By: Amanda Guarragi
For ten years now, DC has tried its best to build a foundation for its comic book universe for Warner Brothers. And for a little while, it was working. They were going against the grain, they had unique directors who cared about the source material, and they cast some bold actors to fill the giant shoes. However, when the climate started to shift with Marvel films gaining popularity and the majority of the box office, Warner Brothers felt the need to compete and change the unique formula that set them apart from what so many people had been accustomed to. Different isn’t always good, but in the superhero genre, it is always welcomed. The first Shazam! film may have suffered at the box office, but it won the hearts of many comic book fans because it was a coming-of-age film. Many comic book films work when they mix genres and focus on something other than the typical conventions.
Shazam! was a wholesome, heart-warming film because it focused on Billy Batson (Asher Angel) and how he grew up without a mother in the foster system. The importance of friendship and choosing your family weighed in the first film, ultimately creating an emotional connection between Billy and his chosen family. Luckily, the villain, Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong), and the seven deadly sins made for a simple yet compelling story in the first film. The focus was more on Asher Angel, not Zachary Levi as his hero counterpart. Director David F. Sandberg delivered on ancient lore, magic, and wonderment through a child’s perspective, setting the first film apart from other DC films. He made it unique to the genre and to the universe that Warner Brothers was slowly creating on their terms without any interference.
Then comes Shazam: Fury of the Gods after a regime change midway through promotion and after the standalone villain film Black Adam. There were plenty of factors working against this sequel. In this film, Billy thinks everyone will eventually leave him, so he holds onto his family too tightly. Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) is off fighting crime at night to make a name for himself, while Mary (Grace Caroline Currey) is trying to study and make friends in college classes. Eugene (Ross Butler), Darla (Meagan Goode) and Pedro (D.J. Cotrona) have no form of character development in this film, which is interesting regarding representation. To bring in the gods of this film, the staff that was used by the wizard (that Billy broke in half in the first film) had been acquired by the Daughters of Atlas; Hespera (Helen Mirren) and Kalypso (Lucy Liu). They plan to get all their powers back from the champion.
Sadly, Shazam: Fury of the Gods felt empty because the focus was on Levi and not Angel. The jokes that made the first film so charming didn’t land in this film either. There were such strong themes about family and past trauma that could have been explored a bit more, but sadly they barely scratch the surface and service the lore of the Daughters of Atlas more so than the collective family unit. The first act felt rushed, and once they got to the middle of the film, it felt like there was nothing left to fight for. The second hour was filled with CGI creatures (that looked good), but there was so much excess. The Shazamily barely used their powers to fight together, and the action scenes weren’t that fun to watch because nothing felt believable. The first film felt grounded because of the family aspect, and that’s why it worked. You can still be gods and fight gods and make it believable.