If Warner Bros. Discovery needed additional reassurance concerning their decision to restart their slate of DC Comics-branded films, they got it this weekend with the superhero super-flop Shazam! Fury of the Gods.
The sequel to the successful 2019 picture performed miserably at the domestic box office, grossing just $30 million according to The Hollywood Reporter, short of the already modest projections. The industry trade outlet noted that this is “one of the worst starts for a major Hollywood superhero film, as well as one of the worst for a title in the DC Cinematic Universe, including those released during the pandemic.”
By-and-large critics didn’t take to the picture. Vulture called it “uninspired swill, undone largely by the fact that it’s following up a superior first movie”—and that was one of the more positive notices! (The New York Post wondered if movie lovers needed to start a GoFundMe for Helen Mirren, presumably so she’ll stop agreeing to appear in projects like this.)
The Shazam! property is one that’s always been a head-scratcher. The character was originally created as Captain Marvel in 1939 by Fawcett Comics and was hit with a copyright lawsuit soon thereafter by DC, as they felt he was too similar to Superman. Then DC acquired the rights, but further legal troubles came due to confusion in the marketplace from Marvel Comics and their own Captain Marvel. (Remember that other Captain Marvel? The one starring Brie Larson?) Anyway, it’s complicated—especially when other people wonder what it has to do with the 1996 Shaquille O’Neal film Kazaam, or the late-60s Hanna-Barbera cartoon Shazaan. (Answer: nothing.)
You’d think all this would make for a satisfactory amount of red flags, but the first picture, in which Zachary Levi played a “grown-up” version of a teen gifted with the powers of the ancients (when he speaks the charmed, titular phrase), was actually breezy and fun. This is apparently not the case in the follow-up, as exiting audience members speaking to CinemaScore awarded the film a B+. A B+ doesn’t sound too bad, but compare that to the original’s A, and also keep in mind that as a general rule ticket-buyers tend to gobble-up comic book movies.
Some might argue the project is a little cursed, and some of it probably isn’t the movie’s fault. Rarely is there such a public re-alignment of a franchise as there’s been with the DC Comics titles. (You’ll recall the whole “Release The Snyder Cut!” fan movement.) Shazam! 2, despite being produced by current DC Studios co-CEO Peter Safran, is among the last of the “old guard”’s DC movies. The slate will be wiped clean (except for pocked universe Bat-films) when The Flash comes this summer and uses the power of the Speed Force to split open the multiverse. As such, the project has been a bit of a punching bag, as you can see in this clip between John Oliver and Seth Meyers.