“Shazam: Fury of the Gods” stumbles down the narrow line between “kid-friendly” and “just plain juvenile.” As the “Shazam” movies are engineered for a younger audience, Janie and Johnny’s first comic book movie, that isn’t a blanket condemnation.
It rises to cute, every now and then. The effects are decent and a few of the one-liners land. The tone is light throughout. And there’s a grand product placement gag.
The guest stars include an Oscar winner (Helen Mirren) and an actress who never lets us see “What did my agent get me into?” But we feel it in Lucy Liu’s sometimes uncomfortable turn as an armor-clad warrior required to ride a CGI driftwood dragon through the skies and down the Streets of Philadelphia.
While “Fury of the Gods” shares tropes and story elements with most other comic book movies, there’s a dash of cribbed Harry Potter magic dust sprinkled in too-obvious borrowings, and a narrative barely worthy of that label. Even by comic book movie standards, this is something of a stiff.
Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is still living with his foster “fam,” including five kids he shared super powers with when a wizard (Djimon Hounsou) passed them on to him. They’re teenagers who transform into beefy super heroes played by Zachary Levi, Grace Caroline Currey, Adam Brody, Meagan Good, Ross Butler, and D.J. Cotrona when they say “Shazam!”
But as they fight crime and try to save folks from a crumbling bridge, for instance, not everything goes to plan. “Philly Fiascos” is not the greatest name for a gang of super friends who team up, “All, or none,” on every problem they face.
But at home, they’re just kids. And at school, nebbishy, crutch-using Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) is still bullied.
A new threat has come their way. The magical wooden staff used to bestow their powers on them was broken after using, and has turned up in a Greek museum. That’s where two armed warrior princesses, Daughters of Atlas (Mirren and Liu) find it, steal it and set out to track down the kids who have the powers it conveyed to them.
That cute new girl at school (Rachel Zegler) taking the time to talk to the annoying Freddy? You know she’s too good to be true.
At least the wizard they once conferred with (Hounsou) didn’t turn to dust after all.
“Aren’t you dead-ass dead?”
That’s the caliber of the jokes here — juvenile, a little swearing teenaged.
Shazam’s hero’s journey is to face Hespera (Mirren) and his own feelings of inadequacy and immaturity.
“You play the part of a man, but you do not play it well.”
Everyone is tested, and the answer is always going to be working as a “fam” and understanding that “The most powerful thing in you, is YOU.”
Levi is still committed to the part and gives the character a big kid vibe, and that spreads among the regulars in the cast, even the ones with little to do in this sequel.
“Annabelle: Creation” director David F. Sandberg (look for her as a prop) keeps the fights and monsters visually coherent and easy enough to follow.
But the villains are generally bland, everything between the fights is dull and trips into a “Hogwarts as Imagined by Maurice Escher” kiddie superhero “lair” add almost nothing.
I’m inclined to cut comic book films made expressly for kids a little slack, but if the new head of the DC comic book film universe isn’t endorsing this corner of their empire, despite cross-over cameos in the finale and after-credits teasers, you can see why.
They may have wrung everything out of “Shazam” in just one movie. And this is just that movie’s inferior sequel.
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, and language
Cast: Zachary Levi, Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, Rachel Zegler, Meagan Good, Jack Dylan Grazer, Grace Caroline Currey, Asher Angel, Adam Brody, Diedrich Bader, and Djimon Hounsou
Credits: Directed by David F. Sandberg, scripted by Henry Gayden, Chris Morgan and Bill Parker. A New Line/Warner Brothers release.
Running time: 2:10