Shazam! was a pretty good film, all things considered. After the crushing unpleasantness of Zack Snyder's reign over the franchise and the visceral failure of the first Suicide Squad, the franchise needed a ray of light to breakthrough. Shazam! provided just that with a charming family romp that finally injected some fun into the comic book movie empire. Though it was probably the best moment of the franchise's first few years, there's still room for improvement in a few key areas.
Though it's a good one, Shazam! does have to contend with the fact that it's one of a thousand superhero origin stories. Having to introduce the main character, his supporting cast, and the villain weighs heavily in the early chapters of the first film. The next film will benefit massively from an audience who knows the film's take on the character is and how he behaves. Superhero origin stories are a necessary evil, every recurring character needs to be established to some extent and lesser-known heroes like Shazam really require the setup. Now that the setup is out of the way, the sequel has the freedom to explore the character with a stronger three-act narrative.
Like a lot of superhero films, the second entry can just launch into the action and tell a better-paced story. So much of the arc of Billy's character in Shazam! revolves around his search for his biological mother, which comfortably wraps up during its runtime. Ditto the meet and greet with his new foster home. Both elements of the film will be streamlined and active by the start of the next film, and the first act will be better for it. Fury of the Gods will be working with a well-loved superhero and an excited audience, while its predecessor had everything to prove from a lesser-known character.
Mark Strong as Dr. Thaddeus Sivana provides excellent performance in a less-than-impressive character. Strong's unimpressed cruelty is the perfect foil to Shazam's childish glee and playful humor. The problem is that their powers are more or less identical, their battles are very straightforward, and Sivana's plan lacks any nuance. He's a very simple villain, motivated by a simple desire to destroy his foe. Sivana falls under the classic superhero movie trope, he's just a dark reflection of the protagonist with fairly limited exploration of that concept. Sivana is powered by seven evil beings in much the same way as Shazam is powered by six heroes, and the seven evil beings are fairly dull. The duels between hero and villain are exciting enough, but there's little more than CGI and quipping to their conflict.
The sequel's villain is Helen Mirren in the role of Hespera, one of the three daughters of Atlas. Little is known about her role in the story, and the character doesn't exist in the comics. Atlas is one of the heroes who donate their power to Shazam, but his role in the comic is comparable to the old holding up the world position in Greek myth. Though little is known about Hespera, Mirren is an outstanding actor from classical art-house to silly genre films. A villain with a more interesting motivation, more exciting powers, and a better plan than two or three super-powered punch-ups would vastly improve the story
Fans who saw Shazam! when it came out in 2019 and haven't looked back since may be shocked to learn that the film is 132 minutes long. There are moments when it moves at a great pace, but it's too long for a kid-friendly superhero film. There are far more excessive superhero projects out there, but that doesn't fix the fact that there's a little too much fat on this feature. The sequel could do a great deal of improvement by shaving down aspects of the storytelling and reigning in the runtime. Part of it ties back in with the origin story issue, but the length of a film is hugely important.
Shazam! packs in the aforementioned introductions, the brief superhero origin story, a ton of goofing off with newfound powers, and the actual conflict and narrative thrust. It's hard to say that the funnier sequences should be trimmed, but perhaps not drawing a hard line between comedy scenes and action scenes would keep things moving. The sequel will be building from its predecessor, but it needs to exercise some restraint and keep the pace tight and flashy.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods is set to be a solid superhero sequel. Hopefully, director David F. Sandberg learned a ton from his first superhero outing and will put out an even better second attempt.