It's a shame that the finale is so by-the-numbers, as the first half is quite a ways better than anything DC has put out since the Christopher Nolan years. The cast unilaterally feels like they're enjoying themselves, and the film strikes a perfect balance between danger and comedy. Just as you think it's getting too scary for younger viewers, it throws a curveball of wholesomeness.
Then there are Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu, both of whom have a ball as the villainous daughters of Atlas. Mirren gets to ham it up with some delightfully cheesy Shakespeare-in-the-park dialog, while Liu is a blast to see on the big screen once again. She is as magnetic as ever.
Is Shazam! a great film? No, it is not. It's still very much a comic book movie, and that comes with baggage that weighs down even the best of them. There's a Deus Ex oh-right-we-have-these-characters-in-the-roster moment that's so clunky, it nearly sinks any goodwill towards the end.
But it is fun, breezy, and so charming that, for the most part, you don't care. And it knows it, too. Sometimes that's enough.