WITH all the recent turmoil going on in the DC movie universe, people had all but forgotten about the sequel to 2019’s Shazam. In fact, the film’s release had been delayed twice for various reasons, which further served to push the film out of the spotlight.
Ironically, that may in fact work in the film’s favour, as Shazam 2: Fury of the Gods is best experienced with little to no expectations, least of all about the film’s place in the larger DC Universe. Director David F. Sandberg understood that what audiences resonated with in the first film was the family dynamic and the relationships between the characters, and the sequel definitely puts that front and centre.
Picking up two years after the events of the previous film, we see two of the daughters of Atlas, Hespera (Helen Mirren) and Kalypso (Lucy Liu) breaking into a museum to steal the pieces of the staff that was broken by Shazam (Zachary Levi) during his climactic fight with the villain Sivana.
We also get to see how enthusiastically the members of the Shazam Family have taken to their new life as superheroes, in a bridge rescue sequence that shows off all their powers. Unfortunately, they’ve also gained a reputation for destroying public property during their efforts, earning them the title of the Philly Fiascos.
Despite their ‘success’ as a superhero team, Shazam – as well as his alter ego Billy Batson (Asher Angel) – has a lot of worries. He’s desperately trying to be a responsible leader, which can be difficult when your teammates are literal children underneath the supersuits, and he’s also terrified of being abandoned by his foster parents once he turns 18.
Amidst all that, he receives a message from the Wizard (Djimon Honsou) who has been kidnapped by the daughters of Atlas, warning him that they are coming to the human realm to steal back the powers of the gods which currently reside in the Shazam Family.
At the same time, Freddy is smitten by a new student named Anne (Rachel Zegler) who asks him to introduce her to his “superhero friend”. She’s then revealed to be another daughter of Atlas, and she and her sisters then kidnap Freddy, leaving the remaining superheroes to come up with a plan to save him.
What the film gets right
The first film got the family aspect right, through the great chemistry between the young actors who play Billy and his siblings Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), Mary, Eugene, Pedro and Darla. The sequel takes things up a notch by showing how those interactions translate to the adult superhero versions of the kids.
Viewers who wanted to see more of the grown-up versions of the superheroes get their wish here. Levi has numerous scenes with his co-stars Adam Brody, DJ Cotrona, Ross Butler, Meaghen Goode and Grace Caroline Currey (who plays both versions of her character Mary), and they really sell the idea that not only are they family, but that they’re also teenagers trying to act like adults.
Most of the credit has to be given to Levi. His natural charisma really shines through here, and the film would be nowhere near as entertaining without his believable portrayal of a character who has to come to terms with becoming an adult (both literally and figuratively).
Another thing that works in the film are the villains. Mirren and Liu are fantastic to watch as the two main antagonists, delivering a perfect balance of gravitas and humour, especially during one memorable scene involving Mirren reading a letter that had everyone howling during the press screening.
Overall, the sequel feels a lot bigger than the original, but without any bloat from side stories, or the pressure of making it fit into a larger universe. There are a lot more jokes being thrown around, but they do not take anything away from the few deeply emotional moments of the film. The stakes are also much higher this time, with the literal fate of the world resting on the shoulders of our heroes.
Where to go from here
Because the film was made in right in the middle of the DC movie universe chaos, it’s anyone’s guess where the franchise will head next. Director Sandberg actually did a pretty decent job skirting around the issue in the first film, but here, two possible choices are presented in a mid- and end-credit sequence.
The first involves a very strong hint that Shazam might be joining another superhero team – although probably not the one you’re thinking of – and the second is a throwback to the ending of the first film, showing that the filmmakers are hedging their bets for the future of this franchise.
Whichever way the wind blows, considering the huge improvement from the first film, Shazam might just be the dark horse that gets audiences back to loving the DC movie universe.