Shazam! Fury of The Gods: The perils of synthesised lightheartedness
Shazam: Fury of the Gods contents at being a genre-specific lighthearted film but cares little about being engaging, entertaining, or authentic.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods joins the recent, growing list of superhero films that struggle to balance humour with action and high stakes. Contrary to (the now) popular belief, it is not a crime to ingest superhero films with humour, but that being said, it has become stale now. The kind of stale humour found in superhero films these days all seem to follow a similar beat Just after pushing the audience through a serious moment, maybe a confrontation with the antagonist, and with the fate of the city, the world, the universe, and perhaps all of existence in balance, and then… we cut sharply to a quip by the hero. He has to save the world, but he takes a small break to establish his goofiness...oh no the hilarity!
Director: David F Sandberg
Cast: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Helen Mirren, Jack Dylan Grazer, Grace Caroline Currey
There was a time when this formula actually worked but you can only do so many variations before the lines between these films start blurring and you cannot find the distinction between a Shazam or a Guardians of the Galaxy or even between a Marvel and DC film for that matter. While the DC films had a garden variety of issues with their universe building, the MCU, for everything it did right, was still criticised for its formulaic and synthesised lightheartedness. And now, like a plague upon the superhero genre, it has transcended IP and corporate barriers and has afflicted writers and directors from both DC and Marvel. The problem with these superhero films are never the superhero genre itself, but the fact that this genre of storytelling, packed with childlike wonder and awe, is now being milked dry by corporate entities, who probably bring business jargon of their board rooms, like ‘mitigate risk factors’, into the writer's room, and kill any kind of exciting creative exploration.
Much like its successor, Shazam! (2019) too used a similar type of tension-release style for its humour but it worked to a large extent and was bearable solely through the strength of a strong, coherent screenplay. The supposed light-heartedness in Shazam! Fury of the Gods, however, while not being the entirety of its problem, was a glaring symptom of its unfocused writing. The film extracts its light-hearted moments from the fact that the protagonist Billy Batson/Shazam and his friends/siblings become adult versions of themselves when they summon their powers but the transformation is only physical ergo exploring the humour in the concept: silly things a kid would do when suddenly transformed into an adult, with superpowers nonetheless. The problem here is that the adults portraying the children make their younger versions come off as zany and over-the-top, instead of actual children their age. And to top it off, the children are barely children themselves, with most of them in their late teens.
Perhaps one of the most conspicuous problems with Shazam! Fury of the Gods is the eponymous gods and their supposed fury. The daughters of Atlas, played by Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, and Rachel Zegler walk onto the screen with vapid eyes, as though they were given less direction than the extras around them. The actors might not be at fault here since the characters reveal the shallowness of their descriptions with every line uttered. The motives of the antagonists don't act as a counterbalance to the central theme of the film, nor do the schemes of the antagonists seem original, thrilling, or entertaining in the least.
Djimon Hounsou’s Wizard/Shazam who was brilliantly portrayed as a ‘disgruntled Gandalf’ in the first film was relegated to a directionless character who spouts one-liners and comically rolls his eyes when he is not dumping exposition on us. The film feels all the more daunting when you know that director David F Sandberg is definitely capable of much better than this. The film had an interesting take-off point served up by its predecessor, and the character of Shazam definitely has more layers than just a ‘kid with superpowers.’