The second chapter of the adventures of the chosen champion of magic, Billy Batson, and his superhero sibling family continues in the latest DC Extended Universe release, “Shazam! Fury of the Gods”, which doubles down on the titular character’s mythological roots in its narrative. As shown in the first movie and also in his origins in comics since the golden age, the character derives his magical superpowers from mythical gods and godlike beings, and among them, the stamina of Atlas is one of the chief components. “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” follows the three daughters of Atlas- Hespera, Kalypso, and Anthea – as they seek retribution against the Wizard and want to take away the powers from Billy and his siblings. The daughters were movie-exclusive characters in the DC universe, as in there hasn’t been any appearance of them in comics yet, and it was really great to see three strong female mythical figures testing the mettle of our favorite sibling super-team. We will take a look at their individual motives and actions to better appreciate their significance in the movie itself.
Like some other superhero fiction, Shazam! also takes inspiration from world mythologies quite liberally, and in this case, from Greek mythology. The creators chose to take elements from existing Hellenistic mythology and put their own spin on them to suit their narrative. In the myths, after the Olympian gods emerged victorious from their battle with the Titans, Atlas the Titan was punished by having to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders for all eternity. Hence the stamina of the Atlas term is attributed to the powers of Shazam. The daughters of Atlas and Hesperis were known as Hesperides, or Nymphs of Evening, in mythology. The Hesperides were tasked with tending to the heavenly garden, otherwise known as Hera’s orchard. According to myths, mother nature goddess Gaia brought branches carrying golden apples as Zeus and Hera’s wedding gift and, later, upon Hera’s request, sowed the golden apple in Hera’s orchard. As an additional measure of protection for the garden and the golden apples, Hera tasked an immortal, ever-awake dragon named Ladon with safeguarding them. The legend of Hercules also narrates the hero’s action of stealing the golden apple from the garden of Hesperides as one of his labors. Also, according to some versions of the myth, the goddess Eris used one of these golden apples and turned it into an apple of discord by creating a dispute among Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera, which ultimately brewed the Trojan War. A significant portion of this myth has been utilized in the movie’s version of the realm of the gods’ worldbuilding.
The eldest daughter of Atlas, Hespera, masterfully portrayed by veteran actor Helen Mirren, and known as the goddess of the night, has the ability to control elemental powers. In the very opening scene, as Hespera and Kalypso visit the museum in Athens, she uses her powers to turn the entire crowd present at the galleries into statues. Later, during Freddy’s abduction and barrier creation around the city, her telekinetic powers come in handy. As we come to know from the history lesson in the library of Eternity, Atlas, in this lore, created a staff from the Tree of Life that could siphon and channel the power of gods. Later, as the Council of Wizards led the uprising of humans against the oppressive gods, the staff was stolen by the wizard Shazam. The Wizard taking away the power of gods using the staff led to the decay of the realm of gods, and transferring the powers to immature kids was the final blow to the legacy of the gods, at least, that’s what Hespera thinks. As the senior-most sibling, she likes to command her unruly sister Kalypso and keeps her violent impulses in check by reason or by force if necessary. Although she seeks revenge on the Wizard and has a similar goal to her sisters—to take away the powers of the champions of magic—she doesn’t resort to violence from the get-go and seems open to reasoning. After the daughters of Atlas manage to acquire the staff as well as the golden apple that sprouts the tree of life, Hespera supports Anthea’s perspective about stopping the conflict, as they have everything they could have possibly needed to restore the god realm’s former glory. Later, after disobeying her, when Kalypso unleashes the mythical monstrosities on earth, Hespera finally has a change of heart and decides to stop Kalypso in her villainous tracks. Unfortunately, Kalypso betrays her and commands Ladon to attack in guile, which leaves Hespera mortally injured. Later, Hespera somewhat redeems herself before her death by aiding Billy in his plan to nullify the threat posed by Kalypso by shrinking the barrier around the city. The eldest daughter of Atlas, although she started her quest with malicious intent, could have made wiser decisions if she hadn’t been provoked by her sister. In her dying moments, she acknowledges Billy’s worth as a true hero.
