Shazam is, by far, my favorite part of the DC Extended Universe and that’s not only because I was a fan of Zach Levi’s NBC TV series “Chuck” (2007-2011). I enjoy the goofiness and the self-deprecating humor as well as the message of finding hope with a found family. This second installment, “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” a dragon and unicorns join the mix and Lucy Liu gets to be a dragon lady of the Game of Thrones sort. Couple that will a family affirmative theme and what’s not to like and even love about this film?
The 2019 film begins in 1974 with a young boy, Thaddeus Sivana (Ethan Pugiotto), who, during a snowstorm, is magically transported from the car being driven by his father, to a mystic temple known as the Rock of Eternity which exists in another dimension. There, an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou)–the last surviving member of the Council of Wizards, tests the young boy. His previous choice crossed over to the dark side which in this case means releasing the Seven Deadly Sins. Young Thaddeus is also tempted by the sins and the wizard deems him another poor candidate, sending Thaddeus back to the car. But Thaddeus then causes a car accident, resulting in his father being paralyzed and his brother resentful. The Sins get in contact with Thaddeus and he eventually (now played by Mark Strong) is able to return to the Rock of Eternity and kills his father and brother, taking over his father’s company.
In Philadelphia, a 14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) runs away from his foster homes, trying to reunite with his mother who left him at a carnival a decade ago. He ends up in a new foster home run by Victor (Cooper Andrews) and Rosa Vásquez (Marta Milans), who already have five other foster children: Mary Blomfield (Grace Fulton), Pedro Peña (Jovan Armand), Eugene Choi (Ian Chen), Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman) and Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer). Billy quickly bonds with Freddy, by defending him from school bullies, but Billy is suddenly transported to the Rock of Eternity. The wizard gives him the power to transform to an adult superhero and the wizard disappears, leaving his magic staff behind.
As the superhero Shazam (Zachary Levi), Billy explores his new superpowers with Freddy posting videos to social media which go viral. Sivana figures out Shazam’s identity, and kidnaps Billy’s foster family. Billy decides to share his superpowers and the kids’ Superheroes alteregos (Meagan Good as Darla, Michelle Borth as Mary and Ross Butler as Eugene, DJ Cotrona as Pedro and Adam Brody as Freddy) defeat Sivana and the Sins. Billy, having met his bio mom during this film, realizes the foster parents and foster siblings are his real family. And while their identity is a secret at school, Billy does appear in his superhero form to have lunch with his siblings with a special guest appearance from Superman. In a mid-credits scene, Sivana is now in a prison and has a curious conversation with a caterpillar.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods
So you remember that magic staff from the first film? It belonged to the wizard who chose Billy Batson as the pure-hearted person he would bestow his power on to make him into the superhero we know as Shazam. Shazam left it and it ended up in a museum as part of a display, not far from some ancient ruins. We follow two crista helmeted and armored soldiers who walk up to the display. The museum guide thinks these people are in serious cosplay, but when the helmets come off, the faces of the two women are not here to play. They are Kalypso (Lucy Liu) and Hespera (Helen Mirren), daughters of Atlas. They have come to take possession of the staff. Kalypso begins a viral incantation, with one person reciting into another’s ear and each person slowly is turned to stone.
Back in Philadelphia, Shazam is suffering seeking help for his existential crisis. The physician suggests he is suffering from Imposter syndrome. Who wouldn’t given the number of foster homes he bounced in and out of after he was deserted by his bio parents. He was even rejected by the city and the next rescue doesn’t help. The Philly Fiasco shows the team not quite a clean-mean-working-machine, but they saves all the people caught on a collapsing bridge. This team is made of kids. Only Mary is a legal adult of 18. Billy is on the edge of aging out of the foster system. Freddy won’t be far behind. Being an adult and taking care of business isn’t in their hero headspace yet. Shazam struggles to lead, because he insists on working “All or none.”
These kids are learning how to be superheroes from video games and the Fast and Furious films. And Freddy likes to freelance on some of his evenings. At school, Freddy finds himself dumbstruck by an attractive new student, Ann (Rachel Zegler). She is actually Anthea, a daughter of Atlas and she lures Freddy into revealing himself in his superhero form. When her sisters arrive, they use the staff to take away Freddy’s superpowers and then kidnap him. While in the sisters’ fort, Freddy meets the wizard who started it all.
The sisters have the Power of Elements (Hespera), the Power of Chaos (Kalypso) and the Power of Axis (Anthea). They are not impressed by Shazam, pronouncing, “You play the part of a man, but you do not play it well.” Hespera sees him as “a lost boy.” They mean to avenge their father Atlas, who had his powers stripped by the wizards. Now they need to find the seed to replant a magical tree, but they have a disagreement as to how they mean to do the final steps. Kalypso reminds them that “Humans are villains even to themselves,” but Anthea knows this isn’t true.
I won’t give you plot spoilers about how the sisters decided to finish their revenge, but I will say that the guardian of the Atlas’ garden was a dragon, Kalypso ends up riding that dragon and besides Cyclops and Minotaurs, there will be an appearance of some dangerously ferocious unicorns and you’ll definitely “Feel the rainbow” and “Taste the rainbow.” In the end, Billy learns what we already knew: His superhero name is Shazam!
As a lover of dragons and unicorns and rainbows (and a diverse cast), how could I not love this? Sure the focus is on the two White males, Billy and Freddy, but Asher Angel who plays Billy Batson is a minority (Jewish according to Wikipedia). Grazer, who plays Freddy, came out as bisexual. Brody, who plays Freddy’s superhero form is Jewish. The Shazam family include a Singapore-born Chinese Malaysian hapa (Butler), a Taiwanese American (Chen), Black Latina Native American actress (Good), African American actress (Herman), Italian American actor (Cotrona), and a Salvadorian Mexican American actor (Armand). Andrews, who plays the foster father, is part Samoan (father) and Hungarian Jewish (mother). Marta Milans is Spanish American. Even the furious sisters are diverse featuring a Columbian American (Zegler), Chinese American (Liu) and part Russian refugee (Mirren). Both Liu and Mirren hit the diversity mark for being women over 50.
Swedish director David F. Sandberg balances the serious moments with the funny seamlessly. Because he directed the first film (with screenplay by Henry Gayden based on a story by Gayden and Darren Lemke), this sequel (also written by Gayden, this time with Chris Morgan) has the same basic vibe, although a shade darker, and cohesive thread of character development.
Be sure to stay for the mid-credits and the post credits scene. And, in case you’re confused, there is both a Justice Society and a Justice League.
“Shazam! Fury of the Gods” premiered at the TCL Chinese Theater on 9 March 2023. It will be released in the US on 17 March 2023.