Zachary Levi and Helen Mirren and Shazam! Fury of the Gods.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods offers an example of a franchise that should’ve wrapped after one movie.

What was fun and charming in the original becomes tiresome and redundant in the follow-up. This continues the underwhelming trend of recent superhero movies, with the DC and Marvel universes both experiencing extreme fatigue.

The first Shazam! was a bright spot for DC—a fun take on a great premise that was mostly outside of the realm of all that Zack Snyder business, and the silliness that sprouted from it. That first installment was lightning in a bottle: Young stars Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer were in their teens, and Zachary Levi proved to be a decent all-around choice to play Shazam, a boy who transforms into an adult superhero via a bolt of lightning.

This time out, the boys are buzzing their 20s, but still playing teens—and they don’t come off as high-schoolers. It’s not as bad as, say, John Travolta playing 18 in Grease, but they aren’t really kids anymore.

Levi’s shtick, while fun in the first film, is kind of annoying in Fury of the Gods, as if he’s really straining to make the “boy brain in man body” premise come across. You can feel every note of his performance; it seems a little desperate and forced, and maybe even a little sad.

When the action stopped at the end of 2019’s Shazam!, Billy (Angel) and Freddy (Grazer) had defeated Dr. Sivana, broken that power-scepter thing, and gotten superpowers for all of their young family members, essentially establishing them as a team.

The action picks up with two gods (Lucy Liu and Helen Mirren) with evil goals snatching the power rod from a museum. Meanwhile, the newly established superhero team is conducting business out of their foster home. Rather than some of them being young adults with, say, unsatisfying jobs (which could’ve been funny), they are still kids dealing with the rigors of high school and/or trying to get adopted. The vibe is strange.

Freddy gets a love interest in Anthea (Rachel Zegler). Zegler played Maria in the West Side Story remake, and she’s just way too good for the routine high school movie crap she’s asked to do in this movie. Meanwhile, Billy Batson’s action is mostly buried within his Shazam (Levi) alter ego. While his character was a big part of the original, he’s mostly a side story here.

The action that transpires is mostly CGI mayhem that steals from other movies (the collapsing bridges from Superman) and TV shows (Game of Thrones-type dragons). None of it really makes a lick of sense, and the stakes are quite uninteresting, despite the fact that the world could end. The screenwriters and director David F. Sandberg don’t do a very good job of establishing a true sense of danger or consequences. It’s just a bunch of CGI dragons and monsters running around.

This is yet another major sequel in recent weeks (after Creed III) to have a finale set in a Major League Baseball stadium. While Creed III had Dodger Stadium, this time out, it’s the Philadelphia Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park. I half expected Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Creed to step up and punch Lucy Liu and her dragon in the face. There’s also a product placement for Skittles that is a real eye-roller.

A big part of the fun of the Shazam premise is the back and forth between being a normal person and a superhero. That fun is lost here, as the energy goes toward a run-of-the-mill apocalypse scenario rather than witnessing a group of people dealing with newfound superpowers.

The pandemic delayed production on this sequel, and that really messed it up. If they could have rolled this one out two years ago, the idea would have been fresh, and the actors would have still been young enough to pull it off. Instead, Shazam! Fury of the Gods is a lazy, tardy sequel.

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