Review: Over-acting steals thunder from Shazam sequel

Zachary Levi in Shazam! Fury of the Gods (Warner Bros.)

“Shazam! Fury of the Gods” has a lot going for it.

The movie is packed with humor, action, charming characters, fearsome adversaries, and solid special effects featuring a veritable menagerie of mythological creatures to duke it out with the Shazam Family.

It’s all in there, and overall the movie was enjoyable. However, the over-acting by the lead of the movie, Zachary Levi, as the titular character was annoying and incongruent with his alter-ego Billy Batson, played by Asher Angel.

The conceit of Shazam — originally known as Captain Marvel from 1940-1952 when his comic books regularly outsold he likes of Superman, Batman and Captain America — is that he’s an adolescent or a teen that says his magic word and is transformed into a strapping adult super-hero with a power set similar to Superman’s.

I freely admit I might be nit-picking, but in this sequel, Shazam acts more immature than Billy, who is just months away turning 18, when he will age out of the foster system that is providing him with a home.

Levi portrays Shazam like he is a Three Stooges-version of an 11-year-old, yet Angel plays Billy like an average 17-year-old.

Angel’s role in the movie is reduced quite a bit from the original in which he was on screen as much as Levi’s Shazam. While I hate to write it, the more Levi I got, the less I liked the movie. His performance was too over-the-top — just zany — for the tone of the movie.

It was like he was guest starring on “Gilligan’s Island” and everyone else was working on a slightly more grounded comedy/action picture.

The script by Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan is busy, but clear. Other than the way he handled Levi, I enjoyed David F. Sandberg’s direction.

The plot centers around the three daughters of Atlas seeking to regain their father’s magical staff, which was taken from their family when the Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) killed Atlas. That puts them at odds with the Shazam Family, all of whom have the powers of gods, but aren’t gods. Evidently there is a distinction, though it’s not quite explained.

Helen Mirren plays Hespera, Lucy Liu is Kalypso, and Rachel Zegler is Anthea. The latter takes a liking to Jack Dylan Grazer’s character Freddie Freeman, Billy’s best friend and foster brother. There’s a lot going on with those three sisters as they battle to put the Shazamily in its place, and restore an order of their own making.

Like Levi, Grazer could be called to the carpet for over-acting, but his character is established as high strung while Levi’s is not.

The super-heroic action just right like Goldilocks’ porridge, and when the kids who make up Billy’s foster family are together on screen, the movie works. Had Levi toned his performance down from an 11 to a 7.5 or an 8, the movie might not have broken my annoyance meter.

If you enjoyed the first Shazam film, you will probably like this one, too, just not as much. Overall, I had a fun time with the movie, but it’s been a while since one performance in a movie irritated me as much.

The film features a mid-credit and a post-credit scenes.
(PG-13) 2 hr. 10 min.
Grade: C-

New in Local Theaters – March 17, 2023

Shazam! Fury of the Gods (PG-13) 2 hr. 10 min. (trailer)(AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Rogers Towne, Skylight)
Moving On (R) 1 hr. 25 min. (trailer)(Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle)

Classic Corner – The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid (1989) / Halle Bailey in The Little Mermaid (2023) (Disney)

Disney’s live-action remakes of its classic animated films have been hit-and-miss for me.

The “Jungle Book,” “Cinderella,” and “Aladdin” were high-water marks of Disney’s descent into remake-itis. They were just as strong if not better than the originals to me.

The rest rank somewhere along the range of mediocre to awful.

That’s why I’m indifferent to the live-action “Little Mermaid” remake coming from Disney this Memorial Day weekend.

I’ll see it, but after sitting through remakes like “Dumbo” and “Pinocchio,” I’m not getting my hopes up.

I love the original “Little Mermaid,” mainly for sentimental reasons. It was one of the first movies I took my now adult niece and nephew to way back in 1989 while I was in college. Has it really been 34 years?

