For the past few years, as fans have watched the drama unfold at DC Films, David F. Sandberg has had a front-row seat. His latest film, Shazam: Fury of the Gods, is a follow-up to his 2019 hit, meaning it was put into production by the previous regime. The film was then delayed due to covid, had its release date shuffled a bunch, and eventually, one of the film’s producers, Peter Safran, became (along with James Gunn) the new head of DC.
But Sandberg was not deterred. He made his movie, which brings back all of the original characters from Zachary Levi all the way down, and added new villains played by icons Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu, as well as rising star Rachel Ziegler. The fruits of that labour hit theatres next week and io9 spoke to Sandberg about his view in regards to DC films, the fact the film does not jump off from the previous film’s post-credit scene featuring the notorious Mister Mind, as well as the surprising way DC’s upcoming The Flash changed his movie. Read about it all and more below.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Germain Lussier, Gizmodo: Before we get to the movie, you’ve had such a unique point of view for what has been going on at DC. You made this movie with the previous administration. Covid happens resulting in some delays. DC gets a shake-up. Then one of your producers is handed the keys to DC. So I’m just curious, what’s it been like watching this kind of cosmic shift happen at that brand?
David F. Sandberg: Well, I mean, the good thing about Shazam is that he’s sort of always been sort of in his own corner and doing his own thing. So it’s been sort of watching it from the outside. I’m excited to see everything that they’re doing now. I mean, I’m a big fan of James Gunn. Peter Safran, I’ve done three movies with now. He’s great. Thankfully, it hasn’t really affected us. I mean they told me that what we’ve done in Shazam doesn’t contradict anything they have planned for the future. So, yeah, we’re doing our own thing.
io9: Did having extra time with new release dates and delays work to improve the movie at all?
Sandberg: I don’t know if we had extra time really [laughs]. Because we still finished it at like the end of October last year. Originally we’re going to go up against Avatar [The Way of Water]. But thankfully we’ve moved it a bit. So now we can have the IMAX screens and large formats and things like that. So we were sort of on our usual schedule.
io9: Oh ok. Maybe because I feel like with those DC Fandomes we just saw and heard so much about this so early.
Sandberg: Yeah, no, we definitely pushed it. We would have started shooting earlier if it wasn’t for covid. But once we got going, it was sort of like a set time.
io9: Gotcha. So how was the decision made to make the Daughters of Atlas the kind of main villains, and was there ever a version where you followed the end credits from the last movie with Sivana and Mister Mind?
Sandberg: First of all, we looked at the comic books, what they were doing, but that didn’t feel like a good fit for what this movie needed to be. Then, of course, since we did set up Mister Mind at the end of the first one, we did start looking at treatments and things where it did involve Mister Mind and Sivana. [At one point] it was actually Mister Mind who enabled the sisters to come here because it was part of a bigger plan of his. But it was just too much story to tell for this movie. So we had to lose Mister Mind and Sivana for this time. So they were in there originally, but not as the main villain.
io9: But why specifically the Daughters of Atlas?
Sandberg: There was a lot of back and forth on what to do, because we wanted to have something in the real world but bring something cool here. And then the idea was that [Shazam’s] powers are from Greek gods and mythology and all of that. So it’s like, “Ooh, if the powers were stolen and then given to him, that gives a motivation that you can understand with the sisters.” I mean, they do have a point here. They go about it in a bad way, but they do have a point. And I thought that was really cool to sort of mix mythology and superheroes because superheroes are kind of modern mythology in some ways.
io9: Oh, of course. And I love that you use the broken staff as the jump-off point here. So, I’m curious, when Shazam breaks the staff in the first movie, did you know that was going to be used here? Or how did that kind of become the linchpin?
Sandberg: No, it was after, because at first I was like “Mister Mind is going to get them here.” And then it was like, “OK, so what enabled them to get here now?” And then I was like, “Oh, the staff. You break that, you break the bond between the worlds.” But the funny thing about that scene is, that’s a scene I wanted to reshoot — when we flash back to that moment in the first movie — rather than use footage from the first movie, because with all the changes with the suit and everything, if you’ve seen the movie a while ago and then you see this, it’s like, “Yeah, it’s pretty similar, right?” But when you cut between the two, it’s so jarring. So it’s like “We have to reshoot this and with the new suits and everything.”
io9: So you did reshoot that flashback scene?
Sandberg: We did.
io9: Oh, interesting.
Sandberg: Yeah. They’re doing the exact same thing, saying the exact same things, but they just look different.
io9: Oh wow, I didn’t realise that.
Sandberg: Good. [Laughs]
io9: That’s a good segue because I was going to ask about the suits actually. Obviously, there are practical reasons to change them; make them easier to move in and stuff. But was there a headcanon reason in-world why their suits are different from before?
Sandberg: Yeeaaaaah. Because we were originally supposed to come out after The Flash and, you know, The Flash is going to play around with the multiverse and timelines and things like that. So in my head it was like, “Well, that could be the explanation,” you know. That they always looked like this in this universe now that it’s changed. [But,] now that we can come out before Flash? You know… it’s magic.
io9: Right, that works.
