Shazam! hit theaters in 2019 feeling like a bit of an outlier. This franchise, which is essentially Big through a superhero lens endowed the normally heavy and foreboding DC Cinematic Universe with a quippy heart. It’s been four years since the first film and it feels like we’re a world away from that era. As things get ready to shift in the land of Superman and Batman, will Shazam! Fury of the Gods carve out a heartfelt conclusion? Or will it go out with a whimper of “Martha?”

Shazam! Fury of the Gods follows the titular Shazam (Zachary Levi). He’s struggling a bit with life. You know, trauma. Then there’s that whole still being a teenager thing (Asher Angel). Your teen years are hard! Things are complicated exponentially when a trio of Gods (Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, and Rachel Zegler) arrive on earth. They’re powerful, they’re a little mean and they mean business. Earth is squarely in their sights and they have plans. Will the “Philadelphia Fiasco” be able to win the day? Jack Dylan Grazer, Meagan Good, Grace Caroline Currey, Adam Brody and Djimon Hounsou co-star in the movie. David F. Sandberg directs Shazam! Fury of the Gods from a script by Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan

Jumping straight in, it turns out, Jack Dylan Grazer is a criminal. The talented youngster, who most will remember thanks to his memorable portrayal of Eddie in 2017’s It reboot, steals this film out from under his co-stars. 

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I realized twenty minutes into this movie, I’d been suffering from a Shazam-related “Mandela” effect. For some reason, I’d remembered Grazer as Shazam in teenager form… this is not the case, my friends.

This is a long way of saying, as Freddie, Jack Dylan Grazer steps out in front of the movie and is very much the MVP. He carries much of the narrative emotion and he shines in this starring role.  Interestingly, we see Freddie far more than the other kids who for much of the film are in their adult superhero form.

As such, Shazam! Fury of the Gods runs into a bit of a roadblock. Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is supposed to be the film’s emotional core. There is a lot of narrative energy spent diving into his struggles. Billy is preparing to turn 18 and as such, is aging out of the foster system. His life and family are weeks away from being pulled out from under him. This is a powerful story. 

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However, Angel receives the least screen time of the young cast. As a result, this leaves Billy’s emotional character work to Zachary Levi and it, predictably, doesn’t hit as hard coming out of this quippy superhero in spandex.

This is largely the role Levi fills in Shazam! Fury of the Gods. He is darn good with the quippy, silly moments. It isn’t until late in the second act that he finally receives a bit more to do. It’s refreshing to see the actor given more emotional work to carry, but ultimately, it’s a case of “too little, too late.”

The supporting cast meanwhile is fun to watch. Rachel Zegler is a welcomed addition as Anthea and I certainly found myself smitten by the adorable chemistry she shares with Grazer. Meagan Good and Ross Butler both shine in supporting roles as does Faithe Herman as Darla in non-superhero form.

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Ultimately though, I found myself a bit mired throughout the film contemplating its place in the DC Cinematic Universe as we know it today. Reality hangs over Shazam! Fury of the Gods. Only a few more movies are set to release before James Gunn creatively takes over as the new face of the regime. Are there dramatic stakes here? Or is this merely a placeholder before the reboot? 

Without going into spoilers, between plot material and post-credit sequences (there are two), there is a lot jammed into the film’s final act. There were moments where it’s possible to feel the series leaning into this finale and its resulting emotion. Just as quickly though, it remembers that this is a popcorn movie and everything that entails. Will there really be time for all the attempted setups to pay off? 

Shazam! Fury of the Gods is a movie struggling to acknowledge its fate. There are so many stories and so many characters, but ultimately not enough time to do them any justice. At some level, it’s keenly aware that its narrative days are numbered, but the film is not quite ready to acknowledge the fact. Fans of light superhero fare should find plenty to enjoy here. The script brings more than a few laughs and a sprinkling of heart. Ultimately though, this is a cinematic comic book. It’s light and easy, but in the narrative scheme of things, it’s merely a small piece of a larger universe and this universe is in transition.   

Shazam! Fury of the Gods opens in theaters around the country today. 

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Kimberly Pierce
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