Taste the Rainbow
Shazam! Fury of the Gods: Spoiler Space
We talked a lot already about why Shazam!: Fury of the Gods but I tried to keep that review largely free of spoilers (at least those things not ruined by the trailers, commercials, posters, etc.). Here, though, I really wanted to touch upon something specific that bothered me: the villains. While I thought the actresses that played the three goddesses were great, the actual story for them was far less interesting.
So let's start by discussing their full plan. We're told, from the very beginning, that the three goddesses -- Helen Mirren as Hespera, Lucy Liu as Kalypso, and Rachel Zegler as Anthea -- were after the Shazam family so they could steal back "the power of the gods". As the film reminds us, Shazam is powered by the Wisdom of Solomon, the Strength of Hercules, the Stamina of Atlas, the Power of Zeus, the Courage of Achilles, and the Speed of Mercury. This is power that only belongs to the gods and shouldn't be wasted on a bunch of kids playing superhero dress up.
Before we get into further twists and turns, I do want to point out that not all of the people listed in that acronym are gods. Zeus and Mercury are, sure. I'll let the case be made for Atlas, too, even though he's a Titan, not technically a god. Hercules and Achilles are demi-gods. Solomon was just a dude. So this "power", which the goddesses want "back", wasn't entirely theirs anyway. The film doesn't dwell on this, but if we're going to nitpick motivation (and we area, absolutely we are) then this was a flaw in the plotting.
Regardless, they come for the power and using the magical Wizard's Staff, which they steal from a Greek museum, killing a lot of people in the process (because they're goddesses and they don't care at all about human life). They then have the Wizard (who, remember, died except apparently he went to another dimension) reforge the staff (against his will), and then proceed to hunt down the heroes. They get the power from Freddy first, and that's when Billy decides to cut a deal. He'll make a trade, the power of Shazam for Freddy.
Except that's actually a ruse and the Shazamily (the ones that remain) plan to capture one of the goddesses and use them as leverage, trading a goddess for Freddy. That's a solid plan, and it makes sense. It leads to a confrontation between Billy (as Shazam) and Hespera where she explains that the power was stolen from the gods, it's not fair, and they will do anything to get it back. That's their motivation... but not really, and here is where the film really starts to lose me.
Apparently getting the power of Shazam wasn't the real goal (or, at least, not the whole goal). Instead Hespera lets herself be captured so she can be taken back to the Shazam headquarters, the Rock of Eternity, which resides in a pocket dimension only the Shazamily can reach. Once there, she easily breaks out all so she can steal a golden apple that just so happens to be in their headquarters, and then use that apple, which is actually a seed for a god tree, to heal their own home dimension, the land of the gods.
My issue is the trope at the center of it all. How many times have we seen a villain willingly let themselves be captured (even though they act like they are totally unwilling) just so they can launch the next (overly convenient) part of their plan. JokerOne of Batman's first villains, and certainly his more famous (and most popular), the Joker is the mirror of the Bat, all the insanity and darkness unleashed that the hero keeps bottled up and controlled. did it in The Dark Knight, Raoul Silva pulled the same trick in Skyfall, and its shown up so many other countless times it's become obnoxious.
Not only is it a trope that's so well worn at this point it's become hoary, but this twist in Shazam! Fury of the Gods also ruins the motivation for our three goddesses. Now it's not about getting their power back but, instead, rebuilding their world? That's a completely different motivation and you would think they'd go about it in a totally different way. The twist, in essence, comes right out of left field and caused a narrative issue with the story that the film doesn't really recover from.
See, because we both have goddesses that want to steal back their power and rebuild their world, the story shifts back and forth between these ideas whenever its narratively convenient. Beyond that, had the goddesses explained what the apple was for there's a solid chance Shazam and his crew would have just handed it over. Rebuilding a world is a great plot line and it make the goddesses seem less vindictive. It humanizes them so that they're not just vengeful, over powered deities.
And there's another thing: what do the goddesses actually stand to gain from stealing back the Shazam powers? They already have their own gifts, magical abilities they can use even before they start stealing powers back. When they do finally steal powers back it doesn't make them more powerful in any way. They want it because they want it but it doesn't actually do anything for them. It's a pointless plot McGuffin, made worse because the film can't even commit to it.
Once they get the seed another issue comes up. While Anthea wants to take the seed back to rebuild the home of the gods, Kalypso wants to plant it on Earth where it will cause carnage and chaos. The seed is meant for a land of gods and planting it on Earth will destroy the planet. Hespera waffles back and forth for a bit but eventually decides that Anthea is right, killing humans is the wrong thing to do and the seed should be planet back on their home.
So wait, what? Now they're concerned about killing people? This after two of them killed dozens of people at that museum at the start of the movie. This after they've been more than willing to risk the lives of the six kids with the Shazam powers. Suddenly deciding, "hey, let's not kill people," is a complete about face that doesn't suit the goddesses at all. Anthea was shown to be the most human of the three, and she didn't kill anyone, but having Hespera decide killing humans was bad makes no sense.
Frankly, the only one acting consistently is Kalypso because she was out for revenge the whole time. But that gets us back to the seed. If all three had agreed to rebuild their world, and that was their true motivation all along (which is what we're told) then Kalypso taking the seed and planting it on Earth goes against her set motivation. The film wants to have it both ways and, in doing so, totally ruins the characters of all the goddesses. They want multiple, conflicting things and the film loses its pace because the villains can't commit.
Villains are something plenty of superhero films struggle with. You have to bring in the foes, introduce them, flesh them out, and then (likely) kill them all before the film's end. That doesn't leave a lot of time for true character development. Using tropes like this film does is an easy way to try and hook the viewers but, in this instance, it totally cuts the legs out from under the film. Shazam! Fury of the Gods tries too hard to do too many things at once and, in the end, fails on all fronts.