David F. Sandberg wasn't actually all that familiar with "Shazam!" when he first signed on to direct the 2019 DC comic book movie. But he spent a long time getting to know the character, becoming intimately familiar with his origins as Captain Marvel, his reappearance as Shazam! in the '70s, and reintroduction as part of DC's "New 52" reboot in 2011. That allowed him to pepper 2019's "Shazam!" with numerous references to the character's history and DC history as a whole, which is a practice he's set to continue with the upcoming "Shazam! Fury of the Gods."
The film will see Zachary Levi return as the eponymous hero, with Asher Angel once again playing the young Billy Batson, who utters the magic phrase in order to transform into his super-powered alter ego. This time, he's flanked by his powered-up foster siblings, who will help him face off against Helen Mirren's vengeful Hespera. And throughout the whole thing you can expect plenty of easter eggs — including a nod to Shazam's origins as Captain Marvel.
But what you won't find in the sequel is a particular reference to a lesser-known DC character known as Detective Chimp -- a character who, back in the '80s, was known for his cameo appearances in various comic book storylines. Unfortunately, a cameo in "Shazam! Fury of the Gods" just wasn't meant to be, despite Sandberg's enthusiasm.
David F. Sandberg Loves Easter Eggs
It's expected that a comic book movie will have some sort of nod to comic history these days, but "Shazam!" and its upcoming sequel are notable for the sheer amount of references they include. In the first movie, Billy and Freddy go to Fawcett Central School — a reference to the origins of Shazam!, who first appeared in Fawcett publishing's comic book series "Whiz Comics."
David F. Sandberg has also talked about how his horror roots prepared him for a superhero movie, with those horror influences literally showing up in his "Shazam!" films. The director of "Annabelle: Creation" has included the titular haunted doll in both "Shazam!" and "Fury of the Gods," and pointed out her latest appearance in a therapist's office during a trailer breakdown on his YouTube channel. In that video, he also highlights references to DC characters like Starro, who showed up in James Gunn's "The Suicide Squad," and Superman foe Titano The Super Ape.
If he'd had his way, Sandberg would have included yet another reference to a super-powered DC primate. Detective Chimp was a character introduced towards the end of the Golden Age of comic books. First appearing in 1952, the highly-intelligent chimpanzee is known for wearing a Sherlock Holmes-esque deerstalker hat and for possessing a similarly impressive crime-solving ability. Since his first introduction, the character has been through several evolutions, fading into obscurity and then re-emerging in a series of cameos in the '80s — even showing up in "Green Lantern" and "The Flash" comics. Most recently, he's become a prominent member of the supernatural-focused "Justice League Dark." But It seems "Shazam! Fury of the Gods" was one cameo too far for Detective Chimp.
'Rights Are Complicated'
Speaking at a "Fury of the Gods" post-screening Q&A attended by /Film's Jenna Busch, David F. Sandberg revealed that the therapist's office, where Starro and Titano The Super Ape can be seen on the alphabet poster in the background, was also supposed to feature Detective Chimp:
"We just wanted to have a bunch of DC references in there, as much as possible. It's weird because you can't do anything, even if you think, 'Well, they're all DC characters.' Because I wanted to have a Detective Chimp doll in there. It's like, 'Well, you just have a monkey stuffie and put a deerstalker hat on him.' But you can't do that, because it's like certain –- I don't know, certain rights or something. It's only certain characters you can use."
Sandberg also spoke about being hindered in his efforts to sneak a Detective Chimp reference into the movie in his trailer trivia video. He explained how, when working on "Shazam!" he quickly learned that "rights are complicated," adding, "That was something I learned on the first 'Shazam!' I threw in a reference to 'Watchmen' because I figured it's DC. They own all of that. But then clearance got in touch and was like you can't do things like that without checking with us."
Just what the rights situation is with Detective Chimp remains unclear. Hopefully, the obscure DC character will make it to the big screen one day, especially considering that James Gunn is now running DC Studios and has a penchant for the more zany characters in comic book history.
"Shazam! Fury of the Gods" opens in theaters on March 17, 2023.
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