It has, but this musical fantasy is just as enchanting today as when it was first released, and it might be a fun picture for families to revisit or perhaps watch for the first time during spring break on Disney +.

Featuring music by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman and the voice talents of Jodi Benson, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Buddy Hackett and Rene Auberjonois among others, the movie is delightful.

The story revolves around mermaid princess Ariel, who is so enamored with the surface world that she gives up her lovely singing voice to become human so that she might properly meet Prince Eric, whom she had previouslysaved from a violent storm at sea in her mermaid form.

The film marked a return to form by Disney’s animation department, which had struggled for more than two decades after the death of Walt Disney in 1966.

Following the release of “The Little Mermaid,” classics such as “Beauty and the Beast” in 1991 and “The Lion King” in 1994 followed, creating a new generation of Disney animated film fans and a new standard for the studio.


Zachary Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer in Shazam! (Warner Bros.)

O.K., I admit labeling a movie from 2019 a classic is a bit dubious, but with the sequel out this week, why not look back at the original “Shazam!”?

The high-concept pitch for the film was “Big” but with super powers, and holy moly, did the movie ever lean into that pitch.

The movie, directed by David F. Sandberg, is the humorous, heartfelt, and heroic story of foster child Billy Batson (Asher Angel) and his new foster family that includes three brothers and two sisters. The closest to Billy is his roommate Freddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), a wise-cracking, super-hero geek, who is lame in the literal sense.

While trying to escape from upperclassmen whom he bushwhacked while they were bullying Freddie, Batson jumps on a subway train that mystically transports him to the Rock of Eternity where he meets the final of seven great wizards who awaits a pure-hearted champion whom he can bestow the mighty powers of:

Solomon — wisdom
Hercules — strength
Atlas — stamina
Zeus — power
Achilles — courage
Mercury — speed

Of course, Billy is that champion despite being just a 14-year-old boy, and when he says “SHAZAM! — he receives those powers as his body is transformed into a 6-foot-5, muscled-up, grown-up version of himself.

Yet, his mind and personality remains that of a teen.

It’s the ultimate dream in wish fulfillment; however, the old wizard (Djimon Hounsou) disappears without leaving super-hero Billy (Zachary Levi) an instruction manual for being a mystically-powered champion.

Billy, of course, turns to Freddie to tutor him on all the “caped-crusader stuff,” and hilarity ensues.

The chemistry between Levi and Grazer, and Angel and Grazer make the film. Both sets are just fun to watch together.

Amazingly, the performances of Levi and Angel work so well that you can believe the two are playing the same character, just in different forms.

Angel plays Billy a bit more cool, while Levi is goes for a wide-eyed goofiness that’s totally believable for a teenager who is not only in the body of a grown-up but also one that possesses super strength and speed as well as the ability to fly, and shoot lightning out of his fingers.

Of course, there is the obligatory villain, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), who failed the pure-heart test when he met SHAZAM as a boy. He since has been mystically influenced by evil. He wants to conquer Billy and steal his powers for his own nefarious use.

There is a big third-act, super-powered throw down that begins at a carnival and expands into the skies above Philadelphia, but as thrilling as the action, heroics, effects, and stakes are, the film grabs you with its heart and emphasis on family and friendship.

Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans shine in smallish roles as Victor and Rosa Vasquez, the kids’ foster parents, and while Grazer’s Freddie is the standout, Faithe Herman as adorable Darla, Jovan Armand as silent but strong Pedro, Ian Chen as techie Eugene, and Grace Fulton as all-American girl Mary each play significant roles in what becomes a somewhat overstuffed story.

However, I have to say, I would watch a movie about the Vasquez foster home even without all the super powers.

This movie isn’t perfect, but it is a winner because of its humor and the chemistry and character director Sandberg kneads into what could have been a very cheesy and dull adventure movie if handled with less clarity and levity. The film’s final scene offers a very fun payoff of a running plot point.