Director David F. Sandberg
Screenplay Henry Gayden, Chris Morgan
Starring Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Rachel Zegler, Adam Brody, Ross Butler, Meagan Good, Lucy Liu, Djimon Hounsou, Helen Mirren, Faithe Herman

A sequel to the delightful surprise of Shazam! was inevitable. The question remained whether the team could walk the fine line of character and discovery that the first film displayed. The film was in the can by the time James Gunn arrived to D.C. and wiped the unmade remnants of the Snyderverse from the slate. As such, Sandberg, Gayden and Morgan were allotted the opportunity to give hope that the cast might stand a chance in this new rendition of that comic universe. What arrives in theaters this weekend seems as sad as the plotline is inevitable. The joy brought with Zachary Levi’s performance as the leader of the Shazam team is outweighed by the bloat of too many characters, special effects and damage to the city of Philedelphia.

The story this time begins two years hence the events of the original. The staff of the Wizard (Hounsou), broken by Shazam! at the end of that film, is found in a museum in Athens, Greece by two daughters of Atlas, and promptly stolen and with which wreaked havoc. The daughters, Hespera and Kalypso (Mirren and Liu) have designs on reclaiming their previous realm by bringing back the Tree of Life. Or something like that.

Meanwhile, Billy Batson (Angel) is having a hard time coordinating his “Shazamly” into a fighting unit due to competing interests in their real lives, as well as Freddy’s (Grazer) over-exhuberance at being a hero on his own terms, in order to impress the new girl at school, Ann (Zegler). It’s not hard to imagine, Ann is not at their school by accident. Soon enough we discover exactly why, and Freddy is taken with his powers removed.

The rest of the film devolves quickly. The monsters appear, destroy a bunch of stuff in the midst of exposition by Mirren and Liu. All of it rings hollow, mainly because Mirren is in almost every movie these days, and Liu just lacks any amount of gravitas. That we’ve seen most of the ideas in the story in better films (namely Superman II) does not help.

The family feels more like caricatures than fully fleshed characters at this point, though give points to Good and Herman for their ability to keep Dara so sweet and fresh. The challenge of making the family fit into an intersectional mold is so acute as to be painful. The moment we find out that the overweight and shy Hispanic Pedro is gay feels so exhausted of true emotion it’s handled with a unified “We know,” by the rest of the cast. Several boxes ticked at once, they move on to the next overwrought effects scene.

The biggest problem with Shazam! Fury of the Gods is so many scenes that should be terrifying are overwhelming, only to be followed by a glib headline right afterword, either on the paper or the TV news. The lack of any sort of real world implications is a destroyer of the comic book universe we’re expected to connect to our own.

Beyond that, the film throws people around to their obvious horrible deaths in one scene, only to have something of a family friendly vibe in the next. This is exasperated by a non-sensical plot that lacks the cleverness of the original. Movies like this are why it makes sense to start it all over, even if we’re going to miss the good things, like the afore-mentioned Levi.

If they don’t bring him into the new Gunn universe (one of the mid-credit scenes give hope that they may), his character will definitely be missed. Of everything in these two films, Levi perfectly underscores the feeling one might have if they’d been just a normal kid gifted with the power of a god. If there’s nothing else – and here there really isn’t – the film is worth viewing just for Levi alone.

(*1/2 out of *****)

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