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The Accidental Turitz: Who Knew That Anti-Garbage Crusader Zachary Levi Was Such a Genius? Plus, Casting Continuity in Comic Book Movies

I have never had any issues with Zachary Levi. On the contrary, I’ve always kind of liked him and his goofball shtick. I enjoyed his NBC show Chuck, I thought he was solid casting for the Shazam! movie a few years ago, and generally speaking, I have always found him to be one of those perfectly pleasant actors who never ruins anything he’s in.

However, that hasn’t stopped him from doing his very best to ruin his career a couple of times over the last few weeks. First, with his criticism of the SAG-AFTRA strike, because it kept him from talking about his various credits, and then with his impassioned plea last week for Hollywood to “stop making so much garbage.”

He quickly walked back the first remark, only to double down on the second. The issue with that, of course, is that his most recent cinematic effort falls firmly in the category of films from which he wishes Hollywood would cease and desist.

I mean, Shazam!: Fury of the Gods wasn’t a flop because of bias against it or because of politics or whatever other excuses were made by the people who made it. No, it was a flop because it was unwatchable. So when Levi complains about the kinds of movies Hollywood is making right now, he certainly knows from whence he speaks.

The thing is, though? He’s right… and it’s been this way for years. Of course, that hasn’t stopped him from contributing to the problem, no doubt thinking, “This one will be different.” No, it won’t… because all that Hollywood wants right now is “the same.”

The ongoing sickness from which the studios have been suffering — the addiction they have to superhero movies, stale franchises, and intellectual properties that were never necessarily meant to be turned into major motion pictures — is a chronic malady.

The Flash
Ezra Miller in The Flash/Warner Bros.

Even the continued failures of films like Levi’s latest superhero opus and The Flash, and the underperformance of the latest Indiana Jones flick and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania — the latter proof of how the entire MCU has gone off the rails as of late — won’t make them go cold turkey off the junk.

Worse is the fact that, in the face of great success, they’re either making excuses or learning the wrong lessons. Take Barbenheimer as a perfect example. Instead of looking at Oppenheimer as a shining instance of a creator being given the freedom to make an important movie, and thus give other creators similar license to do so, the studios instead say, “Well, it’s Christopher Nolan,” as if that is the only reason why so many millions of people would want to see a three-hour biopic about an odd Jewish fellow who created the atomic bomb. Apparently, people aren’t smart enough to go see a good movie if it’s made by someone else.

And, instead of acknowledging that Barbie is a monster hit because it’s really well made, with terrific writing and acting, a directorial vision that sets it apart from anything else in the cineplex lately, and an empowering message for women that cannot be easily dismissed — as well as a dash of controversy, which always, always helps — the lesson the industry seems to have learned is that there should be more movies based on toys.

A year ago, Top Gun: Maverick saved the theatrical film business, and this year it’s Barbenheimer, but the problem with that framing is that the business shouldn’t have to be saved year after year. If the studios started listening to sage prophets like Zachary Levi, we wouldn’t need to constantly sit around biting our fingernails and praying that this year’s numbers will equal or surpass last year’s in the hope that a single film, or in this case, a singular pair of films, will come to the rescue.

The irony of this whole thing is that, at least with Warner Bros., they seem to be making an effort to bring some quality back to the superhero genre in spite of the whole Shazam! spring mishap. As we all collectively lose our patience with the MCU, DC’s new regime of James Gunn and Peter Safran certainly appears to be putting the brand back on the right path. At least, they’re talking a good game. Shazam! and The Flash were before their time, and they had next to nothing to do with Blue Beetle, which gamely attempts to do something different with the same old tropes, but it’s what they’re setting in front of themselves that has me excited.

Aside from the initial casting of the new Superman movie — which we have covered in this space — there was the word that the pair is putting together a huge “DCU World Map” that will lay out their grand plan — which may or may not include tailored roles for Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy stars Chris Pratt and Pom Klementieff — and in the process instill some confidence in the viewing public.

Wonder Woman
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman/Warner Bros. Pictures

Not that this is good enough for a particularly vocal segment of the populace, who instead choose to focus on something ridiculous, like whether or not Gal Gadot is going to return as Wonder Woman after Henry Cavill was relieved of his Man of Steel duties.

Seriously, these people are furious — and I mean furious — that Gunn and Safran might bring back Gadot as the Amazonian Princess… because then it wouldn’t be a true reboot, or something like that. If Cavill is out as Superman and Ben Affleck is out as Batman, then “How could Gal Gadot still be Wonder Woman,” they ask. HOW COULD THAT BE?

As if decades of continuity issues in the comic books we all read haven’t prepared us for such inconsistencies. Rather than take a breath and remember that these characters are, to some extent, transitional, and that real people age out of these roles, we bring our comic book mindset to the movies. The MCU has spoiled us, to some extent, but if you look at the big picture, Christopher Reeve was only Superman on the big screen for nine years, while Christian Bale was only Batman for seven years, and, before his return in 2021’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, Tobey Maguire was only Spider-Man for five years.

Since Marvel’s holy trinity of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth stuck around for so long, we’ve come to expect the same from all our superheroes, regardless of external circumstances. Although, let’s not forget the fact that James “Rhodey” Rhoades has been played by two different actors in the MCU, and no one batted an eyelash about that.

But back to the primary point. Superhero movies are not automatically garbage. The formulaic, assembly-line nature of them has recently made it seem like that, as has the general lack of quality in most of the other franchise entries that have littered the landscape of late (I say “most” because I exclude from this list the Indiana Jones movie, which I loved, and, of course, the latest Mission: Impossible outing, which is a goddamn action masterpiece, and whoever says differently is high on… something).

The real issue here is that the studios stopped having any respect at all for the audience. We crave quality films that are smart and thoughtful and leave us with something. That’s why we have gone in massive numbers to see Barbenheimer. If the studio beancounters would recognize this fact, and listen to us along with brilliant sages like Zachary Levi, they might actually greenlight the kinds of stories that made us fall in love with movies in the first place, rather than the same old lowest common denominator crap they’ve been feeding us — crap we’ve swallowed with a smile.

It really shouldn’t be hard, especially when there’s money to be made. Levi certainly understands this. Even if he needs to take his own advice while preaching to the choir.

Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for more than 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.

You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.



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