Interview: David F. Sandberg on returning to direct Shazam! Fury of the Gods; “It’s like you’re making a little Justice League movie.”

After cementing his status as a macabre maestro with the releases of Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation, director David F. Sandberg took perhaps the scariest step of all – into the comic book universe!  After helming 2019’s acclaimed Shazam!, Sandberg has wasted no time in maintaining the mythical momentum with its sequel, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, which continues the story of teenager Billy Batson, who upon reciting the magical word “SHAZAM!” is transformed into his adult superhero alter-ego, Shazam.

To coincide with the film’s anticipated release, which sees Zachary Levi return in the titular role, this time fending off the God-like wrath of Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu as the Daughters of Atlas, vengeful sisters intent on stealing back the magic that was taken from them long ago, Peter Gray spoke with Sandberg about his own return to the director’s chair, how he secured such a cast, and how he decided which story should be told.

Congratulations on Shazam! Fury of the Gods.  I had a lot of fun with this one.  Going into this second film was there a certain sense of ease?  I imagine going from Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation to Shazam was one sort of pressure.  Did it feel any easier here? Are you a pro at this stage?

No (laughs), there’s always sort of both the imposter syndrome, but also that each movie is its own challenge.  And this one, especially, since it’s a lot bigger than the first one.  And we have so many characters, because in the first one you just got to see the family a bit at the end.  This one you have 5  or 6 superheroes, and you have the goddesses and the monsters and the kids and the parents.  It’s like you’re making a little Justice League movie, where you just have so many characters to deal with on set.  You’re trying to figure out how to block and shoot, but also they need their moments and you can’t forget any one character.  It’s quite a balancing act.

As you said, it’s a stacked cast! Are you the one pitching that you want Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu?  Are those easy conversations to have?

Yeah, those conversations that you have, like, who could work for this? And we talked about (that) we wanted to aim high.  So, you know, at the top of our list was Helen Mirren.  I didn’t think we would get her or that she would say yes, but we tried with her first and get the “no” and then move on, but she said yes.  That actually affected the rest of the casting as well.  Lucy Liu’s character, originally we were going to audition and find someone less known.  But when Helen said yes, it was like, “Oh shit, we better step up our game here!”

We discussed Lucy Liu, reached out to her, and it probably helped that we already had Helen.  We could go, “(Do) you want to play Helen’s sister?”  Rachel (Zegler) though, (she) was one that we found through auditions.  West Side Story hadn’t come out yet, so she was totally new to me, which (was) amazing.

I guess that makes the Fast & Furious joke hit a little better now?

(Laughs) Yeah. It was probably why (the writers) thought of it; “Oh, this God looks a lot like the lady from Fast and the Furious.”

With their being such a wealth of comic book narratives out there, how do you choose which story to tell going forward?  There’s obviously so many options when telling a Shazam story.

Yeah, we actually started out looking at following the new “52” storyline that they’ve been doing in the comics, but it was a little bit too much fantasy, because they go into these magical lands and through the room of doors.  And I think what works so well in the first Shazam! is that it is in our real world, and the world is pretty grounded, even though fantastical things happen there.  So we wanted to do something where we could bring fantastical elements into our modern day real world, so that when we started talking about (how) the powers of Shazam are from Gods and mythological figures, and what if those powers were actually stolen?  That would give the bad guys a motivation (where) you could go, “They kind of have a point.  Those powers don’t belong to (Shazam), because they were taken.”  But, at the same time, they go about it in a very violent way.

I love the fact that with this sequel you’re able to have that levity and humour of the first film, but then you’re melding that with giant dragons just ripping things apart and, without giving anything away, there’s that very nice moment towards the end of the film that I certainly wasn’t expecting.  Congratulations on pulling that off, and delivering a comic book film that is still able to surprise.

Oh thank you.  I’m very happy to hear that we could have some surprises in there.  I think DC has an exciting future.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods is screening in Australian theatres from March 16th, 2023.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.