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Shazam! Fury of the Gods Review | David F. Sandberg’s Latest is Far From a Lights Out Sequel

Hey, at least it’s better than ‘Black Adam’!

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Take this as you will, but 2019’s Shazam! is one of the DCEU’s best films. It’s no Birds of Prey — my gold standard for the DCEU — and it certainly doesn’t hold up quite as well on rewatch, but the pure adolescent joy that it radiated and its strong emotional beats made for a uniquely wholesome time for comic book movie fare.

“Nothing lasts forever,” as a character in Shazam! Fury of the Gods, the sequel to the 2019 film, warns Billy. This sentiment rings true unless you’re Kevin Feige, but it’s true in the case of Fury of the Gods, which goes bigger in almost every way than its predecessor. But clichés are clichés for a reason — and Fury of the Gods is proof that bigger is not always better. 

After the events of Shazam! which saw Billy Batson (portrayed by Asher Angel in his teenage form and Zachary Levi in adult form) spread the wealth and give his foster siblings powers like him, the group of superheroes, dubbed the “Philadelphia Fiascos” by the locals, are doing their best to save the day in the City of Brotherly Love. But like any group of teenage superheroes, they haven’t quite got this whole “superhero thing” down yet, as a comic book movie character would phrase it. They’re messy, but avoid any fatal casualties, which warrants a pat on the back in a universe where Superman and Batman kill, I guess. 

A still from Shazam! Fury of the Gods. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Back in reality, or high school, things haven’t changed much. Freddy (portrayed by Jack Dylan Grazer in his teenage form and Adam Brody in his adult form) is still being picked on by the bullies from the first, even after showing them up by having his own “Bring Your Superman to School Day,” if you remember the post-credits scene from Shazam! (don’t worry; the writers assume you don’t and will remind you that this did, in fact, happen). But he soon meets a cute new girl, Anna (Rachel Zegler), who he hits it off with. Reality comes crashing down when it’s soon discovered that Anna, whose actual name is Anthea, is a daughter of Atlas and sister of Hespera (Helen Mirren) and Kalypso (Lucy Liu). It’s up to Billy and co. to stop them from getting the magical staff from the end of the first film (another event that the film handily shows as a refresher). 

Starting with the good, there are fractions of what made Shazam! work so well. When Freddy and Anna have their little meet cute, it’s actually quite endearing in the same way Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker and Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy’s first encounters were in The Amazing Spider-Man. And the team dynamic of the foster kids — which to Billy is being compromised as he nears the point of “aging out” of his foster home — largely works. 

Each kid represents something different in the group, but some get more time in the sun than others. Grace Fulton, who has the distinctive chance to play both the teenage and adult versions of her character, Mary, is still contemplating her decision to not go to college and is facing the fact that being a superhero doesn’t pay the bills. Fulton has been getting better with every role as of late (watch Fall), and that carries on here. 

A still from Shazam! Fury of the Gods. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Ross Butler, who plays the adult version of Eugene, is so charismatic but is still delegated to B-level hero in Fury of the Gods. If 13 Reasons Way proved anything, it’s that he’s capable of doing more than being a handsome jock (or superhero, in this case). Give him a Mason Gooding-like role and I’m sure he’ll show it.

The best actor of the bunch, who perfectly found a way to channel the innocence of her younger counterpart, is Meagan Good, who plays the superhero version of Darla. Faithe Herman is also great as the younger version of Darla, but it’s amazing how Good is able to perfectly channel Herman in her performance (hats off to casting director Rich Delia). She retains the wholesome eyes and childlike mind as her adult version Herman has. 

But the reality of it is, none of the kids get the spotlight like Billy and Freddy do. Grazer is his usual comedic self that always cracks a smile when on screen while Angel does his best in the limited time he has in the film. It’s both a blessing and a curse to be Billy Batson, as arguably the biggest name of the superheroes, Levi, is going to be used prominently throughout the film. At least to my knowledge of Shazam! — which is nothing to bet on — there was a good balance between young and old Billy. In Fury of the Gods, however, it feels like an 80/20 split between Levi and Angel.  Levi’s gawky fish out of water schtick — which is about half as endearing as a Michael Cera character — gets by but doesn’t always find himself on the right side of sweet and annoying.  

