The latest DC extended universe movie, Shazam is out today--and we've judged it to be pretty great. Here's our chat with director David Sandberg and star Zach Levi about how they made the DCEU's most fun movie yet.
This kind of thing doesn't happen by accident. The tone of the early "DCEU" (or whatever we're calling it nowadays) seems to have spewed forth directly from Zack Snyder's gritty, color-desaturated brain--Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman are actually cited in the dictionary under the entry for whatever the polar opposite of "fun" is. Which isn't to say that approach is ineherently bad--many fans have enjoyed the Snyder-fied versions of these characters. But following relative hits like Wonder Woman and Aquaman, Shazam is the latest DC movie to benefit from the guidance of a director who knows how to inject a little more fun into this universe: David Sandberg.
Sandberg's previous directing credits include horror movies Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation. The Swedish director told GameSpot recently that he was excited to helm a movie with a lighter tone than what we've seen in the DC cinematic universe before.
"[Shazam] is such a unique character that it becomes a very different movie by default," Sandberg said.
That has to do with Shazam's origin: "Most superheroes get their powers or they get their moment when they're older--they have this heavy responsibility suddenly," the director continued. "For Shazam, he's a kid and it's like, 'Holy s*** I have super powers!' It's such a different starting point and it's such a fun thing to explore--OK, what would a kid do with these superpowers? Because he would be probably quite irresponsible, and he'd film it, and then he'd put it on YouTube."
And that's exactly what happens. Part of the reason Shazam works so well is that foster brothers Billy Batson (Asher Angel/Zach Levi) and Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) do exactly what any teenage boys would do with the newfound power for one of them to transform into an adult: They buy beer, ditch school, and engage in various hijinks that have little to do with anything you'd expect from a "normal" superhero.
Another big reason is Zach Levi, who is pitch-perfect in the role of a teenage boy in an adult man's body who finds himself suddenly empowered to do incredible things (see also, Levi's role as a normal-dude-turned-super-spy on Chuck back in the 2000s).
"[Shazam] hits what I believe to be kind of the most iconic hero story of them all: It's the kid who gets the magic word to be the super-version of themselves," Levi told GameSpot. "At some point in our lives, we all have that incredibly vivid imagination and belief in that imagination. So I think we can all relate to that."
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"And what comes with that is Big meets Superman--you get a grown-ass adult like me playing a 14-year-old kid," the actor continued. "And that uniquely brings a level of humor and heart that, on those levels, I don't think has necessarily been in DC movies."
Levi knows that Shazam isn't the first DC movie to exist on the lighter side of The Dark Knight, but he said they "played with the dials" and turned the "humor and heart" up to 11.
"I think what we accomplished--I hope what we accomplished--was similar to what Deadpool did in the Marvel universe, where they were kind of their own little viewpoint," Levi continued. "They were very self-aware and irreverent and commented on the whole universe, but were also in their own little pocket...There's an intelligence and an irreverence, and an awareness, about [Shazam], and about the genre itself--we're able to have fun, by commenting on the genre sometimes within the film, and give a different perspective on the DC universe. I think that's kind of ultimately what we tried to pull off."
Fans who enjoy this lighter take on the DCEU might hope that it's a sign of things to come, and Levi agrees that the future should be more fun. "I think we should all be having more fun all the time," he said. "I think that the world would be a much groovier place if people felt more joy. And I'm all about helping to do that."
Shazam hits theaters this Friday, April 5. Read our full review here.