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  • yashonandankakrani

‘Shazam! Fury of the Gods’ is much more than a superhero film

I have been a DC fan for as long as I can remember. Fascinated by superhero tales, my friends and I geeked out over the stories as they transitioned to the big screen. With the expansion of the Marvel and DC cinematic universes, I have become addicted to analyzing productions, drawing out parallels between the movies and the comics and arguing over the possible futures of the characters.

The newest addition to the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), “Shazam!” was released on March 17. The film dives, for a second time, into the adventures of the Shazam family superheroes. The first part of the franchise showcases their origin story, but once the foster family discovers powers that turn them into superheroes, they go on a mission to protect Philadelphia from the champion of the dark wizards. However, the new installation places them against gods who look to avenge their fallen realm while they attempt to redeem themselves as the saviors of the city.

“Shazam!” is an idiosyncratic movie in a growing superhero industry. The latest Marvel and DC productions have focused on building their universes with subtle easter eggs that force viewers to hypothesize about the future of the franchises. The movies largely feature battles between protagonists and antagonists. However, “Shazam!” takes a step back from the conventional superhero storylines and comes out as a feel-good and comical movie. At the same time, the film’s comedic tone is contrasted with significant vulnerabilities and emotional moments.

Shazam, the titular protagonist, sets the tone with a strong character arc. Emerging as an immature and introverted teenager, Shazam faces the challenge of fitting into a family. His alter ego, Billy Batson, struggles with family issues and childhood trauma, but he still has a vibrant screen presence. Between his father dying, his mother deserting him and moving between multiple foster homes, Batson is afraid of being abandoned again. This fear forces him to subconsciously hold on to his siblings even when there was no real separation. The depth of Billy’s anxieties would not be as evident and relatable without great acting from Zachary Levi.

Zachary Levi’s performance as Shazam stands out from the cast, portraying an emotionally complex character with charisma and childlike innocence. The acting seemed childish and light, but this tone is consistent with the first movie because, after all, the story does revolve around a bunch of teenagers.

“Shazam!” does not feature many emotional moments, but the script's usage of comedy to contrast Billy’s trauma and insecurities keeps the movie engaging. The franchise has pursued a comical approach, following that of the comics. Similarly, recent superhero movies like “Thor: Love and Thunder” (2022) and “The Suicide Squad” (2021) have tried to create the same blend as “Shazam!” but are overdone with gaudy jokes between intense fight sequences. The timing of quips and funny comic references makes the film smooth because of their natural presence in the movie. While the film succeeds comedically, it falls short in other areas, namely, its villains.

The DC Universe is highly appreciated for its antagonists. Over the years, we have seen iconic characters such as General Zod (Michael Shannon) from “Man of Steel” (2013) and Darkseid (Ray Porter) from “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” (2021) come to life. However, “Shazam” lacks a satisfying villain arc. The villains, the Daughters of Atlas (Lucy Liu, Helen Mirren and Rachel Zegler), are significant characters from the comics, but their motivation to destroy Earth felt unnatural. The end goals of the villains change drastically throughout the movie and the transitions were not smooth because too many events occurred together midway through the movie. The missing chemistry of the trio resulted in a standoff leading to chaos and confusion. In an attempt to exacerbate the tension of the situation, the movie lost the element of clarity.

After the first installation’s success, a heavy weight rested on Director David Sandberg to deliver another memorable superhero movie, and he did a brilliant job. After receiving criticism for the childish elements of the first movie, Sandberg made a bold move and centered “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” around the same elements of immaturity and recklessness. The movie deserves credit for creating a superhero movie that all age groups can relate to. The family has successfully lit up comic book nerds like me just as they light up their house with the Shazam lightning.

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