Review – Billy Batson Battles Baddies (“Shazam! Fury of the Gods”)

After the shake-up over at Warner Bros and the questionable future of the DCEU, many were ready for a superhero movie with familiar old faces and likable characters. With the highly successful 2019 Shazam! a sequel was naturally greenlit, but would it be as good as the first?

The man-child superhero is back! Teenager Billy Batson (Asher Angel) need only speak the magic word (Shazam!) and BOOM! He becomes the Superman-like Shazam (Zachary Levi), fighting crime and supervillains. And, if you’re keeping up, in the last movie he used the magical staff o’power to make his five foster siblings all superheros like him as well! Well, it’s been a year or two and Billy/Shazam is going through an identity crisis, thinking he’s unsuitable for the job. Worse yet, he and his super-team have been dubbed the “Philly Fiasco” by the City of Brotherly Love because all their heroic efforts seem to backfire. Yikes!

Meanwhile, out of nowhere, two supervillains/gods have stolen the magic staff o’power! They are the daughters of Atlas, impetuous Kalypso (Lucy Liu), and older, wiser Hespera (Helen Mirren) and they want their magic power back! The third daughter of Atlas, Anthea (Rachael Zegler) however, is in disguise as Ann, a common high schooler that has fallen for motormouth, wise-cracking, semi-handicapped Freddy Freedman (Jack Dylan Grazer) who can also turn into an egotistical superhero (Adam Brody). After Kalypso & Hespera force the Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) to repair the broken staff, they wreak havoc on Team Shazam, as they look for the Seed of Life.

This means they can take the superpowers away from the kids if they get a chance! After Freddy is stripped of his powers, kidnapped, and imprisoned by the sisters, Billy and his friends try to fight them, but they are clearly outmatched. Oh, but things get worse when Hespera encases the city in an impenetrable dome (like the one in that Stephen King novel) and Kalypso plants a seed that grows a ginormous tree that nearly destroys everything. There are giant mythological beasts to fight (harpies, minotaurs, cyclops, etc) while Billy finally takes his superhero duties seriously as his loved ones (and the entire city) are threatened. With more plot to sink your teeth into, screenwriters Henry Gayden (Shazam! Earth to Echo) and Chris Morgan (seven Fast & Furious movies) have come up with your basic superhero vs supervillains powerhouse movie that hits all the marks.

At a little over two hours, it does tend to stretch your attention, as many open-ended story threads are never closed, and plot holes are everywhere. The strength of any superhero movie lies within the villain (or villains, in this case) and you have two great ones. Helen Mirren is cold, calculating, and the obvious voice of reason, while Lucy Liu is all “kill first, ask question later”. Zegler is a semi-villain with a heart that rejects the others. There’s plenty of humor to enjoy and, shockingly, a body count! Although the main theme is Billy and his siblings finding their niche, I found the side stories of Freddy and the Wizard & Freddy & Anthea the most fun to watch. I gotta admit, that obnoxious kid is fast becoming my favorite character in this franchise! What I found that was needed was the adult Shazam growing up emotionally as his Billy counterpart does. Shazam is still acting too much like a child; he’s not, he’s 18 now!  

At its core, it’s purely an SPFX-driven movie with David F. Sandberg returning as director from the first movie. He has an excellent handle on all the action and fight scenes, which is good since there are a lot of them! And he’s not afraid to up the ante and the horror aspect, either! And, although I’m impressed with that wooden dragon, I think Steve the pen is totally awesome. I want him! Take my money! LOL. For all you boomers out there (like me) look for a very quick cameo by Michael Gray who played Billy Batson in the 70’s Saturday morning TV kids show! One thing confuses me. . . if Philadelphia was under such horrific attack, where was the Justice League (kinda) or the Justice Society? Hmmm? Check out the post-credit scene!

**Now showing only in theaters  

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