If Shazam! Fury of The Gods is about anything, it’s about extravaganza: director David F. Sandberg sure loves to decorate the screen with composed digital shots, made possible by the advances in technology since the first film came out in 2019. This marvellous realisation – an acknowledgement from the filmmaker that story comes a low second to parade and presentation – aids some of the more outlandish moments, but the abundance of CGI and directorial interpolations becomes tiring, and serves to insult the presence of Helen Mirren, a stalwart of theatre, who appears as Hespera, a Goddess who serves as both foe and effigy in a plodding, underwhelming superhero drama.
Shazam! Fury of The Gods furthers the adventures of Billy Batson (played with boyish charm by Asher Angel), an average teenager gifted with the ability of transforming himself into a magical uber-mensch (played less confidently by Zachary Levi). He’s used to battling criminals, but this suddenly changes when he meets two women, boasting mythological as well as mystical powers. What follows is a film that shows much yet says little, culminating in four heroic and vibrant climaxes, each of them more threatening and devastating than the one that came before it. Once again, the world is at threat, and unbeknownst to the world at large, it’s up to Batson/Shazam to save it.It’s spectacular stuff, but too much of it, and the story – ho-hum even by comic book standards – does little to engage a viewer of any discernible intelligence.
The DC comic it’s based on is set in a town devoid of theatre or flamboyance (standing as DC’s way of communicating with an audience who are either too young or too uncaring to delve into Nietzsche), and although this film makes a strong effort to embrace younger viewers – something Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Zack Snyder, 2016) was unqualified to do – Sandberg makes the mistake of throwing up too much, too soon and too fervently. Within minutes, the viewer’s eyes are drowning from the excess: we may enjoy the effects, but we’re never moved by them. The numerous fistfights and putdowns serve no narrative or character purposes ; they are, quite literally, the work of a stylist trying to bring dimension to a project devoid of colour or context.
Over and over, the camera pours over the characters submerged in a battle of some indiscernible nature, and by the mid credits scene, when we’re anticipating an episode that box office numbers will likely prohibit, the bravura has turned to boredom. It took guts, or maybe something more like conceit, for Sandberg to move from the horror genre into something more family -friendly, and although my thoughts can only be speculative, it’s likely he enjoyed the chance to tackle something frothier and more lightweight.
Which is a pity, because Shazam! Fury of The Gods – bolstered by teenage fantasy – could benefit from some macabre wackiness. What we get doesn’t tease the senses, but bludgeons them down with force. Indeed, the greatest surprise the film offers is how insanely dumb it all is, but given the juvenile subject matter, it really shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise, should it?
Shazam! Fury of the Gods is in cinemas on Friday, March 17th.