A still from Shazam! Fury of the Gods. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Perhaps in the third film, we can return to the roots of these characters and focus more on the kids themselves. After all, if you want to namedrop the Fast & Furious franchise and its theme of family — one that’s referenced better than it is executed in Fury of the Gods — you have to hone in on that. I know Billy’s arc of searching for his mother is over, but it’s almost like a complete afterthought in Fury of the Gods until the end. Maybe it’s just that Billy is no longer the sole central character — though the third act would leave you to believe differently — or the fact that writers Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan were uninterested in exploring it with any substance. Either way, Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews, who play the foster parents Rosa and Victor Vásquez, are such a shining light in these films but are sidelined for most of Fury of the Gods

Gayden returns after being the sole writer credited on Shazam! and is teamed with Fast & Furious veteran Morgan (which explains the namedrop). The one thing I’ll give them credit for is Anthea’s storyline and not having her be the big bad while Freddy is too busy drooling through his rose-colored lenses to see this, but the rest of the story is a miss (there’s a bit involving the song “I Need a Hero” that is almost as bad as the line in I Wanna Dance With Somebody when Whitney Houston first hears the demo of the titular song and claims it’s “a song about two people who want to dance”). 

Like that bit, the rest of the humor is oftentimes dreadful and has two ends of the spectrum: There’s the side of Djimon Hounsou — who returns as the wizard from the previous film — who’s able to occasionally make the very dry jokes land, and then there’s the Helen Mirren side; who must have been returning a favor of some sort to Morgan during her time in the Fast franchise. She, above anyone else, seems the least interested to be there. But who can blame her? She didn’t even care enough to explain the synopsis on the press tour, so why would I expect anything more? 

Not to only pick on the great Mirren, Liu is not much better as Kalypso. The biggest issue with these antagonists is that there’s not enough time to sit with these characters. Their motives are quite clear, but that doesn’t make you care about them or their situation. Zegler works the most out of the three sisters of Atlas because she actually gets to interact with the younger characters. The trio of Mirren, Liu and Zegler is about as talented and star-studded as you can get, they’re just wasted. 

David F. Sandberg returns as the director of Fury of the Gods. While I’m a big fan of Lights Out — the best PG-13 horror flick in recent times and in dire need of a sequel — and Annabelle: Creation, something is missing in his Shazam! flicks. It’s not that he’s incapable of utilizing a big budget, but the finished product of Fury of the Gods reeks of a film spewed out of a corporate machine. The story is lackluster, even despite its best efforts, and the direction is uninspired. The CGI, in true DCEU fashion, is just as drab as usual. DC Comics have always had a grittier aesthetic to my knowledge and lean heavily into the mythology of it all, but some of the landscapes just look so dull. Say what you want about Marvel — many of their recent films have sucked — but very rarely do their films lack color. Even Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which was a disappointment in almost all areas including the potential for its visuals, had color if nothing else. Fury of the Gods is oftentimes too dark and looks stuck in the “Snyderverse” era. 

A still from Shazam! Fury of the Gods. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

And Fury of the Gods follows the tradition of the Shazam! films with a third act that mostly takes place in the air above Philadelphia, just replace Mark Strong with a wooden dragon. There’s a little more emotional depth to this fight, but the DCEU has its own formula for its third acts much like how the MCU has its formula for everything. 

It’s disappointing that Fury of the Gods doesn’t live up to its predecessor. I imagine (and hope) that we’ll get more of these characters, which is great news considering how charismatic the teenage and adult versions of each are, but this second entry in the franchise is the downward dip that hopefully builds towards a satisfying trilogy closer. And just due to the standards that the DCEU has set for itself, Fury of the Gods still manages to be better than at least half of these films offhand and is a fine trip to the movies with your family — so take that as you will. Is it a good movie? No.

