In January, James Gunn and Peter Safran unveiled their plans for the rebirth of the DC Universe. During a lengthy press conference, the new cochairs and co-CEOs of DC Studios shared a promising slate of upcoming projects and, crucially, laid out how they were going to prioritize their storytelling after a messy era that had a few highs and many lows. There’s a lot to be excited about as Gunn and Safran get to work, but before the first of the newly announced movies and TV shows arrive in theaters and on streaming services, Warner Bros. Discovery still has a number of movies from the studio formerly known as DC Films to release. (And they can’t all be scrapped in favor of tax writeoffs, apparently.) Almost 10 years after it started with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel during the summer of 2013, the DC Extended Universe as we know it is nearing its end—but it’s not over quite yet. With the release of Shazam! Fury of the Gods last Friday, the year of the DCEU’s big-screen leftovers has begun.
Fury of the Gods is the first of four DCEU films that are scheduled to be released in theaters this year—and it’s a rather strange lineup. Next up, in June, is The Flash, which will star Ezra Miller despite the legal issues and disturbing accounts surrounding the actor that once threatened the release of the long-delayed blockbuster. It’s expected to be a multiversal superhero movie—yes, another one—that will serve as both the conclusion to the DCEU and the setup for the new DCU, even with two more DCEU films scheduled to follow it. (For what it’s worth, Tom Cruise loved the film so much that The Hollywood Reporter was compelled to report on it.) In August, Blue Beetle will introduce Jaime Reyes (played by Xolo Maridueña of Cobra Kai fame) in an origin movie that is said to be otherwise disconnected from the rest of the DCEU, leaving room for the character to be a part of the DCU, according to Gunn. And in December, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom will mark the return of Jason Mamoa’s Aquaman, as the actor potentially takes his final turn in the role before potentially taking on a different one in the new DCU.
How any of these films or their characters fit into Gunn and Safran’s future plans remains unclear. As the awkward transition of power at DC Studios continues after Walter Hamada’s exit in October, fans will have to decide if they care whether these projects fit into an interconnected narrative or these characters reappear in their current forms. If Fury of the Gods is any indication of how the rest of the year will shape up for DC, though, we’re in for quite the mess.
Over its opening weekend, Fury of the Gods bombed at the box office, earning an estimated $30.5 million domestically and $65.5 million worldwide—a substantial decline from the first film’s $53.5 million domestic opening in 2019, and one of the worst domestic openings ever for a DC Cinematic Universe release or a major superhero movie, period. Audiences gave it a B+ CinemaScore, down from an A for Shazam!, and its 53 percent critics score on Rotten Tomatoes pales in comparison to the original’s 90 percent.
Fury of the Gods lacks much of the endearing charm that made its predecessor—an earnest film that was revered as being something of a superhero version of Big—one of the surprise hits of 2019. Most of the sequel’s abundance of jokes fall short as it clumsily attempts to weave family drama and Greek mythology into a story that sees Philadelphia enclosed in a dome (not unlike Under the Dome or The Simpsons Movie). There’s enough Skittles product placement to leave you sick to your stomach. (The “Taste the Rainbow” tagline is said not once, but twice, while the candy is also equated to ambrosia, the nectar of the Gods. And Skittles just so happen to be the key to our young heroes winning the favor of deadly unicorns who help save the day.) Although Fury of the Gods has its moments, not even the villainous turns of Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu, or the return of the underappreciated Djimon Hounsou as the Wizard, can save this superhero movie from its worst tendencies.
Beyond the failures of the film and its opening box office numbers, what’s surprising is the effort Fury of the Gods makes to connect itself to the rest of the DCEU—especially after the first film succeeded by carving out its own narrative space and tone separate from the gritty remnants of the Snyderverse. There’s a running gag of Billy obsessing over Wonder Woman, with the man-child having erotic dreams of the Amazon demigoddess and going so far as to send her a love letter. The payoff is a surprise cameo from Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman at the end of the film, as she resurrects Shazam after he dies during his final battle against Liu’s Kalypso.
