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(L-r) ADAM BRODY as Super Hero Freddy, ZACHARY LEVI as Shazam, MEAGAN GOOD as Super Hero Darla and D.J. COTRONA as Super Hero Pedro in New Line Cinema’s action adventure “SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods picks up right where the first 2019 Shazam! left off, with Philadelphia hero Billy Batson struggling to balance his two hectic lives.Warner Bros.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods

Directed by David F. Sandberg

Written by Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan

Starring Zachary Levi, Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu

Classification PG; 130 minutes

Opens in theatres March 17

There are movies that stick with you – cinematic memory worms that grip and linger. Then there are movies such as Shazam! Fury of the Gods, which evaporates into thin air the moment its end credits roll (or, more accurately, when its mid-credits “surprise” scene wraps up). Shazam! Poof! It is all the same exclamatory ephemeral nothingness.

At least this new superhero sequel extinguishes itself with little harm done to the body, mind and soul. Unlike the majority of its DC cinematic universe predecessors, including this past fall’s dreadful Black Adam, Fury of the Gods is mostly aware that it’s disposable fluff, here to entertain children and arrested-development adults with some whiz-bang puffery and little more.

There is an ambitions-check conducted here that, while soul-crushingly depressing when put up against the entirety of modern moviemaking, is also paradoxically refreshing. The experience of watching this new Shazam! is akin to watching an exceptionally wealthy but ultimately sweet and innocent child smash their toys together for 130 minutes. There’s little point in it all, but hey, at least the kid is happy.

Picking up right where the first 2019 Shazam! left off, director David F. Sandberg’s sequel finds Philadelphia hero Billy Batson (Asher Angel) struggling to balance his two hectic lives: the normal everyday one in which he’s a smart-alecky teenager hanging out with his large and diverse foster family, and the other in which he utters the magic word “Shazam!” and is transformed into a full-grown man (played by Zachary Levi) with the powers of flight, superstrength, laser eyes et cetera.

Quickly and efficiently, Sandberg sets up a pair of new antagonists – two Greek gods played by a slumming Helen Mirren and a just-happy-to-be-here Lucy Liu – and Fury of the Gods is off to the CGI races. There are sky-high battles, supernatural doorways, fire-breathing dragons and occasional interruptions of exposition/comic relief from a perpetually exhausted wizard played by Djimon Hounsou.

In-between, the filmmakers cram in loads of references to other DC goings-on, a rather long bit of product placement for Skittles that tastes less like a rainbow and more like easy money, and one semi-earned reference to the vastly superior Fast and Furious franchise (which I’ll let slide given that Fury of the Gods was co-written by F&F mastermind Chris Morgan).

Open this photo in gallery:
(L-r) HELEN MIRREN as Hespera and LUCY LIU as Kalypso in New Line Cinema’s action adventure “SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Helen Mirren as Hespera and Lucy Liu as Kalypso.Warner Bros.

In terms of surprises or witticisms, there are none. But there is a small mercy to be found in the film’s baseline level of comic-book movie competence. Unlike the latest round of visually incomprehensible Marvel movies or, again, the dreadful endurance test that was Black Adam, you can actually tell what is going on in each of Shazam!’s many, many fight scenes. And because this films central hero has, by design, a childlike sense of wonder baked into his character, the movie is heavy on big-hearted optimism and teamwork-makes-the-dreamwork enthusiasm, not exhausting, mournful cynicism.

Ultimately, though, the film’s sunny ways are undercut by the great cosmic joke of modern franchise moviemaking. Just a few months after Fury of the Gods set its release date, DC’s parent studio Warner Bros. announced a complete creative overhaul of its DC movies, tossing out established canon and characters as if they were unsold Christmas toy-shelf overstock. So as much as Shazam might want to continue saving the world beyond Fury of the Gods, he might not be able to defeat his greatest enemy yet: corporate politics.

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