Now – again, folks, for those who accuse me of being a hater – I don’t hold a grudge against any of the Marvel line-up. Iron Man? He’s just fine. Spider-Man? A bit whiney, I think. The Hulk? Well, he’s got anger issues. (Snicker snicker!) But seriously, to each his own when it comes to the wide, wide world of superheroes because – ultimately – each of us likes what we like, critics be damned. When pushed to come up with something substantive on the topic, it just boils down (for me) to the fact that I read much more DC growing up than I ever did Marvel, and that’s because those characters simply made more sense to me. That’s why I don’t begrudge anyone leaning the other way: for whatever reasons, those folks connected elsewhere, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s just the spice of life.
So, yes, I do welcome a new DC film with open arms, much more than I’ve ever gotten excited about Marvel’s properties.
Naturally – over the weekend – the wifey and I took in a screening of Shazam! Fury Of The Gods (2023), so I wanted to show up today to offer a few words in defense of the movie. Yes: I am defending it, mostly because I think it’s received a helluva lot of negative press in the marketplace of ideas, and I think I have an explanation for why. As can happen any time I open my big mouth, I might be wrong: I have been before, I could be now, and I’ll likely be wrong about something tomorrow. Such is life. But I’d still argue that this sequel is getting dragged by a whole lot of folks for all the wrong reasons.
For starters, I see Fury Of The Gods much more of an authentic comic book movie than most of what the Marvel company has rolled with for some time. While each of their respective entries might have that original kernel or spark of an idea that heartily ties it back to some graphic sensibilities, their films seem to have gone in the direction of either pushing an agenda or serving as only one piece of an evolving storyline. (Please, don’t get me started on the whole Phase Two, Phase Three, and Phase Four crud, because it’s tiring, I don’t have the energy, and – frankly – I wouldn’t want to look uninformed as I’ve already said Marvel just ain’t my thing.) But things like diversity being so openly pushed tend to always have me looking elsewhere only because I don’t go to movies to be educated and/or indoctrinated. Like you, I’m free to think what I like. Layering a story with lesser political messages waters down a character and maybe even that hero’s central motivations: it can be done organically, but more often than not it’s used like a club to beat an unsuspecting audience over the head and that just doesn’t appeal to me.
In contrast, Shazam 2 just focuses on – here it comes – family.
Instead of spending twenty or thirty or forty minutes trying to both define what a family is and isn’t, the script rather naturally shows it to you with – gasp – a family actually working together. It doesn’t shy away from the good, the bad, and the occasionally ugly about arguing, either: this cast – both young and in their superhero identities – are allowed to be who they are – without being judged by anyone else – and it feels part and parcel of this mini-universe. They laugh together. They cry together. They poke fun together. And – ultimately – they triumph together, rising up against whatever adversity the universe throws at them. They didn’t need a law to succeed. They didn’t need public opinion on their side. They stayed true to one another – even sacrificed for one another – and that worked.
Lesser directors and/or producers would have more likely gone to great pains to show just how the Shazam family isn’t the traditional family to begin with. They’re white, black, and other all thrown together under the same roof. They don’t look at one another as anything other than brother, sister, father, and mother. This is how regular folks live their lives in defiance of governmental regulation, social posturing, and media messaging. Merely, they exist … and they do it damn fine without having to rise up and proclaim anything other than being true to themselves.
This reality flies in the face of everything our cultural betters have been telling us for years. According to them, you can’t have equality (or even “equity,” the new watchword) without some kind of rule being passed or having Uncle Sam require something via legislation. Given that structure, all of this family – the Vasquez clan – should be mired in gloom. Instead, young Billy Batson finds himself consumed with what’s going to happen to him once he turns eighteen. Will he be shunned by those who’ve loved him over the years because he’s a foster child, or will he still be loved? Such a simple narrative focus shouldn’t be allowed in Hollywood, much less delivered to the masses, so it’s only natural that the media drag the picture as outdated garbage messaging. Give Shazam access to the girl’s bathroom. Isn’t that what he’d really want?
Furthermore, Shazam 2 doesn’t shy away from confronting the difficulty of being in a family, extended or otherwise.
Without getting too deeply into the plot (and, folks, it ain’t all that complicated, which is another reason why critics tend to hate it), the villains are sisters in that they descend from the same god. Springing from the same loins doesn’t always mean that the children are going to get along, as it quickly becomes clear that each kinda/sorta operates from their own respective agendas. One seeks a kind of peaceful unity with mankind, while another seeks total supremacy over what she sees as an inferior species. While they might occasionally join forces (when it serves them), they’re otherwise at odds, disagreeing over their place in our world as well as what to do about adversaries they come up against. Suffice it to say, this family is probably more in line with Hollywood’s contemporary position – no good can come of blood relations – and the fact that they don’t inevitably win the day likely doesn’t sit well with so obvious a failure.
But look … at the end of the day I’m the kind of guy who goes to a comic book movie to be entertained – not preached to – and, on that front, Shazam 2 is fabulous. It might drag in a few spots, and, sure, the prevalence of CGI over practical effects has never quite sat well with this old dog. (I am really, really, really trying hard to learn new tricks, folks.) Postproduction trickery does work against some otherwise impressive visuals here and there. And still the message at the heart of the film – that of sometimes sacrificing what might otherwise come fast and easy in defense of the family – resonates whenever it’s given some appreciable mileage.
So the Shazam family might not be hoping through time to save the universe as we know it, and yet they do a damn fine job reminding me why sometimes it’s OK to save your own … mostly because you might save a whole lot more in the process.