“Shazam 2: The Shazam-ening”dares to ask the big questions, like whether it is cringier to watch a romance involving a 6,000-year age gap or Zachary Levi being “silly.” The entire premise of “Shazam 2: Shazam-a-lam-a-ding-dong” is that the swoll central superhero looks like a middle-aged dude but is secretly a teenager. Levi apparently confused “teenager” with “toddler,” unless he actually thinks that all 18-year-olds are mere seconds away from licking food off the floor and incapable of a single coherent, non-horny thought. We let 18-year-olds vote, Zach. No one would leave your version of an 18-year-old unattended with a glass of water for fear of drowning.

“Shazam 2: Whoa, Black Betty, Sham-a-zam” has other problems. Ostensibly a movie about a family of superheroes, only die-hard comic fans will actually be able to name all six members of the powered posse by the film’s end. Most siblings aren’t lucky enough to score a subplot. One of the few who gets something resembling a character arc has it end with him blurting out his sexuality with zero follow up. The plot is a lazy, simplistic merry-go-round that sees ancient goddesses attempting to reclaim the fam’s magic juju. All key events and best moments in “Shazam 2: Hey Do You Remember Kazaam With Shaq?” were shown in the trailers. It is passably entertaining for 180 seconds and no longer.

The wildest thing in the film isn’t how inert it renders a villainous Dame Helen Mirren and Her Majesty Lucy Liu but how incomprehensible it is in tone. If “Shazam 2: Save the Shaz-ama for Your Mama” wanted to go for a youth-oriented, uber-goofy PG feel, that would have been fine. But you don’t get to fire off “zingers” about a port-a-potty’s stench and also have scenes in which a beloved teacher commits suicide and where mythical beasts disembowel people. For what it’s worth, said disemboweling creatures are the best part. Everyone (rightly) blasting Marvel’s VFX lately will find some remarkably clean and polished visuals here, which is apparently what happens when a studio actually provides enough time to finish a movie.

“Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” which is apparently its legal name, is not so bad as to be upsetting but so wonky as to wobble without ever pleasing. Another “heroes saving people on a bridge” scene? More “superhero who doubts his worthiness” existentialism? Additional Zachary Levi? These are things that nearly no one has requested, demanded, or can enjoy.

A humble proposal: If Shazam is to return, despite what just happened, put him in a film with adult superheroes. As a foil to a grumpus Batman or a father-figure Superman, the teenage schtick could work, a la Spider-Man in the MCU. This will, of course, entail showing Levi how an actual living teenager communicates and functions. Alternatively, should the powers-that-be decide to recast the man powered by lightning, nobody will be shocked and more may be electrified.

Grade = D+

Other Critical Voices to Consider

Felix Vasquez at Cinema-Crazed.com says “Hey, it’s better than ‘Black Adam.’”

Hoai-Tran Bui at Inverse says “Everything looks a little more washed out, Levi’s jokey delivery is tired, and we’ve all had enough of MacGuffins.”

Amy Nicholson at the New York Times says “It’s an ungainly mishmash of tones that comes together only in one bizarre, wonderful gag when a graying wizard barges into Billy’s erotic dream to deliver some very serious exposition with his head fused to Wonder Woman’s bronze-plated breasts.”

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