Shazam: Fury of the Gods

Posted on March 16, 2023 at 9:28 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of action, language, violence
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action-style fantasy/superhero peril and violence, teacher killed, continuous peril
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 17, 2023

Copyright Warner Brothers 2023
I loved the first “Shazam” movie because it was — and this is a term you don’t hear often in connection with comic book movies — endearing. Asher Angel winningly played the young Billy Watson, searching for his lost mother and running away or being kicked out of a series of foster homes until he finds (1) a wizard who selects him as the first one in hundreds of years worthy of the powers of the gods that make up SHAZAM (that’s Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury), and (2) a foster family we will understand before he does that is truly his home. Billy was a bit of a rogue, but that was because he was used to fending for himself. And it was a lot of fun to see a young teenager for whom the adult male persona was as much of an adjustment as the superpowers.

That film ended with Billy granting superpowers to the other five kids in the foster home, ranging in age from kindergarten to about to start college. So this movie loses some of the sweetness of the first in juggling adult and young versions of five of the six characters plus not one but three new supervillains, the goddess daughters of Atlas, played by “West Side Story’s” Rachel Zegler, “Charlies Angels'” Lucy Liu, and classically trained Shakespearean actress Dame Helen Mirren. Plus dragons, unicorns, and monsters. So that’s a lot of clutter and especially a lot of CGI that overwhelms the plot and all-but obliterates the tenderness of the first story.

Still, it is fun to watch (Helen Mirren!), all the way through the two extra scenes, one at the very end of the credits.

Billy (Zachary Levi as the superhero) is glad to be part of a team of superheroes, and insists that all six of them have to be together on all adventures. This is making some of the other five feel smothered, especially Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer as teen, Adam Brody as superhero). He calls his superhero version Captain Everypower, enjoying his freedom from the crutch he needs as his old self, and very tentatively making contact for the first time with a girl named Anne, new to his school. The oldest of the foster siblings, Mary (Grace Caroline Currey as both human and super versions) would like to go to college. But Billy, because of his history of trauma and abandonment, sharpening as he is about to age out of the foster care system, cannot let them go.

Two of the Atlas daughters, Hespera (Mirren) and Calypso (Liu), in a scene reminiscent of the first “Black Panther,” enter a museum in Athens and steal the pieces of the Shazam staff that was broken by Billy at the end of the first film. They use it to restore their powers and search for the golden apple that they will use to replant the Tree of Life from their realm, even though its impact on our world will be total destruction.

So it is back and forth as various characters gain and lose powers and waver in their goals and loyalties. The weaker parts of the film include Billy’s fixation on Wonder Woman, which is weird and a bit creepy, and the murder of a kind teacher, which is jarring in the world of this story. The look of the film is fine, especially the lair (so labeled), with a mysterious room of doors that deserves more exploration, and a fabulous library with a sort of proto-Google and Alexa, a magical pen that writes answers and takes dictation. Freddy and the wizard (Djimon Hounsou) play more of a role in this film. Grazer has an exceptional sense of timing and Freddy is one of the series’ best characters. The creatures are not as well-designed, though the dragon flies well. The mid- and end-of-credits scenes give us a sense of what comes next. I hope chapter 3 will return to more character and story.

Parents should know that this film has extended comic book-style action violence (meaning no blood or graphic images), with scary monsters and constant peril. A teacher is murdered. Characters use some strong language.

Family discussion: Which superpower would you want to have? What made Billy deserve to be granted powers?

If you like this, try: the original “Shazam” and other DC movies including “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman”

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Jennifer’s Body

Posted on December 29, 2009 at 6:00 pm

“Jennifer’s Body” is not scary enough for horror and not knowing enough for commentary on horror.

“Hell is a teenage girl,” says Needy (Amanda Seyfried of “Mama Mia” and “Big Love”). And she should know. She is a teenage girl. And her Best Friend Forever Jennifer (made-for-Maxim hottie Megan Fox of the “Transformers” films) is both, quite literally. She may wear a BFF charm in recognition of friendship going back to the sandbox days, but she is more of a frenemy, one of those people who are in our life and have great powers of influence even though we are not sure why and we don’t like them very much. Jennifer tells the appropriately-nicknamed Needy (for Anita) to break a date with her boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons) and accompany Jennifer to the town’s only club/bar so they can watch an up-and-coming group called “Low Shoulder.” Needy says yes to Jennifer, no to Chip, and they are on their way.

Some nasty things happen, and Jennifer turns into a demon who preys on the bodies of helpless and terrified victims. (They have to be helpless and terrified; she’s something of a picky eater in that respect.) Needy is the only one who sees her for what she is, and as the remains begin to pile up and funerals clog everyone’s schedules, Needy has to figure out what to do. And it wouldn’t be a horror movie if it didn’t get personal.

When Diablo Cody (“Juno” and many opinionated but very cool and clever essays in Entertainment Weekly) takes on the horror genre, it is fair to expect some snappy honest-to-blog patter and if not obvious po-mo air quotes at least something a little meta. But it does not work as straight-on horror or as what has now become an established and rich little sub-genre of the snarky, self-aware horror film that delivers on two levels, like the “Scream” series, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” or “Shaun of the Dead.”

It actually is not that much of a stretch between “straight” horror and meta-horror. Straight-on horror films deliver thrills with a combination of the predictable (woe to any teenager who has sex and if the camera zooms in close, there’s something terrible just out of frame) and the unpredictable (you know, the part where some one or some thing jumps out and splits some hapless victim down the middle). And they often have a sense of humor about themselves and their conventions, with serial killers Freddy Kruger (of “Nightmare on Elm Street”) and Chuckie (the demon doll) tossing off wisecracks and bad puns as they slaughter.

Cody has a few nice points to make here about the frenemy dynamic of some girl-girl relationships: the drama, the connection, the power plays, and the excitement. “Not high school evil; evil-evil” is an theme worth exploring, but it is hard to improve on “Buffy.” The idea of the indie band’s song “Through the Trees” being used at the candlelight vigils for the dead classmates is well-handled. And there are some cutesy winks at the audience, as when the indie band talks about getting on a movie soundtrack as a path to fame and fortune, as happened to the Moldy Peaches on the soundtrack of “Juno.” Casting everyone’s favorite boy next door Adam Brody as an “agent of Satan with a really awesome haircut” is fun. Director Karyn Kusama and cinematographer M. David Mullen find some striking compositions, though it is unfortunate that a pool scene recalls the much better teen vampire movie “Let the Right One In.” And what is the deal with that 80’s prom dress? Now that’s horror.

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