With the cancellation of Wonder Woman 3, this could end up being a pretty thankless final appearance for Gadot as the beloved Princess Diana of Themyscira. After she literally brings Billy back to life, he wastes little time in hitting on her, which might not have looked quite as bad if it had come from his actual teenage form instead of Zachary Levi. While it’s understandable that Fury of the Gods would use the star power of Gadot’s Wonder Woman to bolster its ending, it’s the mid-credits scene that comes after Gadot’s drop-in that highlights the strange narrative limbo DC Studios finds itself in as its clearance sale of would-be blockbusters gets underway.
The first of the film’s two stingers centers on two characters from Gunn’s The Suicide Squad and its HBO Max spinoff series Peacemaker, A.R.G.U.S. agents Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland) and John Economos (Steve Agee), as they invite Shazam to become a member of the Justice Society of America. The invitation is extended at the request of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), and Shazam accepts it without hesitation. (Understandably, he’s confused by the distinction between the Justice Society and the Justice League.) The scene serves as a direct link to Peacemaker, but also to last year’s Black Adam, which introduced the JSA to the DCEU.
Given the connections and timing, it would seem as if the stinger could have been added into the film after Gunn and Safran took over DC Studios in an attempt to tie Shazam to the new DCU. But according to director David F. Sandberg, that wasn’t the case. “There were supposed to be characters from [Black Adam’s] Justice Society, but that fell apart three days before we were going to roll cameras,” Sandberg explained to The Hollywood Reporter. “So, Peter Safran, who produced this movie and Peacemaker, made some calls, and thankfully, Jen Holland and Steve Agee were able to come by on very short notice. I mean, the scene makes a little less sense with them. It’s like, ‘Why are they recruiting for Justice Society?’ but you can kind of see it as they’re working for Amanda Waller.”
Like Black Adam before it, Fury of the Gods calls back to the DCEU through Harcourt and Waller—two characters who will return in the DCU’s new era, with the announcements of a second season of Peacemaker and another spinoff series in Waller. Meanwhile, Dwayne Johnson has confirmed that his Black Adam franchise will not play any part in this upcoming first chapter of storytelling, and there has been no indication that the JSA will either. In other words, Fury of the Gods may very well be teasing a crossover that will never happen.
The future of Levi’s Shazam, in or out of the JSA, is altogether unclear—as are the fates of many of the other stars of the DCEU. While Henry Cavill is decidedly not reprising his role as Superman (despite a similar scenario that played out when a Black Adam post-credits scene teased his return to the cape), Gunn and Safran have not made any definitive statements about the futures of the rest of the DCEU’s Justice League members beyond this year’s crop of films. (Ben Affleck, however, has at least confirmed a brief appearance as Batman in The Flash, while also expressing that he would “absolutely not” be directing a film in Gunn’s DCU.) When Gunn and Safran were asked during the press conference in January whether any of the roles in the films on this year’s slate of leftover movies would be recast, Safran answered diplomatically. “These four movies are terrific,” he said. “There’s no reason why any of the characters or the actors that play in [sic] those characters are not part of the DCU. There’s nothing that prohibits that from happening. We’ll incorporate characters from the past, but mostly we’ll cast anew.”
Despite the newfound promise of narrative clarity and greater organization under Gunn and Safran in the DCU, Fury of the Gods has only further confused an inevitably shaky transitional phase. The multiversal events of The Flash may pave the way for a clean reset, but with Chapter One (dubbed “Gods and Monsters”) still years away, we’re witnessing the consequences of Warner Bros. Discovery’s need to make money off of all it’s invested in these big-budget blockbusters as the company continues to cut down on content after a tough financial year.
If Fury of the Gods can’t bounce back at the global box office after its slow start this weekend, the low attendance numbers may seal the fate of Levi’s tenure as Shazam—even though the events and world-building of the film seem to fit within the DCU’s forthcoming Chapter One. The same box-office barometer could determine the fates of the three franchises still slated to release films this year, with Blue Beetle having the truest tryout among them as a stand-alone origin movie. And as many DC fans continue to cling to the Snyderverse, the road directly ahead may grow even more awkward and confusing.