Shazam!: Fury of the Gods (2023): A Marvelous Spectacle That Goes Bigger Than Its 2019 Predecessor

“Shazam!: Fury of the Gods” is directed by David F. Sandberg, who also directed the previous “Shazam!” movie. This film stars Zachary Levi (Chuck, Tangled), Asher Angel (Jolene, Andi Mack), Jack Dylan Grazer (It, Luca), Rachel Zegler (West Side Story), Adam Brody (Ready or Not, Promising Young Woman), Ross Butler (13 Reasons Why, K.C. Undercover), Meagan Good (Think Like a Man, Brick), Lucy Liu (Charlie’s Angels, Kung Fu Panda), Djimon Hounsou (Furious 7, Guardians of the Galaxy), and Helen Mirren (Gosford Park, F9: The Fast Saga). This sequel is set two years after Thaddeus Sivana, the main antagonist of the last installment, was beaten. This time around, Billy Batson, otherwise known as Shazam, must team up with his “family” to stop the daughters of Atlas from destroying the world.

Before I give my thoughts on “Shazam: Fury of the Gods,” here is a recap on my thoughts on the comic book movie genre in recent months.

I remember a time when comic book movies were not taken as seriously as they are today. Right now we are getting so many of these projects, particularly ones inspired by Marvel and DC properties, at various times of the year. “Shazam!: Fury of the Gods” is just the latest addition to the collection. I have no problem with the excessive amount of comic book movies we are getting as long as the people making them recognize one thing as we move along. Quality. Sadly, in 2022, comic book movies, while still good, have taken a bit of a dip.

When I look at the MCU, I enjoyed every movie they have done that year, but I had notable problems with each one they released. These could range from the visual effects to the humor to the pacing or certain lines that I was not able to believe once they were spoken. Part of the problem, if you ask me, is the MCU going for such an ambitious, perhaps overcrowded route with its Multiverse Saga and also balancing movies with straight to Disney+-content. This has made the MCU lose some of its novelty in addition to its polish.

When it comes to DC, the last couple years has had its hits and misses. “Black Adam,” the last DCEU film before this one is a barely passable time that only delivers as much charm as it does thanks to its stylized action sequences and performances that are perhaps as well delivered as they could have been by the main cast. I liked “The Batman,” but I thought it overstayed its welcome.

2022, again, while still enjoyable, felt like a significant step down from the year before where Marvel delivered a couple of my favorite movies they have done. Specifically, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” I went back for repeat viewings on both of these films. I have seen the latter four times in theaters specifically, including the extended version. On DC’s turf, “The Suicide Squad” ended up not only being my favorite movie of 2021, but also my favorite DC movie I have ever seen. It is such a perfect balance between heart, humor, and action that I cannot stop thinking about it. It also inspired HBO Max’s “Peacemaker,” a brilliant series on its own.

Now we move forward to “Shazam!: Fury of the Gods,” which follows up what I thought to be quite an entertaining film we got four years ago. I was looking forward to this movie, but I thought the marketing was awful. If anything, the first trailer felt too light for a movie about gods trying to destroy earth. Also, I assumed the second trailer basically revealed the whole movie. That said, I was delightfully surprised. I had a good time with this film. There is a lot to like about it. It has a lot of cool fights and visual effects, which are two mainstays in this genre by now, but I also like how they handled the characters. Especially when it comes to a subplot involving Freddy. Rachel Zegler, who is still developing her career, is one of my favorite parts of this film. I loved the way they handled her character, and while her performance is not as awards-worthy as Maria in “West Side Story,” it had my attention from the moment she appears. I was shocked, not to mention full of joy, to find as many positives as I did in this movie.

If I have to note a standout from “Shazam!: Fury of the Gods,” it would be the action sequences. This movie contains some of the more thrilling scenes this genre has provided in recent years. Is it a lot of it big, bloated CGI shenanigans? Sure, but some of the utilizations of the CGI make these scenes worthwhile. They are a ton of fun to watch. There is also a fun scene towards the beginning of the film where the Shazam family tries to save a ton of people from danger on a bridge. There was one song choice that I was a bit iffy on in that scene, specifically Holding Out for a Hero by Bonnie Tyler. Although one of my favorite parts of the movie is when Billy, AKA Shazam, is holding onto a car, hears the song playing, and he asks the driver if he seriously saved them while they were listening to that song. First off, I think a younger superhero would totally say something like that. Second, it kind of goes to show how much that song has become a part of our culture in terms of heroism. Not just because of the name. I mean, look at how it was used in the climax of “Shrek 2!”

