Shazam sequel proves you can't go home again – and Paramount dips into the vault with a 4K steelbook set of Transformers
By Jim Bray
Shazam! The Fury of the Gods is the interminable sequel to the mostly watchable and kind of fun original, but it ups the ante substantially and unnecessarily to become a fairly incoherent mishmash that had us checking our watches repeatedly to see if the ordeal was coming to an end yet.
And yet, there's a lot to like with this "Junior Justice League" flick that sees a bunch of kids with superpowers trying to fend off a trio of ancient gods who are hell bent on destroying the earth in retaliation for perceived slights in the distant past.
So, it's kind of like today's Woke with their constant navel gazing backwards and refusal to move on and get life going again.
Still, we get to see Helen Mirren as an evil goddess – aided and evilness upgraded mightily by Lucy Liu – as they wreak havoc on the earth in their attempt to retrieve the superpowers granted to the Shazamophiles.
And the production values are first rate. It just needed a better script and less "mugging" by Zachary Levi.
At rise, Shazam and his band of little superfriends who become big superfriends are working as superheroes, defending Philadelphia from harm. And not very well, according to a media that's just as slimy here as it is in real life. But the Daughters of Atlas – Kalypso (Lucy Liu), Hespera (Helen Mirren), and Anthea (Rachel Zagler) - turn up and suddenly those superheroes don't seem as dumb as the media were making them out to be. Well, eventually they don't seem as dumb.
I liked 2019's original Shazam! DC has an unfortunately spotty record at making decent super hero movies (Nolan's Batman Trilogy and Donner's Superman lead, with the first Wonder Woman following closely). It worked because it didn't take itself too seriously. This movie doesn't either, but perhaps it should have in this case, at least a bit.
What we end up with seems to be the Zachary Levi show, with supporting players who seem merely along for the ride, mostly. The villains are very good, and the CG creatures they unleash have a distinctly Harryhausenish mien to them that I liked a lot, but in the end, I was really, really anxious for the movie to end.
It's a decent 4K disc, however – though not nearly as good as some I've seen. Still, the 2160 HDR picture does manage to look amazing at times, and as mediocre as the screenplay at others. Well, maybe not quite that bad!
Audio is Dolby Atmos, backward compatible to Dolby TrueHD for those who aren't Atmosized yet. And it's terrifically dynamic and bombastic. Dialogue is always clear, unfortunately, and the full soundstage is used very well.
The only extra on the 4K disc is a commentary by director David F. Sandberg, but on the Blu-ray that's included there's quite a bit of stuff, including several featurettes. There's probably more stuff here than the film deserves.
Meanwhile, Transformers fans who need a major fix on the eve of the seventh movie in the franchise have a very nice boxed set to savour, one that combines all six previous entries in 4K and Blu-ray into a single package.
It's basically a repackaging all the earlier discs, though I kind of wonder why Paramount would release this now instead of waiting to add the seventh disc to the set when it debuts on home video. But, as usual, no one asked me.
I'd seen most of the flicks before and liked them to varying degrees. I didn't grow up with the TV cartoons and so don't have a vested interest in loving the big screen, live action treatment, but my kids did and that's what made me interested in seeing the movies on home video.
I liked the first one the best, which isn't really surprising since I generally like origin stories with my doses of superheroism, especially because it bristled with cool military hardware, but there are enjoyable moments in each of the movies. But it's candy floss for the eyes and ears, and the brain.
Not necessarily anything wrong with that, of course.
Here's a quick rundown of the titles:
Transformers – 2007. The original film was fun, even with Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox in it, and finds the weird robots from space – who just happen to transform into earthly vehicles such as semi-trailers and cars – as the Autobots (the good Transformers) battle to save the human race from the evil Decepticons. My kids were delighted to hear voices from the original animated series (such as Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime).
As mentioned, I loved the military hardware we get to see in action and don't remember much of the plot of this – or any entry – because each film facilitates the shutting down of the brain in order to have your eyes and ears captivated – especially in 4k!
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – 2009. Sam Witwicky, or as I like to think of him as, Sam HalfWitwicky, in college, trying to fit in. Naturally, he doesn't do a great job of that, but fortunately the mighty morphing vehicles from space come back to give him an excuse to, well, I was never really quite sure because this is basically a pretty incoherent story line – or maybe I just don't get the Transformers.
However you slice it, the movie was successful enough that Paramount kept going back to the well to wring more cash out of it – and fortunately, a couple of the subsequent films were reasonably decent.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon – 2011. This was another confusing mishmash of a screenplay, though entertaining enough. The action tawdles over to Chicago and the last hour is pretty well nothing but a huge special effects extravaganza – which I imagine is why many people watch these movies anyway. I know that's what I was interested in!
And I wasn't disappointed, especially since I wasn't concerned about it making a lot of sense.
Transformers: Age of Extinction – 2014. Shia LaBoeuf was absent from this sequel, replaced by the much better and more likeable Mark Wahlberg, who has an even more nonsensical script with which to work. This time, China is the scene of the Godzilla-like mayhem, which finally gets a bit more fun near the end, when the Dinobots who up.
Transformers: The Last Knight – 2017. Here, the Transformers find themselves fighting King Arthur, Nazis and, well, I'm not really sure what the point of this one was, but it feels as if written by committee and directed by, well, no one. Still, it led to a reasonably good sequel/reboot with:
Bumblebee – 2018. This was a breath of fresh air in the franchise, and almost made me like Transformers movies. Almost.
It's kind of a return to form, except that it's better than the form of the earlier movies. Bumblebee is a Volkswagen Beetle this time, which is apparently what he should be, and there are likeable characters and a pretty interesting story. And of course, lots of great CGI special effects and mayhem.
Popcorn movies at their most blatant, indeed, but enough people liked them that we have the new Rise of the Beasts coming to theatres in about a week from this writing.
The steelbook package includes a Blu-ray with the 4K discs, and Paramount has chosen to release its extras on the BD discs rather than the 4K disc, which suits me fine because I'd rather they use the storage space on the 4K disc to maximize video and audio quality – which they appear to have done here.
The bonus content isn't new, basically just re-ported over from the previous releases, but if you haven't bought the series yet, and really want to see all of the flicks, this is definitely the way to go.
You'd better have 4K playback compatibility here, because only Bumblebee's Blu-ray contains a 1080p copy of the film itself; the rest only contain the supplements. This won't be a big deal to those who want the 4K experience, but those who want to buy now to enjoy the 4K once they upgrade their hardware will be out of luck if they don't have the Blu-rays already.
Copyright 2023 Jim Bray