By John Mulderig | OSV News
NEW YORK (OSV News) – Moviegoers craving insightful drama are unlikely to patronize a film called “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” (Warner Bros.). That’s just as well because, while this sequel to the 2019 origin story for the titular DC Comics character serves up action, special effects and some humorous dialogue, it fails to make much of a lasting impression.
In part, that’s due to the fact that returning director David F. Sandberg’s extension of the series, though diverting, comes overburdened with lore about both the morally upright and villainous forces who face off in his adventure. Thus there’s almost as much backstory as present-day plot.
To begin with the protagonist, veterans of the first outing will recall that a wizard (Djimon Hounsou) named Shazam gave 14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) the ability to turn himself into an adult (Zachary Levi), also called Shazam, by saying – you guessed it – “Shazam!” Confused yet?
Once he got over the wow factor of his new persona, endowed as it was with incredible strength and speed, Billy had to learn to use his capabilities responsibly. As this second chapter opens, Billy/Shazam is still unsure of his worthiness. But he now has backup since he eventually shared his magical powers with the ensemble of fellow foster kids with whom he lives.
While Billy is fretting, the most prominent of his adoptive siblings, his best pal Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer who becomes Adam Brody), is finding love in the corridors of his high school. But Freddy’s partner in this budding romance also has a background and is not what she initially appears.
Having given a nod to Cupid, it’s time for Mars to take the field. Every superhero needs a mission and Billy acquires one when the three daughters of the titan Atlas – Anthea (Rachel Zegler), Kalypso (Lucy Liu) and Hespera (Helen Mirren) – get hold of a mystical artifact that will enable them to wreak destruction on a global scale.
There’s much for believing viewers to appreciate even as they try to keep all these details straight. Student Freddy, for example, is physically challenged and the audience is clearly intended to recognize his dignity as well as sympathize with his gamely-faced difficulties.
The latter include some cruel bullying by loutish schoolmates, to which Freddy responds with admirable patience and peaceability. The love relationship on which he embarks, moreover, is sweetly innocent and leads to a demonstration of his chivalrous qualities.
Family bonds are also celebrated in Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan’s script. Yet the term gods gets thrown around in their screenplay in a way that might be confusing for the poorly catechized.
Additionally, a minor subplot reveals, briefly and matter-of-factly, that another of Billy’s brothers, Pedro (Jovan Armand/D.J. Cotrona), is gay. This turns out to be no surprise to anyone, and the subject is left at that.
Given that a large portion of this franchise’s appeal takes the form of teen wish fulfillment, it’s a shame that “Fury” can only be confidently endorsed for grown-ups. At a stretch, however, older adolescents well-grounded in their faith may perhaps be given their share of the popcorn – and the puzzlement.
The film contains much stylized but sometimes harsh violence, brief references to homosexuality and venereal disease, a few mild oaths, a couple of crude terms and occasional crass language. The OSV News classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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John Mulderig is media reviewer for OSV News. Follow him on Twitter @JohnMulderig1.