Shazam: Fury of the Gods director David Sandberg seems like he’s in limbo like the rest of us on the future of the Shazam movies. On one hand, that’s not that unusual. Even most superhero movie sequels aren’t announced until well after its predecessor’s release date. Though it’s just kind of assumed at this point any successful superhero movie will be getting additional installments. And the first Shazam was successful, both at the box office and with critics – a feat not achieved all that often with these DC movies. But since the production of Shazam: Fury of the Gods, James Gunn has taken over and Sandberg said there’s been no direct discussions about Shazam’s (and Sandberg’s) future at DC one way or another. In a video shared on social media, the only clue Gunn has given was he said the world of Shazam is kind of its own thing and that this new film can fit into the direction Gunn is taking the DC universe, but nothing about Shazam’s fate after that.
In Shazam: Fury of the Gods, as we left off in the last film, young Billy Batson (Asher Angel plays the young version; Zachery Levi plays the super-powered version, Shazam) and his adopted all now have the ability to turn into muscular, adult superhero versions of themselves. They are tested early on during a bridge collapse and … sort of spectacularly fail and become the laughingstocks of the greater Philadelphia area. Complicating things, three gods (Helen Miran, Lucy Liu, Rachel Zegler) have come to Earth in search of an ancient staff that will bring them immortal powers, while stealing the powers away from Billy’s family and capturing his foster brother, Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer, who is again terrific). And now Billy, as Shazam, needs to broker peace with the gods or try to destroy them.
Ahead, as stated earlier, Sandberg tries to tell us what he knows and what he doesn’t know about the future of these movies – and, frankly, after directing two of them if he even wants to do another. (At the very least, he does seem to want the time to do a small horror movie.) And he explains the tricky dynamic of having four actors play the two lead characters and having to use the plot to make sure Jack Dylan Grazer’s Freddy Freeman is on the screen a lot. Also, kind of surprisingly, the name Captain Marvel is actually mentioned during the course of Shazam: Fury of the Gods. Which is Shazam’s original character name from the comics, but is now an very tricky legal issue with Marvel’s character of the same name. Sandberg explains how that all happened.
How are you doing?
Doing good. Just starting the whole press thing and, yeah, finally getting the movie out there and getting people to see it.
So the name Captain Marvel is actually spoken in this movie, kind of as a joke. But with the whole issue with Marvel’s version, does that have to run through the legal department?
Well, I actually didn’t think we were going to be allowed to say it. When we were shooting that scene, he actually had a different line. But I was like, well, let’s do a take where you call him Captain Marvel. We’re not going to be able to use it, but let’s just get it. And then I was talking to the guys at DC and I was like, can we put it in the movie? Is that okay? And they were like, “Well, yeah, I mean, Marvel mentioned Superman and Batman, or whatever, in Eternals and different movies.
They do mention Superman in that, yes.
Yeah. So it’s like, why not? They can’t say anything.
That would be a funny lawsuit. I would enjoy it at least. I don’t think you would, but it would be entertaining.
Well, it wouldn’t affect me. I’d enjoy it too.
I was disappointed, once again, no Captain Hill-Billy.
Actually, at one point when we were figuring out what the story would be for this one, we actually had a version where Tawky Tawny would be in it, the talking tiger.
Yeah. There was a way. But that story didn’t really work, so we had to go with this story instead. And then there was no organic way to get him in there. Because you can’t just have a talking tiger show up and be a part of the gang without people going like, “Wait, how does that work?”
Don’t even explain it.
He’s just there.
Okay so Shazam is Captain Marvel in the books, but it works just calling him Shazam in the movie. But it doesn’t work for Captain Marvel Jr. And in this movie, he’s referred to as “Captain Every Power” a lot. Where did that come from?
Well, that was another thing because we were like, oh, he should make up some dumb name for himself. We had a lot of versions of Captain and some word or the thing. And what we found out was that they were all taken.
There are too many superheroes! Because it’s like there are thousands of them out there that you never hear of, but they’re still trademarked and copyrighted. So it’s like finally we got it down to just like, well, there’s no one called Captain Every Power, so let’s just use that. It was a real struggle to finding a captain or something that wasn’t taken.
That would be a funny headline. “The director of the Shazam movies: There are just too many superheroes.”
I know before the first Shazam there was talk of using Black Adam. Was that ever a plan for the second movie, before he got his own movie?
