'Shazam: Fury of the Gods' is shockingly good. It's frustrating we may never see these characters again.
Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for "Shazam: Fury of the Gods."
It's an enjoyable sequel exploring the consequences of Billy's actions at the end of "Shazam."
An end-credit scene gives hope the franchise has some sort of future in James Gunn's rebooted DC universe.
I had little to no expectations for "Shazam: Fury of the Gods."
With Shazam noticeably absent from DC's upcoming universe reset, it's been difficult to understand why fans should bother investing their time and money to support a sequel that may not matter after June.
But director David F. Sandberg's follow-up to his 2018 film is good.
I wouldn't go so far as to say great — we're not breaking any new ground in the superhero genre here — but it's an enjoyable two hours and 10 minutes. If you liked the first film, you'll have a good time here.
More surprisingly, a must-see post-credit scene (there are two) gives a glimmer of hope that this may not be the end of Zachary Levi's run as Shazam, giving fans a real reason to go out and root for this movie.
In no way is "Fury of the Gods" a poor sequel, so it's beyond frustrating that opening weekend projections for the film are lower than the first outing, especially when marketing for this film has — let's not mince words — been embarrassingly abysmal.
WB marketed this film poorly
Both official trailers fail to identify an integral hook of the sequel: Billy Batson/Shazam's decision to snap the magic staff, which bestowed him and his foster brothers and sisters (aka the Shazamily) with the powers of the gods at the end of the first film, kicks off the events of "Shazam 2."
In doing so, Billy has unknowingly broken a barrier between the worlds of the gods and humans.
His actions have consequences.
When the broken staff resurfaces in a museum a couple of years after the events of the first movie, Billy and his family — and their hometown of Philadelphia — are about to unknowingly pay the price with a visit in from the daughters of the god Atlas, played by Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu.
Their beef? The Shazamily unfairly took their powers.
The film was never marketed like this.
Until screening the sequel, I was convinced the villains were an extremely random choice with silly minions who resemble Goldar from "Power Rangers." Trailers made it appear Hespera (Mirren) and Kalypso (Liu) were simply out to destroy Billy's family for having powers they didn't earn.
While that's a through line of the film, leading to a thoughtful take on imposter syndrome, the context behind their revenge makes them more empathetic once you understand their backstory.
Instead, movie posters simply read: "Oh my Gods."
The playful emphasis on the appearance of godly characters in the sequel does absolutely nothing to connect with an audience on an emotional level.
But not only did the marketing fail to give a proper idea of what the movie was about, but WB also unnecessarily spoiled its biggest cameo in advance — undercutting the most emotional moment. Even Sandberg, who shared his dismay on Twitter, appeared surprised by the studio's decision to put the cameo in a recent TV ad.
But now knowing the cameo is from the movie's final minutes makes it feel even more like the studio placed potential box-office returns ahead of the fan experience.
The advance reveal undercuts the sequel's emotional climactic scene. For those who have voiced concerns, the teaser isn't the only time you see this character in the movie. But it's also disappointing how the character appears elsewhere.
The sequel resorts to doing the cheap below-the-neck, stunt double trick they used to get Superman in the first film.
Ultimately, the scene gives the impression the studio wouldn't pony up the cash to have this actor involved for more than one scene, resulting in a moment that plays more awkward and embarrassing than funny.
Rachel Zegler is the sequel's best new addition. The sequel leaves younger viewers with a powerful message.
It's a miracle "Fury of the Gods" is as good a film as it is. Like most DC films these days, there are moments it's unclear where the Justice League, Justice Society, and other heroes are when the world's supposedly at risk to crumble.
To that point, Sandberg utilized Levi and the cast at large to smartly address DC fan criticism.
Zegler is the movie's best addition in a spoiler-y role that's more important than expected.
After 2019's appearance in "F9," Mirren continues to live her best life by playing a layered villain. One hilarious scene which had my critic screening bursting at the seams involved Mirren reading a letter aloud. The sequel fails to really explain how Djimon Hounsou's wizard is back after turning to dust in the last movie, but I don't think anyone will question it much since he makes for fun comedic relief.
Instead, the sequel could've spent more time fleshing out Billy's foster family. After two films, I still barely feel like I know all of them. Give them an HBO Max series.
Some of the movie's most dazzling shots channel the visually stunning sequences from 2016's "Doctor Strange" where the audience feels immersed in a kaleidoscope of moving buildings.
Fantastical moments in the form of flying books and self-traveling letters along with mythical creatures feel straight out of other WB properties, "Harry Potter" and "Game of Thrones."
The overall result is a delightful, wholesome family film on par with the underrated original.
Infused with the childlike joy that made the first so enjoyable, "Shazam: Fury of the Gods" explores the complexities of what it means to be a hero and how everyone can be worthy if given the chance. It isn't a superpower that makes us powerful.
If we're to believe the movie's very end, the heroes, or at least one of them, may continue on in James Gunn's new DC vision.
However, "Shazam: Fury of the Gods" needs to succeed for that to possibly become reality, making it bittersweet that this may be the last time we see these characters on-screen again.
Also starring Jack Dylan Grazer, Adam Brody, Ross Butler, Meagan Good, D.J. Cotrona, Cooper Andrews, Grace Caroline Currey, Faithe Herman, Ian Chen, and Jovan Armand, "Shazam: Fury of the Gods" is in theaters Friday.
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