Gotham City has long been a shadowy place, but the DC Extended Universe has never looked as gloomy as it does now. The chiselled Henry Cavill is no longer Superman. Wonder Woman 3 is officially cancelled. Planned sequels for Aquaman and Black Adam seem increasingly unlikely. Ezra Miller’s Flash is in a spot of bother. Batgirl was canned after the movie was shot.
Can the lighter-toned, kid-friendly Shazam! provide some relief for the underperforming sandbox? Absolutely not.
One would be hard pressed to spot that David F Sandberg, the talented no-budget horror director formerly known as ponysmasher, had presided over this mishmash of slumming A-list actors, dreary world-building and eye-watering CGI.
The central conceit of Shazam! – a bunch of kids can transform into adults with gnarly superpowers – is referenced by a Goonies T-shirt and a short-lived puppy-love sequence but not by the main plot. Instead we are treated – if that’s the right word – to a great deal of exposition: Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu are Atlas’s avenging daughters, out to recover the apple of balderdash so they can rebuild their realm; elsewhere, Djimon Hounsou returns as a wizard to help fix the broken staff of codswallop unhelpfully discarded by Shazam (Zachary Levi, a trouper despite the impoverished dialogue) during the previous instalment.
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Visually, Shazam! Fury of the Gods traps us inside hideous, studio-bound SFX as the adolescent heroes move between their happy-clappy foster home and their lair, which resembles a yellow-pack Harry Potter subplot.
The script, by Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan, works hard at being a superhero movie for preteens. The trouble is that they already have superhero movies for preteens. They’re called superhero movies.
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The rival Marvelverse has arguably squandered all sense of jeopardy in its post-Snap offerings. With the cosy Shazam! there was never any sense of jeopardy. The kind of kids who hide behind the couch during Scooby-Doo may well feel emboldened by the fuzzy feelings, silly quips and toothless villains. But it all feels rather pointless for the non-meek community.
Where is Sinbad’s Shazaam when you need him?