When we’re dealing with the classical antiquity as core concept for Shazam! Fury of the Gods, the entire Greek pantheon better show up!
All the DC movies from this year exist in a strange place. Since they’re not part of the new universe, they aren’t necessarily considered ongoing canon. That’s because of Warner Bros/Discovery wanting to revamp everything. After Black Adam (my movie review and commentary can be read here) did not invest enough into the legends and lore, I had trepidation regarding Shazam! Fury of the Gods.
I love the idea of incorporating mythology from ancient cultures into any superhero movie treatment. When done right, some heroes are just modern day updates to classical figures. For example, Horus is the spiritual predecessor of Hawkman. For the titular hero in this franchise, he embodies the best traits from six Greek divinities–Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury.
But when a sisterhood from Greek myth decides it’s time to torment Billy Batson (Asher Angel and Zachary Levi), he’s in trouble. They are targeting his surrogate family to reacquire the power bequeathed to them by Shazam (and The Wizard). The death of the gods and to resurrect them is a big theme.
Not every PIXAR movie starts off with a bang. Sometimes the hook isn’t there, especially when viewers don’t really know that the world is fearful of legendary beasts in Luca. People should learn to love them and I wondered if this film may be this studio’s return to Monsters Inc.
Instead, we have another coming of age tale by Enrico Casarosa making his directorial debut. He drew upon his childhood and knowledge of local (Roman) folklore for his story. I believe he was struggling to decide in what kind of movie to make. It’s definitely inspired by A Little Mermaid. Plus, it has that The Good Dinosaur cum Finding Nemo vibe–especially when the parents go searching for their runaway son. Eventually, the perspective switches into something akin to Splash and Ponyo. This multi-tribute mix is okay, but when this film is loaded with the requisite Studio Ghibli references, I was tempted to turn this film off.
Amongst Baby Boomers, The Adventures of Captain Marvel defined the pulp-action superhero who would later be known as Shazam. For Gen X’ers, The Shazam/Isis Hour was a maligned television show of the mid-70s and it has its cult appeal. Jump to 1981, The Greatest American Hero showed how Stephen J. Cannell developed a fun, purposeful superhero sporting a different kind of symbol who wants to do what’s right in a cop buddy sitcom formula. The problems the character faced as the series progressed include learning how to use his powers, talking to the aliens in why he was selected and trying to keep those he loved safe.
To bring all those previous iterations of a superhero sitcom movie, Shazam, took several decades of storytelling in the television world to experiment with and the payoff is terrific. Ignoring the troubled property when it was first introduced in the ’40s to its reinvention by DC Comics, this 2019 movie borrows on many comedic tropes from the small screen as Billy Batson (Asher Angel) tries to figure out what being a superhero means. He has no book to guide him. He only has a comic book superhero obsessed foster brother Freddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) to offer tips and his own moral compass to keep him pure. The only misfire is in how nothing new is added to make it stand out.