Speaking of which, the Shazam family themselves have fantastic chemistry. We got a glimpse of them in the previous film, but this film features them prominently and they are properly utilized from start to finish. Not only do they try to save the world together, but I found it fun to see how they hang out in their off time. And they actually do feel like a “family.” Sure, they stick together, but they are not afraid to occasionally bicker and argue. Yes, they technically are family, they always have been. But they show the positives and negatives to being with a family on a consistent basis. I think this movie shows that perfectly.

Pacing-wise, “Shazam!: Fury of the Gods” could not be better. The film is 130 minutes long, but it honestly feels shorter than it actually is. It is not rushed, it just goes to show how much fun I was having with everything being thrown at me. This movie never has a dull moment in it. Even in lesser moments, I was never uninterested or bored. The third act in “Shazam!: Fury of the Gods” is nowhere near my favorite third act of all the comic book movies that have come out, but it is also one that had my attention more than several others in recent months. In fact, once it starts, it feels like it never wants to stop. I felt an adrenaline rush from the moment it began.

But of course, we must also address the negatives. While this is a fun, entertaining movie, it is also predictable. It occasionally has its own flair but the structure feels like a comic book movie from a decade or two ago. While I love certain comic book movies from a decade or two ago, they have their shortcomings. The villains, while intimidating and threatening, have basic motivations. Destroy the world we have so they can build a new one of their own. Granted the way they go about it works for what this movie delivers, but a cliché is a cliché.

If I have to name a cream of the crop for my negatives, it would involve a personal pet peeve of mine in films. Product placement. As I have said on posts in the past, product placement is an understandable motive. People need to make money, and companies want their products exposed. That said, if you have ever seen a Skittles commercial and thought it should have unicorns, you are in luck. There is something that goes down in the third act involving Skittles, I will not say what, that continues to grind my gears. It is weirdly written, oddly executed, and even stranger wondering how such a thing came to be. This is possibly the most mind-numbingly obvious instance of product placement I have witnessed since “Sonic the Hedgehog” and its sequel’s blatantly obvious and masturbatory tribute to Olive Garden. Because when I think of “Sonic the Hedgehog,” I think of underwhelming, Americanized Italian food.

Although going back to what was said earlier about the second trailer revealing the whole movie, I can say there are segments of the movie that were never shown. There is also one big surprise at the end that I had no idea about. The final ten minutes of this movie put a huge smile on my face. Apparently this surprise was revealed in the marketing, but I did not see said marketing prior to watching this film, therefore I had a heart-stopping reaction when the scene of interest came up.

In the title of this review, I suggest that “Shazam!: Fury of the Gods” goes bigger than the original, which is an effort several sequels, perhaps stereotypically, aim to achieve. This time around you have multiple threats, a giant dragon, and more heroes trying to save the day. I had fun with what this movie had in store. But as I have suggested with some other sequels in the past, bigger does not always mean better. But unlike say the “Matrix” sequels, going bigger in the case of “Shazam!: Fury of the Gods” is not a hindrance. It does not burn the movie to the ground. I get why “Shazam!: Fury of the Gods” would try to do such a thing, and it works in more ways than one. I think the heroes are likable. The villains, despite their lack of depth at times, are somewhat well realized and nicely performed by their individual actors. The CGI is honestly better than some of what Marvel has put out as of late. Heck, I think when it comes to CGI, I think this is better overall than the last big comic book movie to hit theaters, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” I liked the movie, and some of the effects are quite good. But at times, some of them are so out of this world that I had trouble believing in them. M.O.D.O.K might just be the MCU’s strangest-looking insertion of effects work yet.

Although speaking of “Ant-Man,” I would say if I learned anything about “Shazam!” after two movies, it is very much the “Ant-Man” of the DCEU. The heroes and stories have their differences, but both are played by tall white men with black hair. Both are naturally snappy and occasionally hyper. And they both have to significantly change their physicality to become their alter egos. But what I have also noticed is that both of their movies, in addition to their franchises, play out in similar fashions. On the surface, both movies feel much smaller than their sister movies. In terms of scale, “Ant-Man” is no “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Similarly, “Shazam!” is no “Aquaman.” “Shazam” might occasionally feel large in scale, but compared to most of the cinematic universe to which it belongs, it is puny. And now, with their latest sequels, “Quantumania” and “Fury of the Gods” respectively, they try to unleash something much bigger than they’ve had before. How they go about doing so is completely different from one another, but they nevertheless try to aim higher in terms of their concept than their other movies. This is not to say 2018’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp” feels smaller than 2015’s “Ant-Man,” but I would say the leap from “Ant-Man and the Wasp” to “Quantumania” is much bigger. While not as seismic, the shift between “Shazam!” and “Shazam!: Fury of the Gods” definitely feels noticeable. There is a lot more action, more world-building, not to mention, more potential world-destroying. Bigger does not always equal better, but in the case of “Shazam!: Fury of the Gods,” going bigger led to a movie that is serviceable in more ways than one, but does not reinvent the wheel. It is a step up from “Black Adam,” but it is not the DCEU’s best work either.

