It's All About Shazamily
Shazam! Fury of the Gods
This weekend saw the release of Shazam! Fury of the Gods, sequel to 2019's Shazam! and, well, it didn't perform well. It made about $30 Mil for the weekend, at least $10 under it's projections and $20 under what the previous film managed before the COVID pandemic. That's a bad showing, especially for the sequel to what was considered one of the few true bright spots in the DC Extended UniverseStarted as DC Comics' answer to the MCU, the early films in the franchise stumbled out of the gates, often mired in grim-dark storytelling and the rushed need to get this franchise started. Eventually, though, the films began to even out, becoming better as they went along. Still, this franchise has a long way to go before it's true completion for Marvel's universe.. Commentators are struggling to figure out just what happened to tank this film, coming up with all kinds of reasons.
Some reasons suggested do hold some water, if we're being honest. With the announced death of the DCEU impending, it's hard to get excited for any of the films tying in, especially when we aren't using these to build to a grand finale. Additionally, last year's Black Adam had to have hurt the brand some. That film also underperformed, and it was tied pretty heavily into the mythos of Shazam!. And, of course, it's hard to ignore the fact that DC ComicsOne of the two biggest comic publishing companies in the world (and, depending on what big events are going on, the number one company), DC Comics is the home of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and just about every big superhero introduced in the 1930s and 1940s. has been flailing with their films and, over time, their movies have done worse and worse at the Box Office. Audiences clearly are starting to learn that DC movies are something to avoid, not enjoy.
However, I want to posit one other reason why this film isn't doing well: it's not very good. Look, I liked the 2019 film and I, like everyone else, felt it was one of DC's better movies. It was fresh, it was funny, and it didn't bother tying into the DCEU continuity in any major way. That made it a fun, easily consumed movie on its own, a low-stakes superhero adventure that you could just enjoy. This new film, though, feels like just another DCEU films, like all the usuals DC has made. It's got a threadbare story, weak jokes, and paper-thin characters. If DC was looking to make Shazam! a proper film in their universe, well, they succeeded. And they ruined it in the process.
The film picks up a couple of years after Billy Batson (Asher Angel) / Shazam! (Zachary Levi) shared his powers with his family -- Jack Dylan Grazer and Adam Brody as Frederick "Freddy" Freeman, Grace Caroline Currey as Mary Bromfield, Ross Butler and Ian Chen as Eugene Choi, D. J. Cotrona and Jovan Armand as Pedro Peña, Meagan Good and Faithe Herman as Darla Dudley -- and since then the team has worked to protect their home city, Philadelphia. Well, at least they've tried. While they've saved a lot of people (which we see in the film), there's always a certain amount of chaos that follows in their wake. Thus, Shazam, and his family, have been dubbed the "Philadelphia Fiasco".
The "Fiasco", though, will be required once again when a trio of ancient gods -- Helen Mirren as Hespera, Lucy Liu as Kalypso, Rachel Zegler as Anthea -- come to take back the power of the gods. Using the broken staff of magic (which Billy left in the trash after the big battle at the end of the first film) they plan to steal the power from each of the Shazam kids and then, presumably, go off to have their revenge. It'll take teamwork, luck, and a lot of hope if the Shazamily can stop these gods and their evil plans.
Part of what worked about the first film was that it had a tight, focused storyline. Billy was a foster kid who bounced from home to home, never really fitting in, all because he wanted to get back to his mother (who, it should be noted, abandoned him and didn't want him back). When he got powers he could use them and be free to do as he liked, but over time he realized that his greatest power was his found family, and not only did he come to love and appreciate them, but even shared his power with them. It created a single, unifying story that played well to the character's strengths. None of that unity is here in the sequel.
While the A-plot is about the goddesses wanting their power back (at least initially), there are a lot of other little plots that take up a lot of time in this film. Billy still isn't calling his foster mother, Rosa (Marta Milans), "Mom". Freddy falls for a new girl at school, Anne, and that pulls him away from the team, making Billy wonder where his foster brother's priorities lie. Mary wants to grow up and not just hang out with a bunch of kinds, and she looks to find her own life with her own friends. Pedro struggles trying to find a way to tell his family he's gay. Eugene spends his days searching through the magical doors of the Shazam sanctum. Darla really likes Skittles. Most of these could be interesting storylines that would give the characters richness and detail, but the film fails to spend enough time with any of them to really make them stick.
Essentially, I think the film would have done better focusing on a couple of specific plots to build them out better. Eugene, Pedro, Darla, and even Mary needed to remain side characters added in for spice, not really given storylines because the film didn't have the time to deal with them. It should have focused on the goddesses, Billy, and Freddy, and ditched everything else. That, or it needed to realize what the film had become and actually commit to it properly: a team superhero film, like The Avengers.
As much as the film wants to be a sequel to Shazam! it can't be the same kind of movie. The hero made all of his family members into superheros and, because they are now powered, the film has to commit time to them. Powering them up was great and really added to the climax of the first film, but now the aftermath is what this film struggles with. Likening it to the Avengers, the film needed to pair the heroes of the Shazamily up together in different beats, folding in and around each other as they teamed and worked to figure out the goddesses, what they wanted, and how to defeat them. This movie didn't do that, splitting the focus in odd ways that didn't work. But then, not everyone can write a tight, focused, superhero team-up film that just works. Joss Whedon only pulled it off once (and he had three attempts between Marvel and DC at the well).
And, frankly, the villains of this film leave a lot to be desired. We have three strong actresses playing the heels, and their initial motivation is strong. "Our magic was stolen, we want it back." Unfortunately the film then loses its way with the villain. Their plan keeps changing and their focused strategy starts to unravel. By the last act, their plan has turned into a generic, CGI monster-fest, and it's hard to care. The last act does waste whatever good will the rest of the film had built up.
That's not to say this film is a complete waste, just that it doesn't rise to the same level as the first movie. It's still funny in places, like the first, and it has a winning cast that works their hardest to carry this film best as they can. You can tell that everyone involved wanted to make a light, happy, endearing little superhero film, and they tried. There just isn't enough here in the movie to justify all the work that was put in. The team was willing, but the final cut of the movie let them down.
I do wonder if there's a much longer cut of the film somewhere, or at least a longer script. It feels like there's a lot of story that's missing, and whether it existed only on the printed page or in some rough cut that will never be seen, that longer version would have all the stuff that this film is missing. Or it's wishful thinking and this was the final, shallow film that was always intended. I hope for the former, but considering DC's theatrical output, I think it's more likely the latter, sadly.
I enjoyed Shazam! Fury of the Gods well enough in the moment. Once I left the theater, though, I realized I felt hollow about the film. It was funny, it was amusing, it had its moments, but it lacked enough cohesive connective tissue to really sell the characters, their setting, or their story. It's popcorn, the empty and meaningless kind that makes everyone tired of superhero films. At this point we need better, and this Shazam-quel fails to bring the power.