At any given moment, if you duck into the mentions of Shazam! Fury of the Gods director David F. Sandberg, there are about eight to 10 people wondering why Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman aren’t showing up to help Shazam in the DC movie.
“Where was Justice League when all this happened???” one inquiring mind will yell after Sandberg shares an innocuous image of a dragon lighting Philadelphia on fire. Luckily, the director has an answer for every question.
The Justice League are... not actually dead when Fury of the Gods picks back up with Billy Batson and his Shazamily (and if you have seen a recent spoilery TV spot, you know there’s room for a cameo or two). But by the time the Daughters of Atlas descend from the skies to reclaim their powers from Billy and his orphan brethren, it can feel like it. Sandberg’s sequel is a movie all about Shazam (played in grown-up form by Zachary Levi) figuring out who he is in the grand pantheon of superheroes, and what happens when he doesn’t have a Superman — or in this case, his dorky brother Freddy souped up with Superman-like powers — by his side. And to create a chamber for that kind of emotional incubation, Sandberg and writers Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan found an easy solution that also staves off all fan questions about the Justice League swooping in to save the day: a literal chamber.
“Marvel gets this too,” Sandberg laments to Polygon with a laugh. “Why aren’t the Avengers here? Why isn’t the Justice League here? Well, it can’t have the Justice League, even if that would be cool, but that was something we talked about — and that’s kind of why we have the dome over Philadelphia, a forcefield that keeps people out.”
While the original Shazam kept the superheroics to a street level as Billy learned to wield his newfound powers, Fury of the Gods goes bigger. Since the daughters — Hespera (Helen Mirren), Kalypso (Lucy Liu), and Anthea (Rachel Zegler) — are in pursuit of the Shazamily, the sequel is still uniquely set just within the confines of Philadelphia, though the city’s never felt bigger as three god-powered beings wreak havoc. And eventually, their magic walls off the city from any outside interference, leaving just Shazam to save the day. Which is tough for Billy when the audience picks back up with him — not only does he want his brothers and sisters to use their powers responsibly, but he wants them working as a team 24/7.
“[The dome] is a whole natural extension of him holding on too strong at the beginning,” Gayden says. “We always knew that it was going to be him having to let go. [...] Then we have these daughters who’ve lost their father because of Shazam’s powers, and could tell a story about loss, confronting a literal superhero with impostor syndrome, and the reality that he doesn’t deserve his powers.”
“I really appreciated the pressure cooker of it,” Morgan adds. “I think in an early draft the dome comes in early, and then it got pushed back a little bit, kind of toward the end of the second act. But it’s cool, because you see the effect it’s having on the city — it’s a way to ramp up the tension and then ultimately isolate Shazam from the family.”
Sandberg says there were brief talks about trying to play with the fan expectation that a DC hero could swing by and help out, but that it never took root. “I thought maybe we should have just at least a news report on TV or something where you see Superman outside the dome, or Batman, trying to get in,” he says. “But we never really went down that path because that opens up a whole can of worms!”
Though development on Fury of the Gods began almost immediately after the success of the first movie, the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted shooting plans, delaying the sequel long enough that DC has undergone major changes since the film got the greenlight. DC Films president Walter Hamada and co-chairman Geoff Johns were around when Sandberg and his writers were batting around ideas, but the movie opens on March 17 to a new DC Entertainment, one spearheaded by James Gunn and Peter Safran (who produced both Shazam movies). The Justice League of the DCEU, who would in theory be the ones trying to crack the dome, are not part of Gunn and Safran’s announced plans for the DC slate (nor is Shazam’s usual antagonist, Black Adam). But for Sandberg, the blurriness of where the franchise and expanded universe sit is a luxury.
“Shazam has been off, sort of, in his own corner,” Sandberg says. “The stories in these movies haven’t really affected the larger DC Universe, which is a good thing. Because now, what they’ve told me, is that there’s nothing in the Shazam movies that contradict their plans for the future of DC. So it’s like, you could make more movies or be a part of it because there’s nothing that contradicts it.”
In that way, the dome is really a sandbox.
“This one is much bigger,” Sandberg says. “There’s so much going on. And I like getting to play with new toys.”
Shazam! Fury of the Gods hits theaters on March 17.