In the end, “Shazam!: Fury of the Gods” is not a masterpiece of the comic book sub-genre, it has its wins, it has its losses, but I had a grand time with it. This film is packed with superpowered, monstrous joy and entertainment. It is not going to win any awards. But I do not say that as a negative because it certainly is not going to take home any Razzies. It is simply put, a decent time at the movies. To those who want to avoid this movie because they are tired of the superhero genre or because the DC universe is getting a reboot at some point, I hear you. I get it. I thought the marketing for this movie looked awful, but I went to see it anyway. Safe to say, I am glad I shelled out a few bucks to see it on the big screen. It is worth your time. I am going to give “Shazam!: Fury of the Gods” a 7/10.

“Shazam!: Fury of the Gods” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! My next review is going to be for “John Wick: Chapter 4!” The film just hit theaters this weekend, and I am very much looking forward to checking it out tonight. My thoughts will be up next week. If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Shazam!: Fury of the Gods?” What did you think about it? Or, did you see the original “Shazam!” film? What are your thoughts? Which of the “Shazam!” movies do you prefer? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!


Monster Hunter (2020): Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich’s Latest Attempt at Alternating Video Game History

“Monster Hunter” is directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat) and stars Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element, The Fourth Kind), Tony Jaa (Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, xXx: Return of Xander Cage), Tip “T.I.” Harris (Ant-Man, Get Hard), Meagan Good (Think Like a Man, Shazam!), Diego Boneta (Terminator: Dark Fate, Scream Queens), John Helman (X-Men: Days of Future Past, Mad Max: Fury Road), Jin Au-Yeung (The Man with the Iron Fists, 2 Fast 2 Furious), and Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy, Hellboy). This film is based on the Capcom video game franchise of the same name, where you go on quests to slay or capture monsters. In this 2020 film adaptation, Lt. Artemis and her fellow soldiers transport themselves to an unfamiliar world where they meet The Hunter (Tony Jaa). Together, the crew must survive against giant monsters in an attempt to return home.

First off, I just want to say, just because this is being published on the week of Christmas, Merry Christmas to those who celebrate! Second, “Monster Hunter” is the latest film put out theatrically from Sony. From my experience, Sony has been one of the studios that has been rather reserved during the pandemic. They have yet to put many of their films straight to streaming, although “Greyhound” and “An American Pickle” stand out as a couple exceptions. Although, when “Tenet” came out to somewhat underwhelming statistics, most notably in the United States, which is usually a key market for film, they said they “won’t make the mistake” of releasing a film of that size during the pandemic.

For the record, “Tenet” cost $205 million to make. Box office-wise, the film did well financially given the circumstances of the pandemic, but in normal times, it would not have been considered a success. “Monster Hunter,” to Sony’s benefit, is much less expensive. That film in particular cost $60 million to make. While that is not necessarily the biggest budget in the world, especially compared to the latest Marvel and “Star Wars” fare we have been getting, it is still not exactly cheap. However, it is more expensive than what Sony has been putting out, “The Broken Hearts Gallery” as one such example, since most theatres have been allowed to reopen. This made me wonder… “Why?”

After all, even though I never saw Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Resident Evil,” I am familiar with many of the franchise’s entries being dishonored by critics and even fans of the games. Part of me wondered if Sony just wanted to dump this film into theaters just to get it off its back, and if “Monster Hunter” was just another video game adaptation that felt nothing like the game itself.

Having now seen the film, my expectations were kind of met. Although at the same time, it is still better than I anticipated. Unlike myself, my dad has seen the “Resident Evil” movies, so I figured for this circumstance, I’d invite him to this screening considering it is from the same people. According to him, this movie has a very similar vibe and structure to the “Resident Evil” films. They are not Shakespeare in the least, but they most certainly fall into the guilty pleasure category. It’s not all bad, but holy hell it is not good. Simultaneously, particular points of the film felt like a blast.

I am going to get some negative points out of the way. This movie is definitely not going to win an editing Oscar. Of all the films to have come out this year, this is by far the LEAST qualified to possibly win Best Film Editing. The film manages to revisit a lot of the common problems we face in action films today. Specifically, quick cutting, not being able to tell who is who, and there also seems to be a little more slow-mo than I’d prefer. It’s almost like watching “The Matrix” if they couldn’t tell a story. There is a scene in the film where two people are fighting, and while they do kind of look alike, there was a point where I wondered who was who. If we learned anything from… I dunno, “Taken 3,” it’s that quick cutting is headache-inducing and should be avoided at all costs!

