‘If I had to handpick two people to help go run DC, I’d choose Peter Safran and James Gunn,’ Levi says of new studio bosses
Shazam! star Zachary Levi knows that every time a DC Comics superhero sequel hits theatres, it is usually heralded as “bigger and better” than its predecessor.
But when Levi, 42, returns as the man of the hour in this week’s Shazam! Fury of the Gods, he’s guaranteeing fans that his follow-up as teenager-turned-superhero Billy Batson isn’t going to disappoint.
“When we were in the middle of making the movie, I said to myself, ‘We’re making a really great movie,’” Levi said, smiling in a video call from Los Angeles in late January.
“When we finished it and tested it, people really enjoyed it. It tested even better than the first movie. Even though I know I’m biased, I would say, objectively, we made a better movie than the first, and the first was really good.”
Original Shazam! director David F. Sandberg once again returns to helm Fury of the Gods, which finds a vengeful trio of ancient deities (played by Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, and Rachel Zegler) returning to Earth looking to take back the magic that lets Billy transform into his superhero alter ego Shazam.
“All three of them have unique powers and they’re bad-asses,” Levi said, grinning.
The cast also includes Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Adam Brody, Jovan Armand, Ross Butler, Meagan Good, Grace Caroline Currey, D.J. Cotrona, and Djimon Hounsou.
Levi’s turn as the Golden Age hero comes at a time of change for DC. After a film slate that has seen the company’s biggest names appear in big-screen adventures, James Gunn and Peter Safran have been tapped to lead DC Studios and overhaul the DC Universe.
When he spoke to Postmedia, Levi didn’t yet have a clear picture of whether he’ll be back as the character, but he is confident in their vision. “I really believe from a creative standpoint, James understands what’s going to work and what isn’t,” Levi said.
As we tried to get him to commit to picking this year’s eventual Super Bowl champ (spoiler alert: He wouldn’t commit to a team), Levi spoke about Shazam no longer having to be the “fun uncle” and the film’s new villains. Somewhere in there, we chatted about theme park rides, too.
With every new sequel our hero faces bigger challenges. How are the stakes raised this time around?
“At the end of the first movie, we introduced all these new versions of the kids, which was so fun. Billy is taking that very seriously, and he’s trying to get everyone to work together as a team. But, simultaneously, he’s trying to keep everyone together because he’s about to turn 18, and he’s going to age out of the foster system. It took him 14 years to find this chosen family that he loves and he’s about to lose them just a few years later. Then you have these crazy, dope Daughters of Atlas, who are Greek goddesses who believe Billy has stolen their father’s power and they’d like it back. So the stakes are quite high on a lot of levels.”
You just mentioned the villains — Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu and Rachel Zegler. How are they going to be different antagonists?
“I think they’re similar in that every villain thinks they’re the hero in their own mind. No one really thinks they are evil … These ladies are no different. They think it’s their power Billy has unrightfully stolen, whether some wizard gave it to him or not.”
When I met you on the set of the first movie, you likened the film to being the “fun uncle.” After the success of that first movie, did you feel the pressure on the sequel?
“Superman has all the pressure — that’s the gold standard. Everyone has an idea of who they think should play Superman or Batman or Wonder Woman. So we didn’t have to fight against that. But we set a bar for ourselves. The first movie was a really good movie. Critically it did well and we’re still at 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s a really wonderful thing to have. If anything, the only pressure is: can we at least get there again?”
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If Fury of the Gods was a theme park ride, what theme park ride would it be?
“Maybe that Harry Potter ride that’s a roller-coaster or Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disneyland. It would be like one of those. It’s like you’re going through all this craziness and there’s different realms and there’s different magical powers and things happening all over the place. And if we don’t have the budget to make all of that happen, then it’s like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. We’re at least going for that.”
What was your reaction to James and Peter taking things over at DC Studios?
“If I had to handpick two people to help go run DC, I’d choose Peter and James. I’ve known both for years. James almost cast me as Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy. It was very close, didn’t happen, Chris Pratt crushed that, it was his role and I’m happy for him. It all ended up working out beautifully because then I came around and auditioned for Shazam! Peter even asked James what he thought and he said, ‘You should hire that guy.’ So I have nothing but love and appreciation for those guys for the role they played in my life and career. But again, all that bias aside, Peter is a savvy businessman and diplomat, and James is a very talented world-builder. Between the two of them they’re going to — maybe at long last — build a true cohesive universe that allows all the different types of works to live and breathe, while still having the connectivity and the crossover and all of that. I’m pumped about it because I trust them.”
Shazam! Fury of the Gods opens in theatres this Friday.
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