No, because we knew that they were doing a separate Black Adam. We knew that he wasn’t going to be a big part of the movie. So we got Helen Mirren instead.
She looks like she’s having a lot of fun. I hope that’s the case.
Definitely. I mean, she doing her own stunts and breaking fingers and stuff.
I didn’t know she did her own stunts.
She did a lot of stuff. We put her on wires and when she gets picked up by Zach and stuff like that, that’s actually her. That’s why we did an angle from the top. So we need to see your face so people see that we really did it. There were certain stunts that we had to tell her, no, you can’t do that. We need to do it with a stunt person.
So, with the new management at DC, have you talked to James Gunn? In his announcement, he said the Shazam movies worked because they are their own thing. Have you had conversations with him? Do these get to continue?
I haven’t had a big conversation with him and Peter [Safran] yet. He’s been a part of little marketing meetings and stuff, but no further conversations yet. He’s been pretty busy I think, for both of us.
I’m just trying to get into your head a bit. You finally cracked Shazam, made a movie that a lot of people liked. And now everything’s being redone. But I don’t know what you’ve heard or what you haven’t heard or what you can even tell me…
I don’t know what the exact plans are. I mean, for me, I take it just one movie at a time. When we did the first one, I didn’t expect to do a second one, but that still happened. So we’ll see. I mean, for right now, I’m just like I just want to make a little horror movie or something now. I just did two Shazams in a row. But, I mean, if they want to do more, hey, I’m open to it. Let’s talk. But we’ll see.
I didn’t even think about that aspect of it, that a lot of directors don’t want to do more than a couple of these because they take up so much time and energy.
Yeah, they’re very exhausting. It just takes a very long time. And it’s scary, putting all your sort of eggs into one basket. You work three years and then what if it doesn’t work? And it’s like, Oh. So, horror movies are nice because you can do one a year and get them out there.
The dynamic in the Shazam movies seems tricky, because you have four actors who play two characters. In the first movie, what worked so well was Zachary Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer. But now they both have powers. It did seem like the movie looks for plot excuses to have these two together.
Yeah. I mean, especially with Jack.
Yeah, he’s great in this.
You want to see him. So you kind of have to take his powers away. Because otherwise, he’d be a superhero all the time and you want to see Jack. And I think what worked out really well is the dynamic with him and the Wizard, to have Djimon Hounsou as the straight man and pair the two of them up.
Like Jack’s line in the dungeon, “Is this a tooth? There’s a tooth in here.”
That’s Jack. That’s what he wanted.
Oh, he did that?
Yeah, because I mean, the production designers, when they made that dungeon and everything, they put clothes, bones and teeth in there. But that’s genuine, him going, “What? Is this a tooth in here?” He actually picks one up and that’s like perfect. And that’s why it’s so great to work with people like Jack or Zach. They don’t stick to the scripts all the time, but it’s great because they come up with such fun stuff.
Asher Angel is really great as young Billy, but we’re going to see a lot more of Zachary in this movie than we do him. Is it weird to be like, “Hey, you’re really good, but it’s not going to be as big a part this time”?
Yeah, I mean, it is unfortunate. I mean, we try to balance this as much as we can. But, I mean, it makes sense that a lot of the movie they are in danger and they are fighting. So, of course, he would be in his superhero form. So it’s a tricky balance, but I think the cast was all okay with it and to do their different sizes of parts.
I know you said there haven’t been any meetings, and that you want to do a horror movie next, but what are you feeling with the future of Shazam?
There’s certainly much more you can do. I mean with the Shazam and the family. And there’s a lot of great villains from the Shazam universe as well. I’d love to see more with Mr. Mind, not just because I do the voice for him. But I mean, he’s just such a unique character because it’s silly in one way because he’s just a little worm. But he is really intelligent and dangerous and he has other forms as well. He can Hyperfly form and things like that in the comics.
So in the version I saw, there were no end credit scenes, but I was told they’re just not ready yet. But I can’t help but think, does that mean they had to be redone because of the new regime?
No. I mean, they exist. I think it’s more like wanting to save something for the fans on opening day and all that stuff.
I see, okay.
So it doesn’t all get out there.
Okay, I was wondering if there was a Black Adam tease that’s pretty obviously not happening now.
No. They’re mostly just fun little scenes. It’s not like, “Here’s the new Superman.” I can’t spoil too much, but you get to see some characters that are fun to see.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods opens in theaters everywhere on March 17th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.