Liam Neeson deserves better!

Another big problem, and I was kind of expecting this from the get go, characterization is not really put at the forefront. Not only do we have a bunch of military soldiers who have nothing to do with the source material at the center of the story, but nearly every character in this film felt disposable. I did not care about anyone, they could get massacred, lose everything and everyone they know, and I still wouldn’t give a crap. That may partially be because the movie does not give us time to get to know anyone. We have these generic soldiers on a mission together, but nobody has a personality, nobody has any special quirks. They all sing together from time to time, but they do not really do anything else that stands out. They’re just these generic soldiers with their generic dialogue in a movie with a world that really should not feel generic! This is a movie with a world where someone fights gigantic monsters as part of a quest! Or… At least that’s what should be happening according to the video games. I do not need all film adaptations to follow the source material 100%, but this almost goes too far away from the original material at times.

This film is 1 hour and 39 minutes long. Thankfully, I never once felt bored throughout that time. I will say though, one surprising critique I will give the film is that I wish it were a minute longer in the runtime. Maybe two or three, but still. I know it does not seem like much, but again, the film failed to impress me character-wise, but if it took just a few more minutes just to have us get to know something about some of the others in the film, “Monster Hunter” might just garner my interest more as it progressed.

Although, thankfully, there is one relationship that defined the film and made it worth my time, and that is the relationship between Lt. Artemis (Milla Jovovich) and the Hunter (Tony Jaa). What made their relationship intriguing is the foreign aspect that came with each side. For Lt. Artemis, she spends much of the film in a world she has never once thought would be possible. When she tries to adapt to this unusual reality, she comes across the Hunter, and she tries to befriend him. Granted, it is through blatantly obvious Hershey’s product placement, but it is true that chocolate wins people over, even if they have never seen or heard of it. Why do you think “The Big Bang Theory” made an entire episode revolving around chocolate being used as positive reinforcement?

If you are a fan of the “Monster Hunter” games, I cannot guarantee that you will walk out of this movie saying it is just like the games. This sort of feels like a Michael Bay “Transformers” movie, where it is less about Transformers and more about the military and the government and how they deal with Transformers. Granted, this has a significantly tinier budget, a smaller cast, and I would even say that the military emphasis in this film is greater, because it never cuts away from the military to average civilians to Transformers doing their own s*it. One positive about the film, even though the story and characterization is lackluster, is that the film does not convolute itself with too many things going on. There is a certain beauty in the simplicity, albeit small, but it is there. If anything, this feels like “Predator” meets “Pacific Rim.” You have two worlds, one side enters the other one, and you have these soldiers trying to survive against giant creatures. Granted, both of those movies are much more watchable, but I rest my case.

In the end, “Monster Hunter” just reinforces what we have learned from “Superintelligence,” directed by Ben Falcone and starring Melissa McCarthy. If a husband and wife team direct and star in a film. Maybe it is not worth watching. I have not seen this duo’s bunch of “Resident Evil” films they did together, but I have heard from my dad that “Monster Hunter” falls in the same realm. If you want big action that falls into the guilty pleasure category, “Monster Hunter” may be for you. If you like the games and expect this film to be a solid “adaptation” of the source material, I am not sure if you will be satisfied. Yes, the effects look nice. There is some cool action. But is not enough to make a good movie. If you want to have a good time at the movies, just wait for “Wonder Woman 1984.” I have not seen it, so I cannot confirm if it is good, but it sure looks it! I’m going to give “Monster Hunter” a 4/10.

“Monster Hunter” is now playing in theaters in 2D, and is also available in premium large formats including Dolby Cinema, Cinemark XD, and IMAX.

Thanks for reading this review! Next week I will have my review up for “Wonder Woman 1984,” which will be in theatres and on HBO Max this Christmas. I also plan to watch and review “Soul” on Disney+, but I also do not plan to leave out “I’m Your Woman” on Prime Video, and “Wolfwalkers” on Apple TV+. There are also films exclusively in theaters I want to tackle such as “News of the World” starring Tom Hanks. There is a lot to watch through the holiday season so I cannot guarantee I will get to everything. But we shall see! Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account so you can stay tuned for more great content! Also, check out my Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Monster Hunter?” What did you think about it? Or, have you seen any of the other video game to movie adaptations directed by Paul W.S. Anderson? Tell me your thoughts on those! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!