Zachary Levi in a scene from "Shazam! Fury of the...

Zachary Levi in a scene from "Shazam! Fury of the Gods."  Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

PLOT A family of superheroes must stop a trio of ancient sisters from destroying the world.

CAST Zachary Levi, Rachel Zegler, Helen Mirren

RATED PG-13 (some strong violence)


WHERE Area theaters

BOTTOM LINE This DC sequel should hit the family-friendly sweet spot.

The resident man-boy of the DC Universe returns for his second outing in “Shazam! Fury of the Gods.” Once again played by Asher Angel as teenage Billy Batson, who transforms into 42-year-old Zachary Levi whenever he utters the magic word, Shazam continues to stake his claim as the most kid-friendly figure in a crowded genre. This fledgling franchise is definitely more “Freaky Friday” than “The Dark Knight.”

“Fury of the Gods” picks up a few years after the first film (from 2019), with Billy and his five foster siblings now all living double lives as crime-fighting Shazams. It’s going so-so — they’ve been dubbed the Philadelphia Fiascos by the press — and the original Shazam is seeing a therapist to deal with his “impostor syndrome.” The film opens with the superhero on the couch, a subtle nod, perhaps, to Levi’s own well-publicized battles with mental health.

The Shazamily, as the film’s marketing team would like us to call them, will soon fight another family: The Daughters of Atlas, three ancient Greek goddesses whose backstories are a little murky but whose intention to conquer the world is clear enough. They come straight from A-list Central Casting: Helen Mirren as the imperious Hespera, Lucy Liu as power-hungry Kalypso and Rachel Zegler (of 2021’s “West Side Story”) as softhearted Anthea. Any superhero screenplay (this one is by Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan) requires a bone-crunching fistfight, which means Levi will have to smack around a 77-year-old Mirren. Kudos to returning director David F. Sandberg for staging those scenes without making us wince.

With so many characters vying for attention, the movie can only focus on a few. The most charismatic is once again Freddy, the kid with the crutch (Jack Dylan Grazer) who calls himself Captain Everypower (Adam Brody, too brief). The least compelling is Darla (Faithe Herman as a kid; Meagan Good as a superhero), but younger viewers will probably love her cute-little-badass routine. The most pleasant surprise is Djimon Hounsou, who expands the minor character of Wizard into a fine comedic figure — crusty, flustered, good-hearted.

With its overt nods to the Potterverse (flying books, a self-writing pen) and a product-placement for Skittles that would make E.T. blush, “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” fairly panders to the under-13 set. But Levi still works his chatterbox charm, and the movie maintains an appealingly easy-breezy tone (aside from the occasional impaling). Take the kids to a matinee and save the next “Deadpool” for date night.

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