Monday, March 20, 2023


There’s something charmingly small about Shazam! Fury of the Gods. It’s not a mindlessly bombastic superhero picture taking place entirely in a multiverse or among incomprehensible sliding scales of cosmic cause and effect in which entire galaxies hang in the balance and there’s nary a normie around. Instead it is about a few teenagers and the fate of…Philadelphia. There’s even a scene where the heroes save innocent bystanders from a collapsing bridge and, later, chase monsters away from fearful crowds of fleeing onlookers. When’s the last time you saw that? Small wonders. The movie itself has the kind of dopey adolescent charm you’d expect from a superhero movie, and its makers load it up with the generic moves and slippery genre play—monsters and Gods and heroes, with mild horror and teen comedy elements jostling around, too—that pass the time for its target audience of 12-year-olds. Director David F. Sandberg knows how to frame a sequence and linger on some earnest character moments, juggling a bright kid-friendly tone with harsher fantasy violence. And when the movie’s somehow both sometimes-convoluted and cut-to-the-bone plot bumbles smoothly along, there’s passable entertainment here.

This belated sequel to a 2019 DC comics adaptation continues the story of a teenage boy who is gifted with superpowers. The scrawny foster kid (Asher Angel) just has to shout “Shazam!” to be instantly transformed into a broad caricature of a Superman (Zachary Levi). All these years later, though, and there’s some fun to be had in watching the disjunction between these two performances, especially as Angel is basically an adult now and a subplot concerns his anxieties about aging out of the foster system. You see, he’s found a nice, welcoming family full of foster siblings who, if you recall the previous film, have also been Shazamed and can zap into muscular superpowered hotties at will. That gives the movie a nice backdrop of family togetherness. (I wish there was even more for the kids to do, but the family’s incorporation into the finale is once again a funny, and heartwarming, touch.) It has stock villains—angry Ancient Greek goddesses (Lucy Liu and Helen Mirren)—swanning in looking to reclaim the Shazam powers. Turns out the kindly wizard (Djimon Hounsou, here doing ace comic relief, a fine respite from his usual villainous typecasting of late) stole their father’s powers to give to these kids. Oops. So it’s a super-powered fight for the right to fly faster than a speeding bullet and leap tall buildings in a single bound. It feels cut tightly and constrained by its smallness at times, but that very smallness makes the aw-shucks charms of its teen-centric story play all the more shaggily appealing. It feels exactly like the sort of amiable matinee effort that I would’ve loved as a kid, back when these sort of movies weren’t out every month.

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