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MOVIES: Shazam! Fury of the Gods - Review

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Shazam! Fury of the Gods is the latest in a dying universe. James Gunn has now arrived to take over the DCEU and establish it firmly in new canon, leaving the old world behind him. And that old world includes this film – the sequel to a fairly fun and charming 2019 movie that didn’t set the world alight, but was a welcome breath of fresh air in a genre that feels increasingly formulaic and by the numbers. At the end of the first film, Billy Batson had become more comfortable with his powers, embraced a new status quo with his foster siblings, and found a family that he was searching for. Where next, then, for Shazam? The answer is – or at least, in the way that David F. Sandberg gives us – a fairly increasingly formulaic and by the numbers superhero sequel that lacks any of the heart or soul of the first movie.

Zachary Levi and Asher Angel both play different versions of Billy Batson but what gave Shazam! The charm that it needed was the fact that Angel was dominating much of the screentime alongside Levi. Here it’s 80/20 per cent in favour of Levi, who comes across like he’s playing a Deadpool-lite version of the character, and nothing quite works because of it – it lacks the sincerity and emotional beats that Angel brought to the role and because he’s barely in a few scenes it doesn’t feel quite as earned when the movie pulls its punches with the emotional depth. The Freddy/Billy bond of the first that was key to making it work is non-existent – the two barely have any scenes together, and we’re told that these characters still care for each other without really being shown much of it. It’s part of the problem that the film has in its set-up, Billy desperately wants to keep his family together because he’s about to age out of the foster system at 18 and believes that his parents will abandon him the second time. He’s a control freak, trying to keep everything together – but out of fear that he might lose it all. Unfortunately, Levi is too wrapped up with his self-aware Deadpool shtick – that whilst the type of thing you’d expect from a child, feels more like it’s written by an adult trying to be a child than from an actual child to make any sincere moment land, referencing Fast & Furious and Game of Thrones in ways that already feel dated.

He has to make a quip about everything which just turns him into a fairly generic quip-machine character with no unique identifying features and robs the movie of any of its emotional stakes fundamentally undercutting it when the big emotional set piece happens, and I felt absolutely nothing when it did. I won’t spoil it here, but it was met with a shrug because you knew it would be undone seconds later – and it’s undone in the most ham fisted, offensive way possible – dragging Wonder Woman into this mess for a glorified cameo that sets all the goodwill with Wonder Woman’s character back multiple years, it’s that bad – and whilst yes, superhero movie cameos are a given at this point – I really liked Shazam!’s ability to stand on its own and this film fundamentally not doing that makes it a waste of time.

Rachel Zegler knows exactly what movie she’s in and is utterly wasted by being here – what was the point of casting her? She’s leagues ahead of the younger actors, and it’s clear every time she’s in a scene with Jack Dylan Grazer, even in half-assed mode when she looks as though she’d rather be anywhere else. Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu play your run of the mill antagonists but if you were shown the first act of the film and then asked to write the second and third before watching the rest, you’d either come up with something much more interesting or you’ll get it exactly right from the get-go.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods looks like it was made on the back of a production line by people who aren’t even trying (ugly cinematography really doesn’t help matters, the green screen always feels like such a sham in these movies when you consider the amount of effort put into Avatar: The Way of Water), and that’s this movie’s biggest offence. Its lack of anything to say or self belief renders it a hollow, bottom of the barrel disaster that is the most perfect example of a 2/5 movie ever made. What’s worse than a complete bomb is something that just feels there, and by the end, everything left me so apathetic about the whole thing that it just felt like a waste of time.

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