What They Say:
Bestowed with the powers of the gods, Billy Batson and his fellow foster kids are still learning how to juggle teenage life with their adult superhero alter egos. When a vengeful trio of ancient gods arrives on Earth in search of the magic stolen from them long ago, Shazam and his allies get thrust into a battle for their superpowers, their lives, and the fate of the world.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I had really enjoyed 2019’s Shazam! film and was pretty happy when a sequel was announced at the time. Of course, the pandemic hit, a lot of other things went down with DC-based films, streaming, theatrical, and the weight of Justice League and so much more. It took a while for this to finally come together but the film landed in March 2023 at long last after being moved around a bit and it pretty much fell with a loud thud. On the numbers, it did $133.8 million worldwide at the box office on a $125 million budget. And that budget is certainly on the screen and I think that’s part of the problem – not just with this but with a lot of big pictures. There are simply so many special effects and such used to create these worlds, which is needed to a degree, that it loses the time to focus where it needs to on the character. While watching the film and enjoying it, there were so many areas where I wish it was either just cut or shortened more and we had more time with the characters themselves. As it stands, this unfortunately feels like something that’s stringing together a lot of set pieces and little more, which is in stark contrast to the first film.
Naturally, the first film has the advantage of the discovery of powers, introduction of this corner of the world, and the surprise of the very off sense of humor and violence with something so bright and colorful. It wasn’t Deadpool surprising but it leaned more into Peacemaker at times than the other DC films and that worked to its advantage. It also helped that the cast was young and fresh but with the delays and gaps, a good chunk of the cast quickly aged out of some of what’s important when it comes to the leading character of Billy Batson and his family. That’s almost a given with a live-action film for this property which has me wondering if a proper 3DCG style film ala The Incredibles would work far better for it. The cast is great, don’t get me wrong, but as we get the character of Billy close to aging out of his foster home because he’s close to turning eighteen, that’s removing a decent chunk of what makes Shazam work so well because of the child-like innocence of what’s originally a much younger character.
The premise takes us four years past when Billy and the rest of his family dealt with Sivana but they haven’t figured out how to really be a team. And Billy doesn’t even seem to really have a superhero name. After four years. Freddy at least has a terrible name and he’s severely overcompensating by trying to be the golden boy hero that’s outgoing and flirtatious. The problem is that while the family has operated over the last few years, they have a terrible reputation and have only made things worse when they get involved. Some of what they’re called is certainly cruel but as we see them dealing with a rescue on a bridge that’s slowly collapsing, it’s clear they’ve earned every bad nickname they’re called. They simply don’t operate as a group or a team and barely as a family in a sense, at last when they’re in superhero mode. And it shows even more at the Rock of Eternity where it’s like a clubhouse for all of them and they all pursue their own goals or just goof off. Yes, it shows the teenager aspect of it, but it also shows the schism that exists as Billy is practically pleading for everyone to listen to him. And if it’s Billy that’s pleading, you’re in a bad place.
With that as the backdrop, the film also introduces us to our villains with the daughters of Atlas who have been awakened because of what Billy did in his fight with Sivana with the staff. That weakened the wall between the world of man and gods and it took time but they’ve now made their way here. And the intent is to gain the staff and recreate the world of the gods – though if some terrible humans get hurt along the way they don’t care because humanity was what led to their downfall oh so long ago. The daughters are decent enough as get exposed to them here. Let’s be honest, Hellen Mirren can just about pull off any role and she’s good here as Hespera, leading her sisters and being in command but also leaning on a lot of anger. Lucy Liu is the one with the real chip on her shoulder as she hates humanity but also struggles with being the middle sister, making her the one for the real dark turn later, while Rachel Zegler as Anthea gets to live both sides thanks to a greater exposure to humanity and not being quite so angry. I mean, they all have reason to based on what we learn of their past here, which is minimal, so a little vengeance makes sense.
It’s just that Liu as Kalypso is so full of anger over it and the way her sisters aren’t that she wants to turn the world into a dark and dead place just like humanity made their world. And she gest the tools and the dragon to do it along the way – mostly thanks to screwups by the Shazam family as they can’t get it together to operate as a team. That’s why drives a lot of it in the early set pieces as the first fights get underway as we see them not sure how seriously they should take the sisters and how played they are since Anthea attends school in order to win over Freddy to get access to what they need. In the moment and as the film plays out, it does all work and I honestly have no complaint with it. But the problem I kept coming back to was that it was just action sequence after action sequence after action sequence with a mix of frustration in-between with Billy trying to rally everyone together but being unable to for a host of reasons. What makes it double frustrating is that it’s been four years and they’re all still like this. Even Mary isn’t all that focused, instead just trying to handle her academic side in order to help out their foster parents so they can keep everyone together.
The original film had the advantage of introductions and spending the time to work through character material but the sequel doesn’t pick up any of those threads for the most part – Billy’s sense of impending loss and abandonment being the only thing really – and there’s nothing new to replace it. Yes, Pedro is dealing with realizing he’s gay and it’s just poorly done in how they approach it, but that’s like the only thing that stands out as a character moment. The rest spend more time in superhero mode and fighting or being silly – such as Eugene and the doors in the Rock of Eternity or the admittedly amusing bits with Darla and the unicorns while in her superhero mode – but that can’t sustain things. The problem is that the character growth and drama doesn’t come from when they’re the Shazam Family, it comes from when they’re their regular selves, hanging out at home with the foster parents or just trying to figure out what’s next in life.
There aren’t many references to other parts of the DCEU in this one whereas the first had it within the media of the kids, such as shirts of logos and other stuff that felt real and lived-in. We do get a nod toward the past with one of the post-credits sequences and there’s some fun with The Wizard in what his next stage in life will be. The big part is the Wonder Woman cameo that we get, the first of which is a bad dream sequence that felt appropriately childish. The appearance later that brings ni Gal Gadot was fine but at the same time, she just felt a bit stiff and forced in what she was doing compared to her work in the other films. It fit the story well enough, and I liked Billy’s reaction to her because if you’re going to shoot your shot, that’s when you do it, and I’m glad for the connective element. But something about it just felt off enough that I couldn’t quite get with its vibe complete with how Gadot was directed.
While I do have issues with the film it’s also one where I’m left wondering why there was such vitriol toward it. Enough of the online discourse pushed me from seeing it for a while and some admitted exhaustion with what the fandom around these films have been like. But it is a perfectly serviceable sequel and continuation of what we had before with the thing most sophomore films of this nature do – they overcompensate on the action and special effects instead of digging into character more. This one suffers a bit more in that the gap between the two films mean the kids are older and that takes you of it more, especially in an age where there are still so few young superhero characters. In the end, I may not like it as much as the first film and all of its early teenage awkwardness, but it has a lot of fun moments and still has that strange tonal problem that I think works in its favor of silly material that bounds hard into significant violence. That said, it’s still a film I broke up into two nights because it is just nearly constant set pieces of action and that can get exhausting.
Streamed By: Max