Recriminations have begun over Shazam! Fury of the Gods’ unheroic performance at the box office. And like all things to do with the DC Universe during this awkward transition period to a new era under DC Studios chiefs James Gunn and Peter Safran, it’s getting pretty messy.
The Shazam sequel’s star Zachary Levi has fanned the flames on social media, endorsing a story that the series was undermined by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s power play to put his character Black Adam at the core of the DC films setting, and agreeing that embittered fans of the Zack Snyder DC films wanted his movie to fail.
On Tuesday, Levi posted an Instagram Story (captured for posterity by Home of DCU on Twitter, and verified by Polygon) quoting a report by The Wrap that Johnson had vetoed linking Black Adam to Shazam! in post-credits scenes, despite the characters’ canonical link in the comics. “The truth shall set you free,” Levi commented, with an upside-down smiley face.
Zachary Levi posted this on his Instagram story.— Home of DCU (@homeofdcu) March 21, 2023
Citing two “high-level” sources, The Wrap reported that The Rock personally vetoed a post-credits scene for Black Adam that would have shown Levi’s Shazam being recruited to join that film’s Justice Society hero team, in favor of the now-infamous cameo by Henry Cavill’s Superman. Johnson was betting on fan appetite fueling Cavill’s return in a sequel to Man of Steel — which it almost did, until it very much didn’t — and perhaps figured that Superman would make a more prestigious opponent for his antihero than the goofy Shazam.
Further, The Wrap reports that when Safran and director David F. Sandberg tried to recreate the same post-credits scene for Shazam! Fury of the Gods, Johnson ruled out the use of any of the Black Adam Justice Society actors. Safran and Sandberg had to use two federal agents — members of Amanda Waller’s team from Gunn’s Peacemaker series — to recruit Shazam, rather than any actual JSA heroes.
The Wrap piece, which, it’s important to note, arrives perfectly timed to a heated moment of the Hollywood blame game, makes much of Johnson weakening both franchises by refusing this link and insisting on his misguided bet on Cavill, and goes on to trash the actor’s arrogance at length. But it’s debatable how much influence a post-credits scene in Black Adam — which performed better than Shazam! 2, but still struggled to break even — could have had in saving the later film’s fortunes.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, Levi risked the ire of DC films’ most toxic fandom by agreeing with one fan’s analysis that Zack Snyder fans were “happy for the failure of your film,” as a sort of punishment for Warner Bros. for failing to persevere with Snyder’s continuity and casting choices, established in Snyder’s Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Justice League. (Gunn will recast Superman in his forthcoming Superman: Legacy.) In a now-deleted tweet, as reported by Variety, Levi replied, “This is also true. Sad, but true. How much that actually affects the box office is anyone’s guess. But I think the biggest issue we’re having is marketing. This is a perfect family movie, and yet a lot of families aren’t aware of that. Which is just a shame.”
On the latter point, at least, Levi may have a point. Warner Bros. is in the awkward situation of releasing no fewer than four previously made DC films this year, even as Gunn and Safran are publicly talking about rebooting the franchise. While this summer’s The Flash is being heavily boosted with prime “Big Game” TV spots, vocal support from Gunn in his promotion of the new DCU slate, and even an alleged nod of approval from Tom “savior of the movies” Cruise, Fury of the Gods has seen little of the same support beyond typical trailer dumps. It’s not quite a Batgirl situation, but from the outside, the release feels like a legacy write-off.
Other members of Fury of the Gods’ cast and crew have been publicly defending the movie, although they have largely taken the much safer and more conventional route of blaming the critics for not getting it. “On Rotten Tomatoes I just got my lowest critic score and my highest audience score on the same film,” Sandberg tweeted, with a shrug emoji. “I wasn’t expecting a repeat of the first movie critically but I was still a little surprised because I think it’s a good film. Oh well.”
On Rotten Tomatoes I just got my lowest critic score and my highest audience score on the same film ♂️ I wasn’t expecting a repeat of the first movie critically but I was still a little surprised because I think it’s a good film. Oh well.— David F. Sandberg (@ponysmasher) March 20, 2023
Meanwhile, star Rachel Zegler tweeted, “Hey our film is actually really good! [...] Some people out there and just being… senselessly mean. And it’s unnecessary. [...] It’s just cool to hate on fun nowadays.”
Why is all this DC drama so... dramatic? As directors and actors are cut loose or left wondering what their future might be under the new regime, and as a vocal fan base continues to make its presence felt, Warner Bros. clearly struggles to get everyone to toe the company line — to the extent there is one. With the rollouts of The Flash (starring the controversial Ezra Miller), Blue Beetle, and Aquaman 2 still to come this year, and with Gunn’s tone-setting Superman: Legacy not due until 2025, it seems like the chaos could continue for a while yet.
One person, at least, is happy to be leaving it all behind. “One thing I’ve really been looking forward to is disconnecting from the superhero discourse online,” Sandberg said. “A lot of that stresses me out so much and it will be nice not having to think about that anymore.”