Sandberg: Since we did change it in the flashback, you go “Yeah, this is what they always looked like, right?”
io9: Right. I mean the suit comes from a bolt of lightning in the sky, there’s no rule it has to stay the same. OK. What I like about these films is that it’s so much about family and that obviously creates a chemistry and a dynamic that’s very important. What did this film gain from having everybody come back? I was really excited to see even like the bullies come back — they’re not part of the family, but everybody comes back. How did that kind of help the story?
Sandberg: We just love all the actors. I mean, we’ve been so lucky on this movie that we don’t have any arseholes to work with [laughs]. Which makes it so easy. And it feels like just one big family so we wanted to bring everyone back, even the bullies. I like them a lot. And it’s kind of funny with the bullies because, when we showed test screenings and stuff like that, there were people like, “Hey, the bullies don’t get their comeuppance in this movie.” Like we see them being bad, but then nothing bad happens to them. But I mean, that’s just more real. They don’t always get their comeuppance in real life.
io9: And maybe there’s a deleted scene where they have another truck ruined again, right?
Sandberg: You know, I was thinking of like, well, during the monster mayhem [at the end], we could have put him in there somewhere.
io9: I love the new Rock of Eternity and what the Shazamily has done to it. I only saw it once and it went by so fast so I’m wondering, what are some of the cool Easter eggs you may have hidden in there?
Sandberg: There’s a ton of it. I don’t even know all of them. There are a lot of DC references and the fun thing was that we had all these toys made after the first movie. Like the Funko Pops of the characters and all this that we could actually incorporate into the set because, of course, this is a world where superheroes exist and would have their own Funko and all that stuff. There’s a lot of fan art and things like that. And of course, Freddy has a big wall of newspaper clippings so there are a lot of little things in there hinting at Wonder Woman and all that stuff.
io9: And when did Skittles become such a big part of the movie? Was that like a marketing thing?
Sandberg: No. It actually wasn’t a marketing thing. It was something that I guess Henry [Gayden] came up with it when he wrote it. And I like when you have real products that actually exist, rather than make up something that people will feel like, “Oh, that’s supposed to be Skittles,” but it’s called something else. So no, that, that was in the script. And then we had to ask Skittles for permission and they seemed to really like it. I think they’re now going to do some sort of cross-promotion thing. But it wasn’t like Skittles came to us [and said] “Hey, can you work this in somehow?”
io9: Also, I’m a big fan of the Fast and Furious movies, so I love the joke about that in here. Chris Morgan, who wrote some Fast and Furious movies, co-wrote this film — and of course, you have Helen Mirren. So how did that joke come about? Was Helen Mirren weird about it? Did Chris write it?
Sandberg: No, it actually came from Henry. Henry was like, “Chris is way too classy to add that himself.” And I think Helen… she didn’t say anything about it. But yeah, people are like, “Hey, how does that work with Helen being here?” To me, it’s like, “Well, maybe that’s why Shazam thought of it. She looks a lot like that lady in Fast and Furious.”
io9: Also, as a New York Mets fan, I really like that you destroy Citizens Bank Park. How did that become the location for the finale and what kind of interactions did you have with Major League Baseball?
Sandberg: Well, I mean, unfortunately, we’ve never been able to shoot fully in Philadelphia, even though it’s set there. The first movie we shot in Toronto, this one was shot in Atlanta. But we wanted to get as many Philly references and feel in as possible. And it felt like, that’s the iconic baseball field and the downtown and everything. But yeah, we had to get permission to destroy it and all that, and we use footage and stuff from Major League Baseball.
io9: So the Phillies were ok with it?
Sandberg: Yeah they were fine with it. We just had to build our own stadium. You’re not even allowed to walk on the grass, right? So we built our own grassy field and shoot everything there.
io9: One of the best parts of this movie is we get to see this family of superheroes all working together as a team. In the movie, one of them mentions video games as a way to hone their skills, but did you look at any kind of team-ups, movies, or games as your benchmarks for that kind of thing?
Sandberg: You take inspiration from all kinds. I mean, there’s so much that has been done with superhero movies, with cool fights and things like that. And I mean, the hard part is just figuring it out. Sometimes you use action figures or I’ll draw my own little storyboards just to get things across and try out different things. But I mean, the great thing is, with a movie like this, you can do almost anything you want. You can have a guy flying around punching a dragon in the face and you can destroy however much you want, almost. And the fun thing is when you actually get to do things for real. Like I love in the movie, there’s a scene where a bunch of cars fly up in the air and you get two cars flying into each other and hitting each other. That’s real. We actually like launched cars into the air, and did a lot of that stuff.
io9: Oh, you destroy a lot of stuff in this movie. Much more than the first one.
Sandberg: A lot more and a lot didn’t even fit into the movie. I mean, the Blu-ray, we’ll have like half an hour of deleted scenes.
We’ll have more with Sandberg, talking about a few of Shazam: Fury of the Gods’ bigger spoilers, after the release. The film is in theatres March 16.
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