Review for Shazam! Fury of the Gods
I’ve been procrastinating with my own purchases again, a comic book movie that looked so enticing on the supermarket shelf, but which induced reluctance once I had gotten it home. I waited so long that I could have got it on sale now and saved a few pennies. It’s the same reason for both Quantumania and this Shazam! sequel. It seems the latest raft of superhero films isn’t quite cutting it with the fanbase. And I don’t want to be disappointed by something I have spent money on. It would be doubly disappointing given that of the Snyderverse take on the DC comics, it was the Shazam! movie that really exceeded expectations. Aimed at a younger audience, and with a meta/parody feel to it, the first Shazam! really found something new in its genre niche, and I had hoped that the sequel would live up to it.
To Billy Batson it seemed like a good idea at the time, using the Staff of the Gods to give all his friends the power of Shazam!, uniting to defeat the evil plans of Dr. Sivana, and breaking the staff so he couldn’t gain its power. But the unintended consequences are about to be unleashed. Breaking the Staff also broke the seal between realms, and now the three goddesses, Hespera, Kalypso and Anthea, the Daughters of Atlas can return to this world. In ancient times the Council of Wizards defeated the Gods and took away their powers, the very powers that Billy and his friends now use to become superheroes. Hespera and her sisters want revenge on humanity for the destruction of their realm, and they want their powers back. Billy and his friends still haven’t ironed out the kinks in their superhero team, dubbed the Philadelphia Fiascos by the people they try to protect.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods gets a 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, with the choice between Dolby Atmos, and DD 5.1 Surround English, DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround Italian, and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Spanish, with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo English Audio Descriptive track. You get subtitles in these languages and Danish, Finnish, Swedish, and Norwegian. There aren’t any nits to pick with the transfer on the disc, a near pixel perfect presentation to my eyes, clear and sharp with excellent detail and rich and consistent colour. In this digital age, print damage is a thing of the past. The audio too is excellent, the action and music coming across well in a nice and immersive experience, while the dialogue is clear throughout.
But there is a rant to be had here. Right now, Hollywood is on shut-down, with the writers and the actors on strike. I wish that the visual effects artists could go on strike as well, but as most of them work for effects houses to which work is outsourced, industrial action is not really an option. It should be, as visual effects work as it is now, is a race to the bottom. There are plenty of opinions to be had regarding this (I suggest a few Corridor Crew videos on Youtube), but essentially there are too many movies, and TV shows demanding more and more effects shots, and with most of the blockbuster movies being effects heavy, there isn’t enough time, there aren’t enough effects artists to get the work done properly. As has been mentioned by those in the know, with visual effects, you can have two out of three options, speed, price, and quality. If you want good and cheap, it will take time. If you want good and fast, it will cost more money, and if you ask for cheap and fast, it won’t be good. Too many productions these days opt for cheap and fast.
That’s where we are with the special effects when we come to films like Quantumania and this, Shazam! Fury of the Gods. Now knowing just how good special effects can be, when comic book movies fall short of that standard, it really does show. There is a process to making visual effects shots, which these days is mostly CGI. You get the storyboard and the animatics, and then you get the footage and work on the actual effects shot, various passes refining, adding detail and integrating the effect into the scene. The final pass is all about getting the interaction of the effect with the environment right, shadows, light scatter, all to make it look as real as possible. With Fury of the Gods, it seems as if they often left out this final pass, and there remains a sheen of artificiality to the effects shots, as if they’ve just been pasted onto the image. Of course some of the effects are just weak (a certain DC character cameo towards the end is so obviously shot separately and just pasted together with the rest of the film that it’s laughable).
You get one disc in a thin BD Amaray style case, wrapped in an o-card slipcover. The disc boots to a static menu, and you’ll find the following extras.
Commentary with director David F. Sandberg
Shazam! Let’s Make a Sequel (24:49)
The Rock of Eternity: Decked Out (5:42)
Shazam! The Zac Effect (4:20)
Sisterhood of Villains (7:54)
Shazam! Scene Deconstruction (10:06)
Mythology of Shazam! Fury of the Gods (4:59)
Shazamily Reunion (5:01)
Deleted Scenes (31:06)
Shazam! Fury of the Gods isn’t as bad as some critics have opined, but then again, it isn’t a patch on the original film either, losing much of the charm and energy that made the first film so invigorating a departure from the comic book norm. Admittedly, the meta aspect of the first film; superhero fans becoming superheroes was a bolt that the franchise could only shoot once. But the sense of nostalgia, the reminder of comic book movies from my childhood is missing from the sequel as well.
The body-swap aspect of Shazam was certainly interesting, and entertaining in the first film, given the ages of the protagonists, and how they wound up behaving in their adult bodies. But years have passed between the two films, the characters are teenagers now, but Zachary Levi still infuses his Shazam with the infectious optimism of childhood, where really he should have been going for moody hormonal eighteen year old.
As the film begins, team Shazam isn’t quite gelling as it should, with much of it relating to Billy Batson’s personal issues. He’s almost eighteen, the age that he’s expected to leave the foster system, and he’s dealing with that by holding onto his relationships with his foster siblings as hard as he can. As leader of the group, he’s micromanaging, whereas the others want the freedom to explore and do their own things. Freddy in particular feels ready to fly alone, and has developed an interest in girls, or rather one girl in particular, new transfer student Ann. The film concentrates on these two, Freddy and Billy in particular, but it does make the other four foster siblings feel like an afterthought, particularly Mary, who gave up on college to stay with the family. There are a lot of missed opportunities for character development in this film.
Into this domestic strife come the Daughters of Atlas, three goddesses whose power was taken by the Council of Wizards, and who were banished from Earth to their own, barren realm, a world destroyed by the Wizards. Quite understandably they want vengeance, and also their powers back, powers currently possessed by Billy Batson and his foster siblings. But these three sisters aren’t of a single mind, and have their own issues to resolve, as they proceed to bring hell on Earth, starting with Philadelphia, unleashing an army of Ray Harryhausen references.
There are some good ideas in Shazam! Fury of the Gods, but the film doesn’t make as much of them as it could. It really does stumble and falter for the first hour or so, unable to find its feet, but the second half is where it begins to find its way, and it builds up to an effective and engaging climax, even if it doesn’t do enough with its characters. Other than Billy and Freddy, the rest of the foster kids are an afterthought, which is a shame given how well they were developed in the first film. Also the film’s coda is a very much a predictable cheat.
On the plus side, I did enjoy Shazam! Fury of the Gods more than Quantumania, but really, it’s a fine distinction. I may have gone on a bit of a rant about the state of the visual effects industry, but this film has more fundamental problems. The Blu-ray is up to the expected standard at this point, but Fury of the Gods does squander the goodwill built up by the first Shazam movie.