Bland and starved of ideas, ‘Shazam 2’ delivers more of the same-same

Seen this before? Shazam (Zachary Levi) with friend in ‘Shazam! Fury of the Gods’.

SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS *1/2 (131 minutes) M
No sale.

Very young children and those grown ups fortunate enough not to know how much Shazam! Fury of the Gods looks and sounds like most of the superhero films that have rained down upon us over the past 15 years are the souls most likely to derive any real joy from the latest reheated serving of superhero mulch.

For the millions of others who dutifully line up and file in whenever the studios of Marvel or, in this case, DC strip-mine their canon of super-powered comic book characters disappointment awaits with Shazam 2 spilling forth as yet another tedious sample of same-same, the unrelenting repetition offering up the cinematic equivalent of chewing gum long after it has lost its flavour. It’s a severe case of sequelitis.

The story, such as it is, is astonishing in that it is almost completely free of tension, intrigue or good dialogue. While acknowledging how ChatGPT has been overused as a punchline, one imagines that asking it to produce a <em>Shazam!</em> sequel would have likely coughed up a VFX dirge such as the monotony we witness here.

In a nutshell, Shazam (Zachary Levi) and his team have to face off against two power-hungry sisters (Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu) who have gained possession of the magical staff Shazam broke in two at the end of the 2019 movie.

Chiefly for romantic interest we have the presence of a much younger third sister, Anthea (Rachel Zegler from West Side Story), who provides a small degree of anxiety over her wavering allegiances.

Even as an empty spectacle the film’s purchase on our attention is tenuous. The visual effects are wholly unremarkable, replete with all the usual hallmarks of creative laziness – frantic cutting, a frenzy of blue energy bolts – really, when are they going to wake up and at least pick another colour? – and a climactic action sequence that, of course, takes place in the dark.

Even the dragon that turns up half-way through looks like it’s on furlough from the Harry Potter franchise.

At a whopping 131 minutes, including the now-irritating teaser clips during the final credits, the film is the latest to make you wonder what happened to the art of concise storytelling. Even given all the time chewed up by the long, eminently unexciting action sequences it’s tough to justify why such a threadbare narrative wasn’t shorter by at least 20 minutes.

And while we applaud the crusade to redress LGBTetc representation in movies, Shazam! Fury of the Gods must be the first film to host a character whose sole purpose is to declare to the others that they’re gay. That must rank as an achievement of some sort, though it would have helped if they’d been given something more to do.

And just because a film has a few snarky quips sprinkled throughout doesn’t automatically make it a comedy. There are a few jokes here and there. Some land, some are lame, but the scattershot direction by David F. Sandberg (who did the first one) doesn’t sustain a humourous tone as well as, say, Quantumania or Thor: Ragnarok, which still stands as the best example of how to infuse comedy into a $200 million superhero film.

As for the presence of Helen Mirren, at some point soon she will hopefully be stricken by conscience and explain to her generations of fans what the hell she’s doing here. To her credit she delivers the film’s funniest lines by holding a straight face, but apart from that she looks like she’s there for name value. And, possibly, to fund a home extension. (Oww. That was unkind).

Undemanding folk looking for two hours of visual chewing gum might get some time-killing use out of Shazam 2. Otherwise, better to wait for it to hit the stream, where it belongs.