When James Gunn and Peter Safran took over DC Studios, the duo didn’t mince words: this was a brand “in chaos.” Their mandate: as Safran explained in late January, “to build an extraordinary standalone studio with the best IP and stories in the world.” But while the pair have already laid out their plans to do just that over the coming years, they also arrived in their new gig with existing material — including five films, all part of that “chaos” — that was primed, ready to go, and dated.
One of those films: David F. Sandberg’s “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” which opened last week to a limp $30 million opening weekend. As IndieWire’s own Tom Brueggemann noted in his weekly box office wrap, that’s more than 40 percent down from the initial DC Comics film in 2019 (with ticket prices at least 15 percent lower). And while the fledgling franchise is hardly alone in this superhero slump — Marvel’s own late-winter sequel, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” also faced major box office struggles — with the changing of the DC guard already in full effect, Sandberg’s series is in dire straits.
But it shouldn’t be. At least, it doesn’t deserve to be.
While a third “Shazam!” film is not currently part of the first wave of films being prepped by the new guard — Shazam and his super-powered family deserve a place in whatever comes next for Gunn and Safran. While “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” doesn’t entirely recapture the giddy fun of the first film (a film our own David Ehrlich termed “one of the most fun superhero movies ever made,” its humor, sweetness, and delightfully human heroes remain bright spots in a genre too often obsessed with the dark and the gritty.
Though it’s unclear just how far from said “dark and gritty” tones Gunn and Safran intend to go with their new slate — which includes new Superman, Batman, Supergirl, and Swamp Thing feature films, as well as new series built around the Green Lantern, the origins of Wonder Woman’s birthplace, and one centered around Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller character — they’ve already got a bright, family-oriented franchise built out.
Sandberg’s series boasts lots of charm: from a young cast (including Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, and franchise newbie Rachel Zegler), plenty of humor, and sterling lessons about the power of family, diversity, and inclusion. (Not for nothing: “Fury of the Gods” finds literal power in a family that relies on the strengths of its very different members, and never shies away from them; this is a film in which an actual superhero announces to his family that he is gay, which is only met with love and acceptance.)
Also recommending the series for continuation: Sandberg’s films have already proven they’re able to stand alone in a sprawling universe and fold in nods to the rest of the DC heroes (hell, Sandberg’s latest film even includes a cameo from Gal Gadot as her iconic Wonder Woman). Don’t want to bank on another film? “Shazam!” could lend itself beautifully to the episodic television treatment, a baddie-a-week format the Shazamily could take on with aplomb.
And while a bent toward PG-13 gags and violence prohibits the films from being totally accessible to all ages, it still skews younger than many other DC offerings. Worth noting: in June, DC will open “The Flash,” and while early buzz for that film has been very strong indeed, it still comes with an asterisk: having to sell a zippy, feel-good superhero film around embattled star Ezra Miller.
Even if Miller does arrive on the press tour on their best behavior, will audiences be interested in seeing a film built around them? And will they be ready, willing, and able to launch a sequel if the film is a hit? It’s one of many lingering questions Gunn and Safran will have to answer. (Pause our mental PowerPoint presentation to plea, “just do more ‘Shazam!’ and give it better marketing this time!”)
Even Sandberg doesn’t know what might happen with his superhero franchise. The director recently told Uproxx he has not had any “big conversations” with Gunn or Safran about a third film, but expressed that he’s open to it and ready to talk about another film if they are. On Twitter, the filmmaker also noted that he’s “been told … that there’s nothing in the Shazam films that contradict the future plans for DC.”
They are their own thing, and they’re a wonderful thing. As Gunn and Safran attempt to reshape the universe to their liking, there should be more space for the funny, the weird, the sweet, and the different. “Shazam!” is already right there.
“Shazam! Fury of the Gods” is now in theaters.