If we are to continue following Billy and the “Philadelphia Fiascos,” it sure does feel like we’ll only get bigger from here — I’m not a DCEU megafan, but aren’t we supposed to get Shazam vs. Black Adam? — assuming that these films continue. The whole future of the DCEU gives me a headache thinking about it, but I imagine that a third Shazam! film will be too big of an opportunity to pass up. Nevertheless, here’s hoping that any future installment scales it back and hones in on what made the first film so charming. And if nothing else, at least Fury of the Gods is better than Black Adam


Shazam! Fury of the Gods is in theaters now. 

FILM RATING

Andrew is an entertainment journalist and film "critic" who has written for the likes of Above the Line, Below the Line, Collider, Film Focus Online, /Film and The Hollywood Handle among others. Leader of the Kaitlyn Dever Fanclub.

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Comic Book Movies

X-Men ’97 Review | Nostalgic, Epic & Marvelous!

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X-Men '97 (Disney)

Get ready for action-packed adventure, many surprise cameos and a storyline that takes

Plot

A band of mutants use their uncanny gifts to protect a world that hates and fears them; they’re challenged like never before, forced to face a dangerous and unexpected new future.

X-Men ’97 (Disney)

Review

X-Men ’97 is a revival of the classic 1990s animated television series. The storyline picks up directly after the events of the original series, maintaining continuity and preserving the beloved elements that made the original a hit show back in the day. Many of the original voice cast members have returned, including Cal Dodd as Wolverine, Lenore Zann as Rogue, George Buza as Beast, Alison Sealy-Smith as Storm and Adrian Hough as Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler, which adds a layer of originality and contributes to the overall nostalgia of the television show​. Here I’m feeling like a little kid again, watching the show on a Saturday morning. I was 7 years old when it was on television in the early mornings, and it still brings back fond memories.

There were a number of new stars who joined the show such as Ray Chase who replaced Norm Spencer as Cyclops, Jennifer Hale who replaced Catherine Disher as Jean Grey, Holly Chou who replaced Alyson Court as Jubilee, A.J. LoCascio as Gambit, Matthew Waterson as Magneto, J.P. Karliak as Morph, Isaac Robinson-Smith as Bishop, Ross Marquand as Professor Charles Xavier and Gui Agustini as Roberto da Costa/Sunspot.

X-Men ’97 (Disney)

The series starts off in a world where the X-Men grapple with the loss of Professor Charles Xavier. Amidst all the chaos and uncertainty, Magneto rises to the occasion and becomes the new leader of the X-Men. This provides additional drama and the team dynamics is frequently tested with the new leadership. While dealing with the new leadership dynamics the X-Men finds themselves still dealing with people who would stop at nothing to end all mutants. The storyline doesn’t hold back on the action sequences and themes such as grief, loss and acceptance are touched on throughout the series.

The trailer of the show doesn’t spoil anything for the viewer, and I highly encourage you to watch every intro and try to spot any new changes. The show provides many cameos and easter eggs, keeping my hopes alive of a potential crossover.

The story ends with a twist, leaving you hungry for the next season, and as any Marvel movie or television show would have it, a mid-credits scene to whet your appetite for what’s to come. If you are new to X-Men you can still jump in and watch the television series, but I highly recommend watching the original series to get you up to date with most of the lore and history of the X-Men.

X-Men ’97 keeps the legacy of our favorite mutants alive with a well-written story that is filled with emotion, surprises and promises of more adventures.

Thank you Beau DeMayo for an eXcellent story! I rate this show a 5 out of 5!

