Before I get into what I thought of Shazam! Fury of the Gods, I have to talk a little bit about the state of the DCU. Ever since it was announced in October of last year that James Gunn and Peter Safran were taking the reigns of the DCU in film, TV and animation as the co-chairs and co-CEOs of DC Studios, it has been an uncertain, transitory time for the DCU. Suddenly, there was a question as to how films like Blue Beetle, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, The Flash and Shazam! Fury of the Gods were going to fit in to the soon to be rebooted DCU. Of those four, The Flash has always felt like the most relevant because it was specifically about the DC multiverse and was rumored to be a reset of DC on film, emulating the "Flashpoint" storyline in the comics that reset the DC timeline. The other three films, however, suddenly felt unmoored from whatever the new status quo was going to be. More so than any of them, arguably, was Fury of the Gods.
I do think fans are definitely excited for what Gunn has planned (I know I am!) but at this point that's all in the future. In meantime, you've got a handful of movies whose importance to the larger DCU is unknown. In the case of Fury of the Gods, I think that's compounded with a general lack of interest in this sequel to begin with. Even if a new era of DC on film wasn't impending and whatever Black Adam introduced was still part of the plan, I think Fury of the Gods would have still struggled to find an audience. Not every superhero can necessarily support a sustainable franchise and Shazam is an example of that. There are a few problems that come with attempting an ongoing Shazam series, which Fury of the Gods only serves to highlight.
The number one problem is dealing with the advancing age of Billy Batson. Billy needs to be a kid for Shazam as a concept to work. You could argue that Billy, as played by Asher Angel, was already a little too old to play Billy in 2019's Shazam! but at least he was young enough then where it still worked. But Angel was seventeen in 2019 and playing a fourteen year old. He's now in his twenties and very much not a kid. There's only so much you can fudge his age now. They even acknowledge in the movie that he is about to turn eighteen and that's way too old for Billy. As a result, Angel barely appears in Fury of the Gods. He's grown up so much it's distracting to have him around. We see him as Billy maybe for a total of five minutes in this two hour and ten minute movie. The character is almost wholly absent from the film in favor of just having Zachary Levi as Shazam and it doesn't work. It drains the sequel of the heart that the original had.
One of the pivotal aspects to Shazam is the wish fulfillment element of a child transforming into a mighty hero. Shazam himself isn't particularly interesting as a character. He can't be the whole show. But in Fury of the Gods, that's what they try to do for the obvious real world reason that Angel can no longer portray Billy as he's meant to be anymore. Seeing Angel on screen as a visibly mature young man instantly makes Levi's portrayal of Shazam as a goofball feel false and strained. In the first film, there wasn't a jarring disconnect between how Angel played Billy and how Levi played Shazam. You could go along with the idea that they were the same person. That's no longer the case. Levi is still playing Shazam in the same awkward, geeky, bumbling, gee whiz manner but that doesn't jibe with how Angel comes across as Billy, even in the short amount of time that he appears on screen. Given his age, there would just be no way for Angel to adjust his performance to make it match up to what Levi is doing without it coming across as weird. He's an adult now, not a kid. That's just the reality of it so having him transform into a superhero who still, for some reason, acts like he's a kid in an adult's body just doesn't work. If they had really wanted to do Shazam as a franchise, to at least get a solid trilogy out of it, they would have had the foresight to cast Billy very young to start with. Billy, ideally, should be an honest to God kid, like eight or nine. By casting Angel as Billy in the first movie, though, they guaranteed that there'd be no real legs to this series and the delays to the sequel caused by Covid sure didn't help them to beat the clock in that regard.
So from the start there's a major issue with Fury of the Gods that's difficult to work around. But aside from being forced to sideline Billy, there's also the problem of dealing with the larger Shazam family. Having Billy grant his foster siblings powers made for a rousing climax to the original Shazam! but now having five other superheroes with the exact same power set and trying to give them all interesting roles to serve in this storyline is a real challenge. Jack Dylan Grazer as Billy's physically disabled foster brother Freddy Freeman gets the most screentime, with Freddy being drawn into a romantic subplot with the goddess Anthea, played by Rachel Zegler. There's two problems with this, though. One, bumping up Freddy's role only calls attention to the fact that we barely see Billy. Whereas the first film was very much centered on Billy's story, here it feels like Freddy is the main character. He's the only hero that we spend significant time with in their civilian guise, with Freddy being depowered for a long stretch of the film. Two, Grazer just isn't - to my mind, at least - particularly likable as Freddy. Granted, this may strictly be my own personal reaction but, my God, I find Freddy to be truly the most unsympathetic handicapped character on film since Franklin in the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I do not find him endearing in any way. I find him abrasive and annoying and that isn't really conducive to getting invested the character's love life. Especially when you find it impossible to believe that anyone would want to voluntarily spend time with this person, much less be enchanted by them. But, you know, whatever. As I said, I concede that my extreme aversion to Grazer's performance may be unique to me and that it might hit others much differently. I felt the same way about Grazer in the first film but he was used sparingly enough that it didn't affect my overall enjoyment of the movie. Here, not so much. But whether you like Freddy or not, it's still a problem that he is prioritized here over Billy. It gives us a sequel where we're no longer following the character that we got invested in originally.