The deadliest and most tyrannical of the three sisters and the second daughter of Atlas, Kalypso is known as the goddess of death and controls the elements of chaos. In Greek mythology, Kalypso was the nymph who seduced Odysseus and wanted to keep him forever with her on the island of Ogygia. Although the DCEU version of Kalypso doesn’t really operate in a similar fashion, her proclivity for violence suggests an adherence to the ancient autocratic ways of the gods. She is also sadistic and enjoys the pleasure of seeing lesser beings get toyed with by her whims, as seen in the way she whispers her chaos powers at the beginning of the movie and later makes Freddy’s schoolteacher jump off the roof to her death. Her perspective towards humans is very generalized and one-sided, as in she considers humankind as a rot that has the potential to be dangerous and deceptive. Unlike her two sisters, her motive for revenge is rooted in nefarious intentions. This becomes quite clear when, despite acquiring the apple and the staff, she doesn’t seek the betterment of the god realm; instead, she wishes to sow the apple in the earth realm to teach humankind a lesson. As an act of vengeance, she unleashes the dragon Ladon on the earth realm. Her act of sowing the apple in the earth realm results in disastrous consequences; the tree of life grows to be blighted and gives birth to deformities in the form of mythical monsters like Manticores, Harpies, Minotaurs, Chimeras, and Cyclops who wreak havoc in the city. As Hespera opposes her, Kalypso ends up betraying and mortally injuring her and taking away Anthea’s powers as a punishment for speaking justly. She meets her end when Billy supercharges the staff into an explosion inside an enclosed area and sacrifices his life in the process. Kalypso is the representation of the archaic gods, who were known to be whimsical, vengeful, and malicious and met a befitting end without being redeemed. Lucy Liu was positively menacing in her role.
The youngest daughter of Atlas, Anthea has the powers of reality manipulation and is also the wisest of the three sisters. Perhaps that was the reason why, even though her elder sisters took a more direct approach to their quest, she was assigned to act covertly. Anthea befriends Freddy Freeman in her human ‘Anne’ form, and manipulating him lures the champion of magic right into the trap set by her sisters. Although her success comes at a heavy price, she discovers that the champion she handed over to her sisters was Freddy himself. Regretful of her actions, she tries to make amends later by rescuing Freddy and the Wizard from a near-death situation at the hands of Ladon and letting them know the escape route. Anthea’s assurance allowed Freddy to re-evaluate his own worth as a person outside of his empowered self. Thanks to Anthea’s help, the Shazam family reunited and later put up a fight against Kalypso and her monster forces. It was Anthea who appealed to Hespera’s senses by pointing out Kalypso’s brutality, which, unfortunately for her, honestly resulted in her downfall as Kalypso took away her powers. During the events of the movie, she and Freddy fall for each other, and she decides to accompany the Shazam family in their mission to revert to normalcy. As Billy sacrifices his life to save the world, Anthea and the Wizard arrange his godly funeral in the garden of Hesperides. After Billy’s resurrection, Anthea regains her powers, lets her newfound friends know about her wish to live with the mortals, and helps the Vasquez family rebuild their house. Anthea is the kind of new-age god who is sensitive, benevolent, and worldly and who adapts herself to the changing times. Her inclusion provides a nice balance between the extremes of Kalypso and the more neutral disposition of Hespera. Rachel Ziegler’s charming portrayal of Anthea was definitely a highlight of the movie.
The three daughters of Atlas bring distinctive perspectives and unique dynamics to their antagonistic roles, and given how generic some of the recent comic-book movie baddies have become, this surely feels refreshing. Lastly, the inclusion of mythology using these characters was much needed in the DCEU, and “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” did that perfectly, something that hopefully the Wonder Woman franchise will take a lesson from in the near future.