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As Fury of the Gods plays off its humor and charms, it becomes a throwback to good ol’ fashioned comic book movies unencumbered by multiverses and interconnected narratives.

The Philadelphia Fiascos

Shazam! It's Zachary Levi!
Shazam! It’s Zachary Levi!

It’s already been four years since Shazam! hit the big screen and it’s clear the kids are growing up fast.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel, Disney’s Andi Mack TV series) is on the cusp of turning 18, which is a big enough deal for any teenager, but for Billy, there’s the added pressure of aging out of his foster home. It doesn’t help his superhero alter ego and those of his fellow foster kids have been rejected by their hometown of Philadelphia. Shazam, Captain Every Power and the others are all now derided as the Philadelphia Fiascos in the media (at least in the “fake news” scandal sheet The Tribune).

It’s one crisis after another for Billy Batson and Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer, It), but the highwater mark is breached in Athens, Greece, when the Staff of the Gods is stolen by the daughters of Atlas. That staff was broken in two at the end of Shazam! and that event, in turn, broke down the barriers between worlds, ushering in those ancient Greek gods, Minotaur, Cyclops and other creatures.

Hespera (Helen Mirren, The Queen) and Kalypso (Lucy Liu, TV’s Elementary) want to exact revenge on the perpetrators who were granted godlike powers by the wizard (Djimon Hounsou, Gladiator) they have imprisoned in the ruins of Mount Olympus. There’s a third sister, Anthea (Rachel Zegler, Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story), but she sees things differently; sometimes the youngest sibling is the wisest. And, yeah, there’s a massive age difference between all three sisters. That’s a running joke worked from a couple different levels.

Speculative History

Part of the fun is the conceit wrapped around the Shazam! movies. Billy and Freddy talk about Batman, Aquaman, the Flash and Wonder Woman as if they are real heroes making a positive impact on the world. But Billy and the gang are unable to think beyond those public-facing superhero personas; surely they are who they are and nothing more. Bruce Wayne? A rich guy who has nothing to do with Batman. But who the heck is Diana Prince? Wouldn’t it be hilarious if Wonder Woman went around with her hair pulled back and wearing eyeglasses, moonlighting as an accountant or something mundane like that?

If only they knew the truth and considered how they, themselves, have their own youthful alter egos they work so hard to protect.

It’s also fun seeing Lucy Liu and Helen Mirren play menacing villains as the daughters of Atlas. The very fact they’re involved in this production somehow elevates its status.

But, Fury of the Gods is a legit entertainment made all the more enjoyable because it doesn’t take itself seriously. Sure, Scott Lang can be funny, but with each successive episode, the Ant-Man movies have become burdened by that sense of humor while also trying to balance the unhealthy aspects of carrying the weight of the multiverse on his shoulders.

Here, Fury of the Gods turns into something irresistible as it begins to tinker in vibes of Harry Potter and an outlook built around sunshine, rainbows and unicorns.

Unicorns come into play, but they’re not the fabled breed of childhood dreams. They don’t care for humans, but in a novel scene of terrific humor, their hunger for ambrosia is satisfied by a bag of Skittles. Yeah. “Taste the rainbow.”

It’s a goofy scene straight out of left field. And yet it works so very well. It’s fresh in a world full of comic book movies that are starting to go stale.

Obey the Cross-Stitch

Kalypso (Lucy Liu) and Hespera (Helen Mirren)
Kalypso (Lucy Liu) and Hespera (Helen Mirren)

In the early going, there’s a curious scene in which Shazam (Zachary Levi, TV’s Chuck) meets up with a member of the Justice League, but that scene is disrupted by the wizard. It’s playful enough as it pulls in a DC character outside the Shazam! space, but it falls flat as it teases the hero only with obstructed view camera angles. It comes across as cheap; the costume looks familiar, but maybe an actor familiar to the role was unavailable, or maybe the unfortunate, sad state of the DC Extended Universe blocked a more formal cameo. Instead, it’s disturbing as the wizard works his magic and Djimon Hounsou then embodies the superhero.

But, in a great twist, a cameo is fully realized as Shazam and the gang tie up loose ends as the movie winds down. It’s an applause-worthy cameo that brings things full-circle for the kids, who learn — much like in the Fast & Furious movies — family is everything. That pop culture reference (pulled out by Shazam as he confronts Hespera) is a good joke, but also a bit of a shameless plug, given Fury of the Gods was co-written by Chris Morgan, who also co-wrote quite a few of those increasingly ridiculous Furious flicks.

Ultimately, Fury of the Gods stands as a fun comic book movie that stays true to itself and it looks good while doing it.

It’s every bit as CGI-heavy as the other comic book movies out there, but the visual effects are well done here as mythological creatures are brought to life in a way that digitally captures some of the old Harryhausen magic.