Shazam! Fury of the Gods. M, 132 minutes. Three stars.
As a kid I was an enormous fan of the Saturday morning live action series Shazam! where a teenaged Billy Batson (Michael Ray) travelled America in a motor home, solving crimes in his adult superhero form (played by Jason Bostwick and John Davey).
I'm not keen to look it up on YouTube, I'm sure it was awful, and especially compared to the great fun 2019 film starring Zachary Levi as the titular smart-mouthed superhero.
In that film, a recently-fostered street kid who lives on his wits and humour finds himself the unwitting recipient of some ancient powers, bestowed on him by a custodian wizard.
The powers come from ancient Greek and Roman gods, and the superhero that young Billy Batson (Asher Angel) becomes is named from the acronym of those gods, the powers having been taken from Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury - spelling Shazam.
When he says that name, he transforms from a teenage boy to a grown man, played by Zachary Levi, and part of the charm and comedy of the film came from this grown man wielding his powers like a hormonal teenager with little sense of self-control, much like Tom Hanks in Big.
The fans ought to give this second Shazam! film a break, especially if they want to see more of these characters.
As we meet Billy again in this sequel, the high schooler might be regretting that he shared his superhero powers at the end of the first film with his five foster-siblings Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer, with Adam Brody as the superhero version of Freddy), Pedro (Jovan Armand/DJ Controna), Eugene (Ian Chen/Ross Butler), Darla (Faithe Herman/Meagan Goode) and Mary (Grace Carolyn Currey).
The occasionally superhero siblings have spent their time since the last film doing their best at employing their new powers for good, but all being untrained and easily distracted children, they are known in their hometown of Philadelphia as little more than trouble-makers.
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The super-family are completely out of their depth when three actual gods (Helen Mirren as Hespera, Lucy Liu as Kalypso and Rachel Zegler as Anthea) come a-calling, demanding back the powers of their ancient brethren.
The fan base of comic book superhero films haven't been too kind in recent years to those coming out of the DC Comics Universe - that's the domain of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman et al, though part of that reason is these films can often miss the wink-at-the-camera mischief that the Marvel Comic adapters get right. The fans ought to give this second Shazam! film a break, especially if they want to see more of these characters.
The lead production team of director David F. Sandberg and writers Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan hold on to many of the things that made the first film so successful, particularly its glib sense of humour.
While the film almost, almost falls into the same trap the second Wonder Woman film fell in - relying too much in its final acts on dumb and confusing CGI carnage - it remains an enjoyable slice of silliness.
The child actors from the first film are back. Many of them are given even less screen time this time, which is unfortunate because this is where much of the film's charm rests. Pedro is given a queer awakening storyline, brief though it is, and in the film's later scenes the younger version of Darla gets the film's one big belly-laugh line. It's much fun seeing Mirren and Liu chewing the scenery as the villains, though not quite the level of camp melodrama Cate Blanchett gave Hela in Thor: Ragnarok.
Don't listen to the online cancelling I expect to have happened by the film's second week. Shazam! Fury of the Gods is a polite amount of nonsense and a few laughs.
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