Another obstacle for Shazam as a series that Fury of the Gods fails to find a satisfying resolution to is the matter of Shazam's name. In the comics, "Shazam" was the name of the wizard who granted Billy his powers. It wasn't Billy's superhero name. He was Captain Marvel and the other superpowered characters - Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. - comprised the Marvel Family. Due to Marvel trademarking the name "Captain Marvel," though, DC has been unable since 1972 to use the Captain Marvel name to promote or market the character. Despite that, for years DC had still continued to use the Captain Marvel name within the comics while using Shazam as the title of the comic itself on those rare occasions when he had a solo book but in 2012 they officially changed the name of the actual character to Shazam. While I get why they did that, it was a dumb move and the movies only emphasize how dumb it was. Sure, they can't use Captain Marvel and they can't use the "Marvel Family" but for God's sake, just come up with a new name for these characters. Still call the comics and the movies Shazam, if you want, but within the stories themselves, you've got to give them a name that isn't the word they use to turn into the character. It is freaking stupid. There's an ongoing thing in Fury of the Gods where Levi keeps wondering what his superhero name is supposed to be and how he wishes that Djimon Hounsou's wizard had told him what his name was.
Well, that moment finally comes in the last scene of this movie where, as the wizard prepares to set out and travel the world, he comes to say his farewells to the Shazam Family and Levi asks Hounsou what his name is and the wizard smiles and tells him that his name is, wait for it...Shazam. This is treated as a "Duh, of course!" revelation but I wish that they had continued this scene in order to dump on its idiocy. I mean, ok...we're supposed to call Levi's character Shazam. But yet it's also the name of the wizard. And the other five characters with Shazam powers...they're all called Shazam too, right? So we have a wizard called Shazam and six superheroes all called Shazam and, by the way, none of the superheroes can actually say their name to anyone without changing back to their civilian identities. So...can we agree that this is ridiculous? Years ago, when DC realized that they couldn't legally use the Captain Marvel name, they should have created a new code name for the character and for the extended Marvel family. Using "Shazam" is fine for promotional purposes. You can call the comic Shazam, you can call the movies Shazam but you have to give these characters names they can use to refer to themselves that doesn't transform them back and forth whenever they say it. I mean, Captain Marvel isn't such a mindblowing moniker that it's impossible to come up with a suitable replacement. Sticking with Shazam is just so lazy and having that be the big reveal before the end credits brings the movie to a close on a deeply enervating "so what" note.
That feeling is only compounded by the two post credit scenes. The first brings two characters from the HBO Max Peacemaker series into the Shazam world as Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland) and John Economos (Steve Agee) wander out to some, I don't know, abandoned gas station out in the woods where Shazam is practicing shooting lightning bolts at empty soda cans in the hopes that they can interest him in taking a spot in the Justice Society. This scene, even as short as it is, manages to be garbage on a couple of levels. One, what the hell is Shazam doing out in the middle of nowhere? Billy lives in the city, why is out in the freaking woods? Also, why is he practicing zapping cans like he's just learning his powers when he's been doing this for years by now? I mean, just in this movie he literally took down actual Gods so I think we're past the rudimentary target practice stage. But whatever. All that aside, the fact Harcourt and Economos are taking about bringing Shazam into the Justice Society is a problem because you know that's not gonna happen. The Justice Society is dead in the DCU. If it comes back, it isn't going to be with Shazam in it or with any of the characters from Black Adam. So why not just cut this scene altogether?
Then you have the second and final tease with the return of Sivana and Mister Mind with Mister Mind once again appearing in Sivana's cell to talk to him about his big plans for the two of them to work together only to have Sivana blow up in frustration at the endless wait at continuing to be kept waiting. On the one hand, I give Sandberg credit for not only making a joke out of the fact that the end credit scene of the first movie didn't go anywhere but also promising that it will still continue to go nowhere. The self-awareness is admirable. However, jokes aside, it also serves as a sad comment on how little pay off there's been in the DCU. Not the best thing for audiences to be reminded of at this point. How many post credit scenes in the now ten year history of the DCU have gone anywhere? Very few, right? I mean, Deathstroke broke Luthor out of jail at the end of Justice League and that was the last we saw of either of them. And I'll tell you, I would have bet money that there was no way they'd bring Henry Cavill back as Superman for that Black Adam post credit scene only to permanently scrap his incarnation of the Man of Steel just a few weeks later. I would have said, no, that's too nuts. But that's exactly what they did. So in that light, I'm not sure how smart it is to call attention to the fact that a Mister Mind/Sivana team-up was promised at the end of Shazam! and here we are at the end of the second movie four years later and we're hilariously pointing out that the thing we led you to believe we'd do, we never did it and that we probably never will. Gotcha suckers!
If Fury of the Gods were a good enough movie, one that took a different route than audiences expected but was so undeniably great that it was worth taking that unexpected detour, that would be a different story, But that's not the case here. Fury of the Gods is, at best, an inoffensively bland superhero outing with forgettable villains (even Helen Mirren can't breath much life into her character of Hespera) and a string of big battles that fail to engage. As a CGI laden superhero adventure, it's greatest sin is being nothing more than average. It fails to stand out and it also lacks the heart of its predecessor. More critically, it's hindered by the one thing that makes Shazam difficult material for a sustainable live action franchise - it can't stop its main actor from aging out of the requirements of the role and the efforts made to try to work around that (like limiting that actor's screen time to what amounts to a cameo appearance) only pushes this into feeling like generic superhero fare.
It was probably too optimistic to expect lightening to strike twice with a second Shazam! but as a fan of the character and a fan of the first film, I was hoping that returning director David F. Sandberg could pull it off. I do think he did as well as he could but a second Shazam! just came with too many hurdles to overcome. While I'm sure that this will prove to find its own set of fans, I think it's fair to say that overall it doesn't quite work. The first film was one of the most solidly entertaining and charming DCU films but the sequel feels warmed over, like a movie that missed its moment and missed its mark. It's greatest value going forward is likely to be as an archival artifact of the end of the DCU as we knew it. With its big DCU cameo being from Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, whose own future in the DCU is uncertain, Fury of the Gods has the feel of watching a TV show that's been cancelled with no time to plan for a proper finale.