Shazam! Anger of the Gods was never going to be a secret Justice League movie or one Black Adam follow-up. Worlds would not clashing for Billy Batson and his super-powered squad of foster kids — and director David F. Sandberg liked to keep it that way. The Swedish filmmaker, who cut his teeth in the horror world in films like Lights out And Annabelle: Creation before jumping to the world of DC Comics adaptations, Shazam loves, the Shazamily loves, and loves to unleash hordes of gods and monsters on Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to test their power. In the sequel, he even put a dome over Philly to keep Batman and Superman – and any questions about Batman and Superman’s whereabouts – at bay.
But there was one major DC Universe crossover that Sandberg pushed for, as a mea culpa for the original Shazam‘s crazy decapitated Superman scene.
(Ed. remark: This post contains spoilers for the end of Shazam! Anger of the gods.)
In the final scene of 2019 Shazam, Billy, in Shazam mode, interrupts Freddy’s lunch to introduce a friend: Henry Cavill’s Superman! Rather! Instead of a personal cameo, Superman walks in with a tray from the cafeteria, but his head is out of the frame.
Not exactly what “the fans” were looking for in an interconnected universe cameo, but it made Sandberg laugh. And when it was time for Shazam! Anger of the Godshe knew he wanted to do two things: put Wonder Woman in the film and nod to the first film’s notorious absence.
“Wonder Woman was always in the script,” says Sandberg. “And we wanted to make fun of the whole headless cameo in the first movie, with Superman. So we wanted to tease people a little bit. But you can only do that if you actually have Wonder Woman and show up at the end. Otherwise people would get way too angry.”
Shazam! Anger of the Gods does it all. Halfway through, in one of the funniest bits of the film, Billy dreams of going out to dinner with the one and only Wonder Woman. Seen from behind, it’s clearly Gal Gadot’s version of the character, but viewers never see her face. Sandberg holds the camera off Diana’s face long enough to draw the gut feeling: Yes, they’re doing it again. And the reversal comes at just the right time: when Shazam leans in to get more romantic, it’s the wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who makes contact via telepathic means. We get Hounsou’s face and everything else from Wonder Woman.
“I have worked with Djimon before Fast 7,” say Anger of the Gods screenwriter Chris Morgan, “and in some roles he can come across as stoic and strong or whatever, but man, that dude is really, really funny. And so the chance to erupt a little bit with the wizard was just too great to resist.
Co-writer Henry Gayden also praises Djimon for enhancing the film’s comedic moments. In another emotional beat between Freddy and Anthea (Rachel Zegler), Sandberg framed the actor behind them as he performed their dialogue with talking hands. Not in the script, but gold. “Djimon really just took over and made everything funnier,” says Gayden.
But as Sandberg says, the team couldn’t just go for a joke with a Wonder Woman cameo. In fact, the character solved a major script problem: who was godly enough to bring Billy Batson back from the dead? In Anger of the Godsclimax, Shazam goes face to face with Kalypso (Lucy Liu) and her electricity-spitting dragon. He wins, but not without sacrifice. Sandberg and the writers go so far as to provide a coda for the moment in which the family mourns the loss of Billy at his grave. But not so fast: there’s another child of the gods still roaming the DC Universe, and her name is Diana.
“She was in the script from the beginning, which was exciting,” says Sandberg, “but I didn’t really believe it. Because of the experience on the first film. And even when we were shooting most of the scene, they said, ‘ Oh, she’s not going to make it here on this day, so we’re going to shoot with a stand-in and then we’ll pick up her parts later.’ I’m like, Oh, okay, this never happens. So I started thinking about a plan B: What other god can we get to resurrect him? Should we get Hespera back? That becomes stupid after her death. But then it really happened!”
On the phone, Sandberg sounded genuinely excited to see Gadot appear in the movie, even when the future of DC’s past and future movies is at stake. A planned one Wonder Woman 3 with the actor in the lead role is not going to happen again, so Anger of the Gods her last bow. But the importance of the cameo didn’t stop Sandberg from having fun with it.
“Even at the end, when she does show up, there’s that first shot of her with her head out of the frame,” the director says with a laugh. “But very quickly we tilt up to prevent people from leaving the theater in frustration. (laughs😉 I was so excited to get to work with Gal and have her in the movie because it’s a really nice payoff and makes up for a headless cameo!