[Screen It]


(2023) (Zachary Levi, Helen Mirren) (PG-13)

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Superhero Action: A group of young superheroes must prevent a trio of age-old goddess siblings from wreaking havoc upon their city in their quest to reclaim mystical abilities surpassing their current powers.

It's now been a few years since Billy Batson (Asher Angel) was given special superhero powers by a wizard named Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) and then used those to similarly empower his foster siblings Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), Mary (Grace Caroline Currey) Eugene (Ian Chen), Pedro (Jovan Armand) and Darla (Faithe Herman), unbeknownst to their foster parents, Rosa (Marta Milans) and Victor Vasquez (Cooper Andrews).

By using the word "Shazam!" they turn into adult versions of themselves -- Billy (Zachary Levi), Freddy (Adam Brody), Eugene (Ross Butler), Darla (Meagan Good), Pedro (D.J. Cotrona), and Mary (Grace Caroline Currey) -- and fight crime in Philadelphia. But their biggest challenge arrives in the form of a trio of ancient goddesses -- known as the Daughters of Atlas: Hespera (Helen Mirren), Kalypso (Lucy Liu), and Anthea (Rachel Zegler) - who want to regain the strong magic power that Shazam earlier took from them.

Still possessing some magic of their own, they set out to do that, with Hespera and especially Kalypso not worried about any collateral damage they might cause in the process. But Anthea is more careful, especially after developing a sweet spot for Freddy despite their age difference numbering in the thousands of years.

Once the young superheroes learn of the sisters' plans, they do what they can to stop them and save their city from death and destruction.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10

With just a few exceptions, when it comes to superhero movies, the first installment is usually the best in any such series. And that's because the obligatory origins story introduces us -- or sometimes reintroduces if we're talking about reboots -- to the premise, the budding hero, the supporting cast, and the first big test of their newfound powers.

For any subsequent follow-ups, the story obviously continues, but the need to go bigger and rely more on special effects sometimes results in one degree or another of diminishing returns. Such is the case with "Shazam! Fury of the Gods," the sequel to "Shazam!" that first arrived in theaters four years ago.

It generally received a warm if not downright enthusiastic welcome from both critics and everyday moviegoers alike. Overall, I enjoyed the first flick and gave it a positive score and recommendation with the caveat that you "might wish it was twenty to thirty minutes shorter with a better villain and third act."

I have no idea if returning director David F. Sandberg and writer Henry Gayden (now co-writing with Chris Morgan) read that, but their new offering is just two minutes shorter and ups the ante in terms of villains by multiplying them by three, while delivering a third act that's just more of the same old, same old in terms of big superhero movie finales.

The result is entertaining enough in the moment that you won't want to say "Shazam!" to magically transport you away, but otherwise is pretty much instantly forgettable despite landing a fairly big name in terms of who plays one of the villainous characters.

And that would be none other than Helen Mirren, best known -- and acclaimed -- for her dramatic work in films such as "The Queen" (for which she won an Oscar), "Trumbo," "Hitchcock" and "The Last Station," but not above having sillier fun in films such as "Red" and "Hobbs & Shaw."

Here, she (somewhat surprisingly, considering the genre) plays it straight as Hespera, one of the three goddess daughters of Atlas who's arrived along with her sisters played by Lucy Liu and Rachel Zegler to regain their magic powers previously removed by the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou).

Since Hespera, Kalypso, and Anthea still quite obviously possess formidable magic, it's unclear what was taken from them, but that's the gist of their nefarious plot and they eventually cross paths with our foster kid siblings (and their young adult superhero alter-egos) from the first film.

Since then, Billy Batson (Asher Angel/Zachary Levi) along with Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer/Adam Brody), Mary (Grace Caroline Currey) Eugene (Ian Chen/Ross Butler), Pedro (Jovan Armand/D.J. Cotrona) and Darla (Faithe Herman/Meagan Good), have taken to fighting crime on the streets of Philadelphia (you just started humming that tune, didn't you?), but Billy is having a hard time keeping them as an "all for one, and one for all" unit.

That is, until the villains arrive and thus it's up to the kids to save the day once again. Like before, there's plenty of action along with decent to sometimes good comedic bits to satisfy fans of the original film. But beyond multiplying the number of antagonists, there's not much added to the mix to make you long for more, although that's certain to come in yet another future sequel.

Decent enough in the moment that you won't mind sitting through it, "Shazam! Fury of the Gods" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Posted March 17, 2023

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