Shazam! Fury of the Gods was never going to be a covert Justice League movie or a Black Adam sequel. Worlds would not collide for Billy Batson and his superpowered crew of foster kids — and director David F. Sandberg was happy to keep it that way. The Swedish filmmaker, who cut his teeth in the horror world on films like Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation before jumping over to the world of DC Comics adaptations, loves Shazam, loves the Shazamily, and loves to unleash hordes of gods and monsters upon Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in order to test their might. In the sequel, he even put a dome over Philly to keep Batman and Superman — and any questions about Batman and Superman’s whereabouts — at bay.
But there was one big DC universe crossover Sandberg pushed for, as a mea culpa for the original Shazam’s wacky headless Superman scene.
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for the end of Shazam! Fury of the Gods.]
In the final scene of 2019’s Shazam, Billy, in Shazam mode, interrupts Freddy’s lunch to introduce a friend: Henry Cavill’s Superman! Kinda! Instead of an in-person cameo, Superman walks in carrying a cafeteria tray, but his head is out of frame.
Not exactly what “the fans” may have been looking for out of an interconnected-universe cameo, but it made Sandberg laugh. And when it came time for Shazam! Fury of the Gods, he knew he wanted to do two things: put Wonder Woman in the movie, and nod to the first movie’s notorious non-appearance.
“Wonder Woman was always in the script,” Sandberg says. “And we wanted to poke fun about the whole headless cameo in the first movie, with Superman. So we wanted to tease people a bit. But you can only do that if you actually have Wonder Woman then show up at the end. Otherwise people would be way too pissed off.”
Shazam! Fury of the Gods does it all. Partway through, in one of the movie’s funniest bits, Billy dreams of going out on a dinner date with the one and only Wonder Woman. From behind, it’s clearly Gal Gadot’s version of the character — but viewers never see her face. Sandberg holds the camera off Diana’s face long enough to draw the gut feeling: Yes, they’re doing it again. And the reversal comes at the exact right moment: When Shazam leans in to get more romantic, it’s the Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) reaching out through telepathic means. We get Hounsou’s face, and Wonder Woman’s everything else.
“I worked with Djimon before on Fast 7,” says Fury of the Gods screenwriter Chris Morgan, “and in some roles he can come off stoic and strong or whatever, but man, that guy’s really, really funny. And so the chance to bust out with the Wizard a little bit was just too much to resist.”
Co-writer Henry Gayden also praises Djimon for punching up the movie’s comedic moments. In one more emotional beat between Freddy and Anthea (Rachel Zegler), Sandberg framed the actor behind them as he performed their dialogue with talking hands. Not in the script, but gold. “Djimon really just took over there and made everything funnier,” Gayden says.
But as Sandberg says, the team couldn’t just go for the joke with a Wonder Woman cameo. In fact, the character solved a major script issue: Who was godly enough to bring Billy Batson back from the dead? In Fury of the Gods’ climax, Shazam goes toe-to-toe with Kalypso (Lucy Liu) and her electricity-spewing dragon. He wins, but not without sacrifice. Sandberg and the writers go so far as to provide a coda for the moment, in which the family mourns the loss of Billy at his grave. But no so fast: There’s one more child of the gods still roaming the DC universe, and her name is Diana.
“She was in the script from the beginning, which was exciting,” Sandberg says, “but I didn’t really believe it. Because of the experience on the first movie. And even when we shot most of the scene, they were like, ‘Oh, she’s not gonna make it here on this day, so we’ll go shoot it with a stand-in and then pick up her pieces later on.’ I’m like, Oh, OK, this is never happening. So I started thinking of a plan B: What other god can we get to resurrect him? Would we need to bring Hespera back? That’s gonna be lame after she died. But then it actually did happen!”
Over the phone, Sandberg sounded genuinely thrilled to have Gadot appear in the movie, even when the future of the DC movies past and future is in question. A planned Wonder Woman 3 starring the actor is no longer set to happen, making Fury of the Gods her final bow. But the importance of the cameo did not sway Sandberg from having fun with it.
“Even at the end, when she does show up, there’s that first shot of her where her head is out of frame,” the director says with a laugh. “But really quickly, we tilt up just to not have people just leave the theater in frustration. [laughs] I was so thrilled about getting to work with Gal and to have her in the movie because it’s a really nice payoff, and makes up for a headless cameo!”