The DC Extended Universe has never really had much luck with critics, but there are a handful of exceptions. While Wonder Woman remains Warner Bros.' best-reviewed DC movie from this era of storytelling, Shazam! sits in joint-second place with James Gunn's The Suicide Squad.
The former was a modest hit when it was released four years ago, exceeding expectations and suggesting the tone of blockbusters like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad wasn't what most moviegoers were looking for.
Sequel Shazam! Fury of the Gods finally arrived in theaters this weekend, but as well as drawing mixed to negative reviews, the movie has significantly underperformed with a $65 million global opening. On the surface, it makes no sense, and we can't help but wonder where it all went wrong for the first DCEU movie released in 2023.
In this feature, we break down the mistakes made by Warner Bros., the factors that contributed to the sequel's failure, and attempt to figure out why it was ultimately far from electrifying...
6. DC Studios' Slate Reveal
When Discovery acquired Warner Bros., it quickly became apparent that new CEO David Zaslav was looking to make some sweeping changes. Among them was restoring the DCEU to its former glory, and after a lengthy search, James Gunn and Peter Safran were tasked with taking charge of DC Studios and creating a new DCU.
The first titles that will make up "Chapter 1: Gods and Monsters" were revealed at the end of January, but aside from a few actors Gunn has worked with before, actors from the DCEU were conspicuous by their absence. Henry Cavill, for example, was ousted as Superman despite returning in Black Adam, while we're also getting a new Batman.
There may be the faintest trace of connective tissue, but when many moviegoers go into superhero movies viewing them as a teaser trailer for what comes next, it's hardly surprising interest in the Shazam! sequel plummeted after the slate reveal. Instead of viewing this movie in its own right, it became a Dark Phoenix-style leftover.
5. A Dismal Marketing Campaign
Releasing the first trailer for Shazam! Fury of the Gods during last year's San Diego Comic-Con was a smart move, but our first look at this sequel actually came the year prior at DC FanDome in October. Audiences are easily distracted, and a stop/start marketing campaign did little to help this movie.
Aside from stiff competition posed by Avatar: The Way of Water, it's thought the sequel wasn't released last December due to a lack of funds on Warner Bros.' part. Regardless, the teaser gave too much away and was full of outdated references, doing little to generate excitement...the second trailer, meanwhile, spelt out the entire plot from start to finish.
Getting desperate, the studio decided to spoil Wonder Woman's cameo in advance, robbing us of any real mystery or excitement. There was nothing exciting or inventive about the way Shazam! Fury of the Gods was marketed, something evident from the fact this team of heroes couldn't even get their own character posters.
4. The Young Actors Are Too Old
Part of Shazam!'s charm was the fact it was basically Big with superpowers. The wish fulfilment of a child being granted extraordinary abilities was on full display in that first movie, with some of the best moments coming when young Billy Batson used his powers to buy alcohol or just have fun with his friend.
In Shazam! Fury of the Gods, Billy is nearing 18 as are the rest of his foster brothers and sisters. Mary is a full-blown adult and, outside of Freddy, they all seem thoroughly bored with being superheroes. What made the first movie so great is lost, and it's no wonder moviegoers awarded it a disappointing B+ CinemaScore.
There's fun to be had with the sequel, that's for sure, but without what made its predecessor such a joy to watch, it quickly becomes just another straightforward and familiar tale of good versus evil. That's no longer enough to sustain this genre...even if a third movie happened, all the kids would be adults by then!
3. Black Adam
With the DCEU pretty much directionless, Dwayne Johnson fancied taking a crack at building an entire slate of projects around Black Adam. The pro wrestler turned actor managed to convince Warner Bros. to bring back Henry Cavill's Superman, bypassing a showdown with Shazam to head straight to a confrontation with the DC Universe's biggest hero.
Spin-offs for various members of the Justice Society were also planned, but when Black Adam was finally released, it was met with negative reviews and dismal box office numbers that couldn't touch the inflated budget. Desperate, Johnson attempted to make the movie look profitable in the press, but DC Studios was then formed and were having none of it.
There was so much negative press surrounding Black Adam - not to mention confirmation that Johnson's time as the anti-hero had ended - it lessened interest in Shazam! Fury of the Gods. Casual fans likely expected more of the same and, crucially, it was obvious a crossover would never happen. That had been a big selling point from the start.
2. Too Many Delays
Shazam! Fury of the Gods finished shooting in August 2021, a little over two and a half years after Shazam! was released. The pandemic obviously slowed things down, but fans were perplexed to learn they would have to wait for the follow-up until the following December.
Last August, the movie was delayed again, with Warner Bros. finally settling on a March 2023 debut. As a result, it's been four years since we first watched Shazam! and the child actors who were already too old two years ago are now even older! It's an absolute clusterf**k, but one that was arguably outside of the studio's control.
Recasting was an option, but if that was never on the table, a stronger story was needed. Either way, it took too long to get this thing into theaters, and there's no denying it suffered, as a result. In hindsight, it might have been smarter to just keep the focus on Billy, Mary, and Freddy.
1. The Villains
Taken at face value, the Daughters of Atlas are pretty decent villains in Shazam! Fury of the Gods. However, they're also newly created for this movie and that's a huge blunder on the movie's part. Shazam isn't a character with an iconic rogues gallery, but there are plenty of mystical baddies from the DC Universe this follow-up could have made use of.
Mr. Mind was the logical next step, of course, while throwing Tawky Tawny into the mix would have really thrilled fans.
Instead, comic book fans and casual moviegoers alike had nothing on the page to turn to heading into the movie, and the buzz that usually surrounds a project like this fizzled out. The sequel ended up looking like a generic battle between our heroes and some vaguely defined mythological villains and, unfortunately, that's exactly what it was.