Things are not going well for Shazam! star Zachary Levi. Fury of the Gods—the sequel to 2019’s enjoyable, if derivative, Shazam origin story—is currently tanking at the box office, reaping a piddling $30.5 million in its first weekend. The critical consensus has been similarly tepid, barely cracking 50 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, which is quite the dip from the first film’s 90 percent approval rating. (“Labored, unfocused and generally out of ideas. I was bored stiff,” raves one reviewer.) The overarching DC cosmology is also in the midst of a galactic shakeup, with James Gunn stepping in to orchestrate a soft reboot of the troubled canon. We already know a second Black Adam movie isn’t in the chamber, and given Shazam’s tepid performance, Zachary Levi could be the next superhero actor out of a job.
But Levi isn’t going to go down without a fight. Instead he’s been uploading a series of verbose, disconcertingly intense missives to his Twitter and Instagram, where he’s adjudicating beefs and desperately pleading for more ticket sales, and perpetually appears to be on the brink of tears.
“I’m coming to the defense of truth. Because truth is good. And we should all live in it,” says Levi, at the climax of one of his more rousing calls to action on the behalf of his family movie. (It begins, for some reason, with him singing the song “Lights” by Journey.) “Even if it might fly in the face of something we believed before.”
The specifics of Levi’s grievances will appear totally inconsequential to anyone who doesn’t possess a vested interest in the DC Extended Universe, and given the film’s opening domestic gross, you are likely to be one of those people. So I will attempt to make as much sense of this as I can, but first, it’s going to require some backstory. Basically, in the above clip, Levi is agonizing about a post-credits scene filmed for Fury of the Gods featuring a couple of members of the Justice League’s C-team: specifically Hawkman and Cyclone, two characters who are not going to be getting their own HBO Max spinoff anytime soon but who did appear in Black Adam, which is information that will become relevant soon.
However, that scene was left on the cutting-room floor for some controversial reasons. Levi claims that his cross-canon tease was “thwarted” by another party, and, if you’ve been following the reporting, it seems pretty clear that Levi’s adversary is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Johnson was the star of Black Adam, a movie that claimed to disrupt the “hierarchy of power” of the DC universe and made about $1.6 billion less than Infinity War. In the comics, Black Adam and Shazam are connected, which is why those cameos would make sense within the DC filmography. But apparently Johnson wanted to keep the burgeoning, unsinkable Black Adam mega-franchise totally separate from his Shazam kin and nixed any connection between the two films, including a potential Black Adam cameo in Fury of the Gods. The Rock got his way, which is why Levi has found himself soliloquizing about Truth and Justice into his front-facing camera over a couple of B-list superhero crossovers.
“We need to live in the truth!” he exclaims toward the end of the clip, addressing his “Shazamily.”
There’s a lot to unpack here. It is, of course, both hilarious and painful that Levi seems to believe that a midcredits tease populated by the supporting superheroes of another middling DC enterprise could’ve helped salvage the fate of his own Shazam property—as if a billion dollars is only a Black Adam endorsement away, despite the fact that Black Adam itself did not make a billion. There is also mounting evidence that the Rock might not be the easiest guy to work with in Hollywood. Yes, Levi has some untrustworthy, cyborg-like vibes, but Johnson is fresh off a falling-out with his Fast & Furious family—Tyrese Gibson and Vin Diesel specifically—to the point that it seems doubtful that the vascular Hobbes will make an appearance in either of the two final chapters in that series. Most importantly, though, the Levi cri de cœur is more grist for my theory that, despite all of the resources Warner Bros. is pumping into its DC film money pit, the off-camera drama of its actors is continually more compelling than any world-saving they’re up to in theaters.
“I love Keanu Reeves; if you want to see John Wick, go for it. But John Wick isn’t a family movie,” said Levi, during that sweaty Instagram communiqué. “So if you’re looking for a movie for your family, or your date, go see Shazam! Fury of the Gods. You’ll thoroughly enjoy it.”
Consider, if you will, how Ezra Miller’s Hawaiian karaoke rampage will forever overshadow the Flash film that’s set to release in June. Or how the turgid, antiseptic Justice League debut—scarred by a retrospectively ill-timed Joss Whedon rewrite—was miraculously resurrected by demands for the four-hour Zack Snyder cut. In the Justice League reshoots, Warner Bros. was famously forced to remove Henry Cavill’s mustache with CGI because he was contractually obligated to keep it on for his commitments to Mission: Impossible—Fallout. Yes, the Justice League project was so cursed that it created an entire facial-hair-centric press cycle.
Levi has been guilty of some self-inflicted drama himself, after endorsing the teachings of Jordan Peterson on Joe Rogan’s podcast and raising some seemingly anti-vax doubts about Pfizer on Twitter. Fury of the Gods would’ve died an irrelevant death if it weren’t for the blessing of a Black Adam beef. Now it reigns as another fascinating chapter in a DC saga filled to the brim with malcontents and weirdos, the story of a franchise that simply can’t get out of its own way.
It’s unlikely that we’ll see Zachary Levi suiting up in a Shazam costume anytime soon. Gunn has already detailed the upcoming slate of DC films under his official stewardship. Superman, Swamp Thing, and Robin are all prominently involved. Shazam is nowhere to be found. (Neither is Black Adam, for that matter.) But I hope Levi keeps speaking his truth on Instagram, because that’s the only thing that could make me want a sequel.