At any time, if you dive into the listings of Shazam! Anger of the Gods director David F. Sandberg, there are about eight to ten people wondering why Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman don’t show up to help Shazam in the DC movie.
“Where was Justice League when all this happened???” an inquiring mind will scream after Sandberg shares an innocent image of a dragon setting fire to Philadelphia. Fortunately, the director has an answer to every question.
They all die at the beginning of the movie
— David F. Sandberg (@ponysmasher) February 27, 2023
The Justice League isn’t really dead when Anger of the Gods picks up again with Billy Batson and his Shazamily (and if you’ve seen a recent TV spot with spoilers, you know there’s room for a few cameos). But by the time the Daughters of Atlas descend from the sky to reclaim their powers from Billy and his orphaned brethren, it may feel that way. Sandberg’s sequel is a movie that’s all about Shazam (played in adult form by Zachary Levi) figuring out who he is in the grand pantheon of superheroes, and what happens when he doesn’t have Superman – or in this case, his dork. brother Freddy stepped up with Superman-like powers – by his side. And to create a room for that kind of emotional incubation, Sandberg and writers Henry Gayden and Chris Morgan found an easy solution that also staves off any fan questions about the Justice League rushing in to save the day: a literal room.
“Marvel gets this too,” Sandberg complains to Polygon, laughing. “Why aren’t the Avengers here? Why isn’t the Justice League here? Well, it can not have the Justice League, even though that would be cool, but we talked about that – and that’s why we have the dome over Philadelphia, a force field that keeps people out.
While the original Shazam kept the superheroes at street level as Billy learned to use his newfound powers, Anger of the Gods goes bigger. Since the daughters – Hespera (Helen Mirren), Kalypso (Lucy Liu) and Anthea (Rachel Zegler) – are on the hunt for the Shazamily, the sequel is still uniquely set within the confines of Philadelphia, although the city has never been felt as big as three god-powered creatures wreak havoc. And in the end, their magical walls sealed off the city from any outside interference, leaving only Shazam to save the day. That’s hard for Billy when the public picks him up again – not only does he want his siblings to use their powers responsibly, but he also wants them to work as a team 24/7.
“(The dome) is a very natural extension of him holding on too tight to begin with,” says Gayden. “We always knew he would be the one to let go. (…) Then we have these daughters who lost their fathers because of Shazam’s powers, and get to tell a story of loss, confronting a literal superhero with imposter syndrome, and the reality that he doesn’t deserve his powers.”
“I really appreciated the pressure cooker of it,” Morgan adds. “I think in an early draft the dome comes in early, and then it got pushed back a little bit, about towards the end of the second act. But it’s cool because you see the effect it’s having on the town – it’s a way to ramp up the tension and ultimately isolate Shazam from the family.”
Sandberg says there were brief conversations about trying to play with fans’ expectations that a DC hero might come along to help, but it never took root. “I thought maybe we should at least have a news story on TV or something where you see Superman outside the dome, or Batman, trying to get in,” he says. “But we never really went down that path because that opens up a whole can of worms!”
Although development continues Anger of the Gods began almost immediately after the success of the first film, the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted shooting plans, delaying the sequel long enough for DC to make major changes since the film was greenlit. DC Films president Walter Hamada and co-chairman Geoff Johns were around as Sandberg and his writers brainstormed ideas, but the film opens March 17 for a new DC Entertainment, one led by James Gunn and Peter Safran (which includes both Shazam movies). The DCEU’s Justice League, who would theoretically be the ones trying to crack the dome, are not part of Gunn and Safran’s announced plans for the DC slate (nor is Shazam’s usual adversary, Black Adam). But for Sandberg, the blurriness of where the franchise and the expanded universe are located is a luxury.
“Shazam has sort of been in his own corner,” says Sandberg. “The stories in these movies not really impacted the greater DC Universe, which is a good thing. Because what they’ve told me now is that there’s nothing in the Shazam movies that contradicts their plans for DC’s future. So it’s like you could do more movies or be a part of it because there’s nothing to contradict it.
In that way, the dome is really a sandbox.
“This one is much bigger,” says Sandberg. “So much is happening. And I like playing with new toys.”