Yes, there’s a new sequel to Shazam! (2019), and you’ll be forgiven for asking, like another Djimon Hounsou character, “Who?”
It’s been four years since that film. Audiences may have forgotten the world. Or they experience genuine “superhero fatigue,” not with the idea of metahuman characters, but with stories so meta they deconstruct themselves. (Here’s our recent podcast about this problem.) Or fans be so used to DC’s disconnected universe that they don’t even know what place this hero has in the world—what there is of a world.
Back when the first Shazam! released, fans could still suppose this story was set in the world of Man of Steel or Batman v. Superman. (Or even “Josstice League,” that gross corruption of director Zack Snyder’s original Justice League).
Shazam! was directed by David Sandberg, based on the Golden Age character from Fawcett Comics who was arguably a Superman ripoff. Long ago, DC sued ’em, then brought their character into the DC world. Now for some reason these new movies keep trying to spin characters like Batman, Wonder Woman, and even original Shazam enemy Black Adam away from the rest of this metahuman universe.
One critic says this distancing comes at a cost:
Nowhere does this movie attempt to build upon established DCEU lore. The story is self-contained and uninspiring. It simply chugs along with false bravado confidently within its own substandard mediocrity.1
Hazam! still lacks the ‘Wisdom of Solomon’
Todd laments that this sequel is so self-contained that it fails to develop the first movie:
Do not expect any surprises or revelations; there are none to be had here. Shazam! 2 could not be bothered to carry over any of the major character arcs developed or resolved from the previous film. It is as though none of the characters experienced any growth beyond aging.
Here my heart sinks, because I’d hoped (for remaining Shazam! fans) that the movie at least pursued some maturity. Back in my own 2019 review of Shazam!, I noted:
Here’s hoping future onscreen adventures of Shazam! and family can mature with these ideas—not just for thematic growth, but for DC franchise growth. After all, real heroes in fiction, as in reality, shouldn’t stop at just finding a family to call their own. Real heroes also need to find and join a Justice League.2
Alas, by this and many accounts, this maturing did not happen.
Unwise corporate bosses stole fire from Shazam
That’s probably no fault of the director or stars such as Asher Angel (a very good, yet older, Billy Batson in 2019). It’s the fault of desperate Warner Brothers Discovery executives. They felt it wise to announce Henry Cavill would return as Superman. One day later they announced they’d hired an exec who, it turned out opposed this Superman choice. Studio co-head James Gunn quickly and publicly dismissed Cavill and claimed he would write his own Superman movie.3
In addition, back in December adult Shazam! star Zachary Levi got onto social media and basically… begged. Levi pled for fans to believe in upcoming DC movies while ignoring previous films by director Zack Snyder, which Levi said “didn’t ultimately materialize.”
Aside from one’s opinions on Snyder’s style or continuity, many fans recoiled from Levi’s pleas. They look like corporate simping.
I must include myself. By then I had already to lean into my existing indifference to the Shazam! sequel, or frankly any other DC movie this year. That’s not hatred, or “toxicity,” or Batman-style vengeance. It’s simple indifference.4 Levi seems a decent man, even a professing Christian. But his public faith expressions don’t require me to see his movies any more than I’m required to see a Pure Flick called God’s Not Dead VI.
Shazam‘s director (and Ben Affleck) show the stamina of Atlas
At least one Shazam! creator knows not to beg: director David Sandberg. He’s making headlines from an Instagram comment last night, in reply to fans already expressing sympathy for the failed film.
No worries. It’s not like this comes as a surprise. I saw where this was heading a long time ago. I’ll be alright though. I got paid all my money upfront 🙂
Fans tend to reject sob stories, corporate simping, and disrespect for world continuity. But for directors like Sandberg or actors, producers, others who behave more honestly, fans will show “forgiveness” even if they’re indifferent to the movie the creator made.
