At the end of its life, DC keeps going back to poisoned well in ‘Shazam 2’

You know what? This is a nice wood dragon. I can’t give Fury of the Gods credit for designing it, but they absolutely picked the correct 15-year-old “World of Warcraft” design to steal and reskin. Images courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures.

7/10 In 2019, Shazam! was one of the first popular successes for the DCEU, which was already long-dead by this time. It’s fun and flighty, but from a franchise this desperate that holds this tight a grip on its movies, you kind of already sense that a bloated, overboard sequel was on the way.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods never quite earns my excitement, but it does earn my respect. It’s not perfect, but there’s a lot of meat to this movie.

In Shazam!, young Billy Batson (Asher Angel and Zachary Levi) was imbued by a wizard (Djimon Hounsou) with the power of the Greek pantheon, a power he shared with his five siblings. The actual Greek pantheon is, understandably, furious about this. In Shazam! Fury of the Gods, Hespera, Kalypso and Anthea (Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu and Rachel Zegler), daughters of the titan Atlas, return to Earth with the wizard’s repaired staff and start stripping Batson’s family of their powers. As they succeed and broaden their goals, the daughters put a dome around Philadelphia and start trying to destroy the world for spite.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods is overexcited like a second date you weren’t sure you wanted to go on who you quickly realize has never been on a second date before. It’s rushing, assumes familiarity with a movie I barely remember even though I vouched for it and brings new elements in just as quickly.

The storytelling is simplified, but not actually streamlined, which is to say there’s a ton of exposition about which gods used to do who and where they need to when in order to stop whatever, and it can be easy to miss the other forms of storytelling at play. It’s exhausting and boring and speaks to the kinds of fans Warner Bros. is desperate to draw in. Even in this movie that releases months after the studio has announced it’s sunsetting the continuity in which it’s set, it still reflects the studio’s prior desperation to emphasize lore, because lore means more doors open for more movies – if there’s an audience for them, of course. There’s a tried and true method of generating audience demand, and that’s making good movies that don’t spend every other scene dumping half-remembered exposition about Greek mythology.

It’s revealing how sloppy the mythology is, a constant slurry of holy names that have hung around pop-culture. At one point, Hespera shouts out to her uncle Hades, a deity to whom she has no relation. The “Shazam” acronym consists of the names of five Greek gods or heroes and Solomon, the mytho-historical king of Israel who reigned 3,000 kilometers from Athens. Batson becomes “a true god” when he sacrifices himself at the end of the film, because the only thing people really agree on about the god of the U.S.’ vague, shapeless form of absentee Christianity is that he sacrificed himself that one time.

The eternal queer metaphor of superheroism is just a little less subtle in Fury of the Gods, which shows a temporarily de-powered Pedro Peña (D.J. Cotrona and Jovan Armand, in the green to the right there) blurt out “I’m gay” to their adopted parents at the same moment the rest of his siblings finally tell them they’re the Shazams.

As fatiguing as superhero franchises are across the board by now, Shazam! 2 has a lot going for it. The conflicts, loud and cartoonish as they are, are intensely personal and key to this moment in history, and there are some killer performances within the wide cast, particularly from Jack Dylan Grazer and Levi.

Batson’s internal struggle in the film is with imposter syndrome, a key psychological experience for millennial viewers, and it makes perfect sense – he is, very literally a child pretending to be a superhero. He says a magic word and his teenage body becomes a mature adult one, a flying, bulletproof, lightning-blasting one at that. And now, an ancient nymph is telling him this to his face.

This is complicated further for his foster brother Freddy Freeman (Grazer and Adam Brody), who uses a crutch to walk. The ability to transform into a superhero means something very different for him, and he tends toward addictive behavior. 

Hespera is, I mean, she’s really furious. The heroes’ mere existence is a personal insult to her, and her grudge tends toward, I guess you’d call it god-tier fascism – the idea that humans are meant to be the gods’ playthings and their lives mean nothing next to the lives, or the mere amusement, of gods. This maps directly onto the hierarchal nature of the Greek pantheon, the titans’ conflict with the Olympians and the Olympians’ disdain for “heroes,” which in the mythology is a specific term for half-human half-Olympian hybrids such as Hercules, and directly recalls Nazi rhetoric that posited Aryans are “as gods” to other races.

It almost makes me want a film with less noise that’s more directly about the tension of god versus man. About day versus night. About –

Aww, fuck.

It’s been seven years, and Warner Bros. still can’t, still won’t, let go of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Shazam! Fury of the Gods still can’t escape it. The new movie has all the same conflicts and subtexts and many of the same flaws as Zack Snyder’s cringey opus, the same overt questions about how gods should view humans at the core devolving into the same power fantasy of a skyscraper-toppling fight between unfeeling flying monsters with no mere mortals in the vicinity. Fury of the Gods even incorporates a giant force field so we can see that everyone is physically shielded from the graphic 9/11 imagery, the only ones it can damage is viewers. As the credits roll, we are reminded one final time that Wonder Woman’s theme music was written for her Dawn of Justice extended cameo.

Fury of the Gods isn’t just about drawing new lore-thirsty fans in, it’s about recognizing the old ones, this baffling and infuriating insistence on tying newfound success to old failures. Even this afterbirth captures the series’ desperation not only to have not only a future, but a past as well.

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at 

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