Will we skip the intro song? No! I don’t think we will. Make sure to catch the show on Disney Plus!

https://youtu.be/mp1Pax-QHlA?si=-fFlVYBRIPnLQyVO
X-Men ’97 Final Trailer (Marvel Entertainment)

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‘The Present’ Review | A Heartfelt Family Adventure with a Magical Twist

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The Present
A still from 'The Present' (The Movie Partnership)

In the heartwarming film ‘The Present,’ a young boy stumbles upon a mysterious grandfather clock with the extraordinary ability to transport him through time. Driven by the hope of reuniting his parents, he embarks on a magical journey with his siblings to prevent their family from falling apart. As they face challenges together, they discover the enduring power of love and the true meaning of family.

Over the years, we have seen a lot of time-travel movies, but ‘The Present’ is a bit different from those movies. It’s not about saving the world and defending the universe from aliens. It’s all about keeping a family together and feeling loved again. In Christian Ditter’s cute romantic-comedy film, we see Jen (Isla Fisher) and Eric (Greg Kinnear) having a dinner with their three children: Emma (Shay Rudolph), Max (Mason Shea Joyce), and Taylor (Easton Rocket Sweda). However, things go downhill when the parents announce that they are separating. The next day, an old clock that used to be in Eric’s father’s house arrives at their house and they decide to keep it in their basement. Something is written on the clock, and it reads, “This clock can help you now and then, but only you can change events.” Soon, Taylor finds out that the clock can be used to time travel and alter events. As a result, he stitches a plan, along with his siblings, to bring their parents together.

Shay Rudolph and Easton Rocket Sweda in ‘The Present’ (The Movie Partnership’

The enchanted grandfather clock is a delightful narrative device that immediately draws the audience into a world where the impossible becomes possible. Who wouldn’t want to turn the clock back and alter certain events? The clock, intricately designed and exuding an air of mystical antiquity, serves as both, a literal and metaphorical centerpiece for the story. However, the movie is not just about the clock or what it does, it is about the extreme lengths children can go to restore their family. The themes of love, forgiveness, and the passage of time are woven throughout the film, offering moments of reflection and emotional resonance. The makers have subtly shown how challenging it can be to mend things, emphasizing the importance of understanding and empathy within familial relationships. Certain moments in the film would surely encourage you to let your family know how much they are valued.

Writers have done a great job in stitching a story that’s not complex. Everything that takes place in front of our eyes is neither flashy nor over the top, which makes the movie even more relatable. However, certain elements could have been infused to make the script even better. We could have seen a bit more emotional turmoil between the central pair to have a better idea about their state. On the other hand, the relationship between Jen and the kids should have been explored a little more. Apart from that, there are pacing issues in certain scenes, which could have been mended with tighter editing. Despite these shortcomings, ‘The Present’ is a charming film that offers a warm and engaging experience.

Isla Fisher and Greg Kinnear in ‘The Present’ (The Movie Partnership)

Acting-wise, Isla Fisher and Greg Kinner are splendid in their respective roles. Both actors are fully committed to their roles and don’t miss a beat. Fisher has evolved as an actor and it would be a travesty if we don’t see her healing a big blockbuster soon. The young cast delivers commendable performances, particularly Mason Shea Joyce, whose wide-eyed innocence and determination drive the film forward. Meanwhile, Shay Rudolph is as wonderful as Emma. The chemistry between the siblings feels genuine, their camaraderie reflecting a realistic portrayal of sibling dynamics.

Overall, ‘The Present’ succeeds in delivering a touching, family-friendly adventure. Its enchanting premise, mixed with heartfelt performances, makes it a worthwhile watch, especially for families seeking a film with positive messages.

‘The Present’ hit UK cinemas on May 24.

 

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Netflix

Bridgerton Season 3 Part 1 Review: Have They Lost Their Spark?

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Sam Phillips as Lord Debling, Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington and Luke Newton as Colin Bridgerton

Dearest gentle reader, Lady Whistledown is back for another Bridgerton season, and this time for her own love story (the ton doesn’t need to know). Classy as ever, Bridgerton Season 3 focuses primarily on Nicola Coughlan and Luke Newton’s characters Penelope Featherington and Colin Bridgerton as they take their friendship to another level.

Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington and Luke Newton as Colin Bridgerton

Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington and Luke Newton as Colin Bridgerton

What is Bridgerton Season 3 About?

After focusing on Daphne and Anthony Bridgerton in the first and second seasons, the story is now following Colin Bridgerton’s story with the girl next door. Penelope was many things for Colin but never a love interest. She was his sister’s best friend, a girl next door, a friend, and someone who had a crush on him. It’s no secret for the viewers that Penelope had a huge crush on Colin for years, but our girl finally feels ready to move on and get her life together. She is now in search of a husband after getting her heart broken in the last season.

What Stole the Show?

Apart from Nicola Coughlan getting the most deserving highlight, Netflix did their fan service and gave more screen time to now-extremely popular Benedict Bridgerton. Benedict Bridgerton has always been one of the fan favorite characters but after this season he has certainly got a huge following. Luke Thompson’s charms deserve to be studied in a university. He seems to be people’s new crush and I don’t blame them! The beautifully written dialogues are as usual top notch.

Bridgerton is famous for many reasons, including its orchestral remix of popular songs. This season Pitbull’s ‘Give Me Everything’ is in the limelight as one doesn’t expect such an iconic party song to sound so classy. Huge kudos to the makeup and costume department for carrying the show with its theme gracefully. They certainly grasped the attention and enhanced the characters of the show.

Benedict Bridgerton and Lady Tilley Arnold

Benedict Bridgerton and Lady Tilley Arnold

What’s Bothering Us in The Show?

The scripting of the show seems rushed. It lacks the spice, passion, and the slow burn romance that defines a Bridgerton story. Colin’s character has been poorly developed this time. After being sidelined for the last two seasons this one was supposed to make him the knight in shining armor, but he rather lacks the character. He tries to help Penelope only because he feels guilty for insulting and hurting her. Later on, he ruins her chance with a great suitor only because he feels jealous for not having her. He acts like a child who wants his toy back as soon as some other child starts playing with it. He misses Penelope’s attention after seeing her happy with someone else who wants to marry her. Some may call it ‘true love’ but I believe it’s too immature and childish thing to do for a Bridgerton character. Nothing against Luke Newton but his character development is not helping the show.

Apart from lacking the slow-build and passionate love story, the show seems to have forgotten about Daphne and Simon Basset (played by Phoebe Dynevor and Regé-Jean Page) completely. Anthony and Kate Bridgerton (played by Jonathan Bailey and Simone Ashley) appear in one episode and are not even mentioned in the rest.

Nicola Coughlan – The Show’s Star

Nicola Coughlan is shining brighter than any star in the sky. Both Nicola and Penelope are role models for body positivity. Young girls and women across the globe highly relate to Penelope and seeing her accepting herself, being comfortable in her own skin, and getting a complete makeover to feel more like herself is bound to create a positive wave among the fans. Unlike the last two Seasons, the Third Season is also focusing on other characters of the show as well, as it creates branches and stories for potential upcoming seasons. Yet, no one and nothing shines in front of Nicola Coughlan as she wears her crown with grace.

Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington

Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington

Is It Better Than Last Two Seasons?

Each Bridgerton story has its unique charm that keeps our eyes glued to the screens. Some love Season 1, others like Season 2, and the rest prefer Season 3 but is it better than the last two? Probably not. Nothing can beat Season 1! As much as the show focuses on the ‘Friends to Lovers’ storyline, it lacks the true essence of romance and no, I’m not talking about the spiciness even though they severely lack to give us butterflies. Polin’s storyline sometimes gives us butterflies but not as much as previous seasons did. The groundwork for the couple was laid since the first season yet they are not coming as strong and passionate as expected.

Bridgerton Season 3 Part 1 is currently available to stream on Netflix. Part 2 will be released on June 13.

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