The same holds true for Ben Affleck. Just in time for the movie to release, he released a long-form THR interview in which he classily dispatched this “new DCU”:
I would not direct something for the [James] Gunn DC. Absolutely not. I have nothing against James Gunn. Nice guy, sure he’s going to do a great job. I just wouldn’t want to go in and direct in the way they’re doing that. I’m not interested in that.5
Well, you might ask, who’s asking him? James Gunn was, that’s who, and very publicly.
And here’s Gunn’s original Dec. 14 tweet, screencapped in case it’s later deleted (as Gunn has deleted tweets before):
Last year, Gunn claimed he loves ‘ridiculous’ heroes
I find it difficult to separate Gunn’s hype-raising attempts from his previous attempts to deconstruct heroes. I’ll refer to my December article at Lorehaven, Superhero Tales Are Turning Into ‘Deathworks.’ That article seems worth quoting at length:
Justice League’s director Snyder errs on the side of taking superheroes seriously. He wants to explore deeply mythological tales of gods or godlike humans who try to act heroically in a dark and politicized world.6 By contrast, Gunn also says he loves superheroes, but for less-than-earnest reasons:
I love superheroes. I also think they’re the dumbest things that have ever existed. I have no happier times in my life than lying in my bed when I was 12 and reading comic books. I don’t think life got much better than that. And yet the fact that we take these things seriously as adults is ridiculous because people really would look at you like they look at Peacemaker when he walks into Fennel Fields wearing a costume: What’s wrong with you? You think that’s cool? You’re a maniac. The idea that superheroes are maniacs is something I like very much.7
“James Gunn chooses sincerity,” pledged that story’s headline. Many DC fans were not persuaded. Gunn’s streaming show in focus included sexually exploitative lines about Wonder Woman supposedly lusting, and “jokes” about Superman’s supposed sexual perversions. Finally, the finale blessed fans with a reference to Aquaman fornicating fish—after which Atlantis’s noble king blasts Barry Allen with an F-bomb.
These may be the “dumbest thing” heroes we deserve, but not the ones we need.
Yes, Gunn hit big with the edgier-wholesome Guardians of the Galaxy franchise at Marvel. It got a well-reviewed holiday special and everything. Here he lets his sex-flippancy flag fly. That’s about expected for a man who started his career telling “jokes” about sexually assaulting children, women—and fictional superheroes.
“Treating these people like gods is like, ‘Whaat?’” blurted Gunn, the Anti-Snyder.
Whatever his intentions, it’s foolish to assume he was kidding around. When people tell you who they are, listen to them.8
If such stunts continue, while execs insist on making flippant and Diet-MCU-style nonsense, DC will indeed become DCeased.
- Joseph Todd, “Shazam! 2 Is a Simplistic Mess,” GeekosityMag.com, March 18. ↩
- E. Stephen Burnett, “Shazam! Brings the Laughs while Struggling with Super-Maturity,” Christ and Pop Culture, April 22, 2019. ↩
- Last week, Gunn announced, almost sheepishly, that he would also direct that movie. ↩
- With one exception: I write this piece mainly because the story behind the story is far more interesting than the failed story itself. ↩
- Rebecca Keegan, Ben Affleck on ‘Air,’ New CEO Gig and Those Memes: “I Am Who I Am,” The Hollywood Reporter, March 16, 2023. ↩
- Original endnote: This means Snyder has made many aesthetic choices to support this worldbuilding, such as ditching the Victorian-strongman “trunks” on Superman’s outfit. He also disregards this “costume” notion in favor of showing him in Kryptonian diplomatic attire, complete with regal red-and-blue colors. Casual viewers will miss this detail. Careful viewers will feel the added touch, even if they never see this explained in making-of documentaries. And back in the 1970s, director Richard Donner pursued a similar approach by showing that Superman’s famed S-shield is in fact the Kryptonian family crest. ↩
- Original endnote: “‘I Love Superheroes. I Also Think They’re the Dumbest Things That Ever Existed.’ After decades skewering the genre, James Gunn chooses sincerity.” Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture.com, Feb. 18, 2022. ↩
- E. Stephen Burnett, Superhero Tales Are Turning Into ‘Deathworks,’ Lorehaven.com, Dec. 15, 2022. ↩