The reviews for Shazam! Fury of the Gods are decidedly lackluster compared to the first film, reigniting an old argument around superhero movies: Do bad reviews really matter if the fans are happy?
And who are “the fans,” in a context where different parts of the fanbase are in conflict with each other and/or the filmmakers themselves?
Rotten Tomatoes scores seem to hold an outsized power in this debate, as evidenced by the reactions from Shazam franchise director David F. Sandberg and actress Rachel Zegler. Reacting to the sequel’s mediocre reviews this weekend, Zegler tweeted defensively that “our film is actually really good!” and “some people” are just being “senselessly mean.”
In a familiar refrain for DC movies, she also highlighted the discrepancy between Shazam 2‘s Rotten Tomatoes critic score (53%) and audience score (now 87%). Sandberg echoed this sentiment yesterday, albeit with a more measured attitude to the “fans vs. critics” debate. (It should also be noted that while RT users love Shazam 2, the film’s overall box office results are not great.)
“After six years of Shazam I’m definitely done with superheroes for now,” he added, saying that he was planning to return to the horror genre—the focus of his career prior to the Shazam franchise.
Unlike Zegler’s more defensive tone, Sandberg seems understandably demoralized by Shazam 2‘s reviews. Meanwhile, Shazam star Zachary Levi recently spoke out about “venom and toxicity” in the online conversation around his role—potentially referring to the DCU/Snyderverse fanbase, which has a pretty notorious reputation.
This messy situation illustrates the double-aged nature of superhero stars arguing that they make their movies “for fans, not critics.”
These actors and directors want to keep their target fanbase on side, but this can ultimately feed into the toxic, factionalized nature of fandoms like the DCU. It may seem like a smart strategy to pit loyal fans against allegedly snobbish critics, but down the line, you end up with fans creating defensive rivalries between their favorite corners of the franchise, and turning that frustration back on the creators themselves.
In a later tweet, Sandberg referenced Batgirl star Leslie Grace being mocked after her film was canceled, while Zachary Levi has waded into the discourse over the perceived conflict between Zach Snyder’s DCEU and the new James Gunn era. Since it’s basically impossible to make a superhero movie without engaging with the fanbase online, you can understand why someone like Sandberg might miss the days of directing low-budget horror.