The Shazamily is back, and on a much bigger scale, but at its heart this superhero saga is still about family, and that’s the good thing here.
In the 2019 origin story (which dates back to 1940s comics when the then-current Captain Marvel was introduced), a group of teens in foster care, often bullied at school and going through life alone, band together as a family and as their older superhero alter egos. That movie, from Swedish director David F. Sandberg, was a smash hit for the DC brand at Warners, even winning over critics. So, of course, we can expect a sequel, even if this comic book brand is undergoing major changes. Using the same mix of wit and heart, but amping up the superheroes, so to speak, this second edition bodes well for its future in the uncertain DC Universe, at least in terms of delivering what picky fans expect.
This time around, the personas are well established, with all of the original stars back, except for a new set of villains to deal with. The final group adds a beautiful feminine touch with Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu and Rachel Zegler as Greek Goddesses, the Daughters of Atlas, who are out to get the magic they believe has been stolen from them and given by The Wizard (Djimon Hounsou, also back) to 14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a boy who shared it with his foster family of other children and must now save them – and of course the world – by simply sliding in and out of his alter ego. steps through “Shazam!” Since in the first movie we got the awkwardness of suddenly discovering that you had superpowers, in this movie they can go to work when they need to, while also juggling the demands of a teenager trying to make ends meet in a world full of with bullies and questions about the future.
Sandberg and his screenwriters Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan deftly navigate the two worlds here, with the teens being the most captivating. When they switch to 30-year-olds led by their older superhero selves, this sequel really upped the ante with fire-breathing dragons and other creatures in the service of those diabolical goddesses Hespera (Mirren), Kalypso (Liu) and the younger member of the trio Anthea (Zegler, van West Side Story fame). The action is really quadrupled here, as are the special effects. Of course Zachary Levi, ideally cast, leads the way again as the older Billy, still really a lost teen at heart searching for his place in the world, commanding Super Hero Freddy (Adam Brody), Super Hero Eugene (Ross Butler), Superhero Pedro (DJ Cotrona), Superhero Darka (Meagan Good) and Superhero Mary (Grace Caroline Currey, who also gets to play the younger Mary, the eldest of the teens). Levi, in almost a Paul Rudd-esque way, really knows how to inject comedy without sacrificing the heroic antics the role demands.
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However, it’s the actual teen characters that I think make this work more than an effects-driven, save-the-planet spectacle. Angel is quite effective again, now a few years older, as Billy Batson, the young man who feels he should become a leader but has a hard time figuring it all out – including those newfound powers. Scene stealer Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman is irresistible again, the actor really finds the heart in this boy. Faithe Herman (Darla), Ian Chen (Eugene), Jovan Armand (Pedro) and Currey all have their moments as their younger selves as well.
Mirren seems to be having a good time after going into battle for the first time Fast & Furious, and now lands with dignity intact in a DC comic book movie. Liu plays it all the way through, riding the back of a dragon like she does it every day, and Zegler once again proves to be a glowing screen presence. And since it’s teased in the trailers, look out for a charming cameo from Gal Gadot back as Wonder Woman (for the last time? I hope not) offering some welcome advice in the superhero realm.
Of course, keep reading the credits for some clues as to where this franchise is headed, as DC’s new gods, James Gunn and Peter Safran, let this motley crew live to see another world to save. They probably have a defender in Safran, who produced this movie as well as the first one. Warner Bros. releases it Friday.
Title: Shazam! Anger of the gods
Director: David F. Sandberg
screenwriters: Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan
Form: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, Adam Brody, Helen Mirren, Rachel Zegler, Lucy Liu
distributor: New Line Cinema/Warner Bros.
Duration: 2 hours 10 minutes