The original Shazam!, which came out in 2019, was one of the better efforts on the DC side of the superhero universe, one plagued over the last decade by creative uncertainty and frequent behind-the-scenes chaos. It was an underdog story of a teenage orphan who got to be a superhero while bringing his friends in on the fun as well.
The film's sequel, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, doesn’t capture that magic. Directed again by David F. Sandberg, the new movie is plagued by an unimaginative story, unoriginal villains and action, too many characters, and "comedy" that isn't funny. The jokes, legitimately funny in the first film, have been replaced mostly with silly pop culture references, nearly all of which reference Warner Bros. Discovery-affiliated brands.
It's a very minor movie. Maybe it's the way the characters are in awe of other superheroes, that makes this film look particularly small. If you don't remember the last Shazam! film, the hero is Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a teenager in Philadelphia who lives in a foster home with other teen misfits. After a run-in with a wizard (Djimon Hounsou), Billy gains the ability to turn into an adult (Zachary Levi) who also possesses superpowers.
His foster brother Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), a disabled kid obsessed with Superman, was notable for having a much more compelling arc than the guy at the center of the movie. Freddy also appears to be a Phillies fan, despite having the same name as a Brave-turned-Dodger. Three years later, Batson is 17 and almost as tall as his grown-up superhero counterpart. Philadelphia is attacked by a duo of inter-dimensional gods (an overqualified Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu), who deploy dragons, magical trees, and other things to threaten to take away the heroes' powers. As in the last movie, all of the orphan kids are able to transform into adult superhero alter egos.
The new film, like the first, is set in Philadelphia but wasn’t filmed there, and only two places in the city, the Ben Franklin Bridge and Citizen's Bank Park, look anything like real Philadelphia landmarks. We do, though, occasionally see the Center City skyline below when superheroes are flying through the air. As I said about the first movie, Shazam! is Philadelphia when the characters are in the sky, while it's suddenly Atlanta when they're on the ground. And I can’t imagine any of the actors ever actually set foot on the field of the Phillies’ stadium.
There's some world-building and teasing of other DC projects, including the obligatory mid- and post-credit scenes, although this movie was conceived two DC/Warner regimes ago and those plans are likely null and void now.
The worst thing about this movie is the ending. It's an insulting copout. That it's similar to what I've seen in numerous other movies over the years doesn't mitigate how terrible this conclusion is. It's better than DC's terrible Black Adam film from last year. And considering the numerous executive shifts and sales of the company, maybe it never had a chance at all. But Shazam! Fury of the Gods just isn’t good.