The Shazamily is back, and on a much larger scale, but at its heart this superhero saga is still about family, and that’s the good thing here.
In 2019’s origin story (which goes way back to 1940 comics when the then-named Captain Marvel was introduced), a group of teens in a foster home, often bullied in school and going through life alone, bonded as a family and as their older superhero alter egos. That movie, from Swedish director David F. Sandberg, was a nice hit for the DC brand at Warners and even won over critics. So naturally we could expect a sequel, even as this comic book brand is undergoing major changes. Employing the same mix of humor and heart, but really amping up the super-heroics as it were, this second edition bodes well for its future in the uncertain DC Universe, at least in terms of delivering on what finicky fans expect.
This time around the personas are well established, with all the original stars back save for a new set of villains with which to deal. The latter group add a nice female touch with Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, and Rachel Zegler as Greek goddesses, the Daughters of Atlas, who are out to get the magic they feel was stolen from them and given by The Wizard (Djimon Hounsou, also back) to 14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a kid who shared it with his foster family of other kids and now must save them — and of course, the world — by transitioning in and out of his alter ego simply by yelling “Shazam!” Since in the first film we got the awkwardness of suddenly finding yourself with superpowers out of the way, in this one they can get down to business when needed, while also juggling the demands of being a teen trying to get by in a world full of bullies and questions about the future.
Sandberg and his screenwriters Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan deftly navigate the two worlds here, with that of the teenagers the most engaging. When they switch to being 30-yearolds led by their older superhero selves, this sequel has really upped the ante with fire-breathing dragons and other creatures employed by those devilish goddesses Hespera (Mirren), Kalypso (Liu) and younger member of the trio Anthea (Zegler, of West Side Story fame). The action is really quadrupled here, as are the special effects. Of course Zachary Levi, ideally cast, leads the way again as the older Billy, still really a lost teen at heart looking for his place in the world, and commanding Super Hero Freddy (Adam Brody), Super Hero Eugene (Ross Butler), Super Hero Pedro (D.J. Cotrona), Super Hero Darka (Meagan Good) and Super Hero Mary (Grace Caroline Currey, who also gets to play the younger Mary, oldest of the teens). Levi, almost in Paul Rudd-like fashion, really knows how to inject comedy without sacrificing the heroic antics the role requires.
However, it is the actual teen characters I felt made this work as just more than an effects-driven, save-the-planet spectacle. Angel is again quite effective, a few years older now, as Billy Batson, the young man who feels he must become a leader but has a hard time figuring it all out — including those new-found powers. Scene stealer Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman is irresistible again, the actor really finding the heart in this kid. Faithe Herman (Darla), Ian Chen (Eugene), Jovan Armand (Pedro) and Currey all have their moments too as their younger selves.
Mirren seems to be having a blast after first taking on the Fast & Furious, and now landing with dignity intact in a DC comic book movie. Liu plays it straight throughout, riding on the back of a dragon like she does it every day, and Zegler proves again to be an incandescent screen presence. And since it is teased in the trailers, look out for a charming cameo from Gal Gadot back as Wonder Woman (for the last time? I hope not) offering up some welcome advice in the superhero realm.
Stay through the credits of course for some clues as to where this franchise may be headed, if the new gods of DC, James Gunn and Peter Safran, let this motley crew live to see another world to save. They probably have a defender in Safran, who produced this film as well as the first one. Warner Bros. releases it on Friday.
Title: Shazam! Fury Of The Gods
Director: David F. Sandberg
Screenwriters: Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan
Cast: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, Adam Brody, Helen Mirren, Rachel Zegler, Lucy Liu
Distributor: New Line Cinema/Warner Bros.
Running time: 2 hr 10 min