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Zachary Levi Getty 1.jpg

What's Going On With Zachary Levi?

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | March 27, 2023 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | March 27, 2023 |

Zachary Levi Getty 1.jpg

Oh, Zachary Levi. What to do with you…

The latest entry in the DC franchise, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, opened to disappointing numbers at the box office. It grossed a mere $30 million in its domestic opening weekend, and, as of the writing of this piece, has a worldwide total of just over $102.4 million (it fell to third place at the box office in its second week.) It’s not the kind of splashy premiere that DC and Warner Bros. Discovery wanted for the film, and the blame game has already started regarding its lack of success. Zachary Levi, the film’s lead, has joined in on this drama, very publicly calling out Dwayne Johnson for his seeming meddling in the DC Universe in regards to his own film, Black Adam. He also took to social media to blame the film’s marketing and the zealotry of Snyderverse fans, who he said wanted the film to fail. Things got cringey real quick. The last time I checked, he was still sharing videos asking people, with serious tears in his eyes, to watch the film instead of John Wick 4.

(The above video has been edited. Here is the original).

Levi has been in a curious position as a celebrity for a few years now. Traditional thinking would posit that an actor in the lead of a major franchise would have many doors open to them. We know that’s not necessarily true, in part due to the contractual obligations of such a series but also because of the decreasing expectations of this kind of actor. None of the Chrises were making much of an impact outside of Marvel films when they became megastars. Elizabeth Olsen has lamented having to turn down exciting indie projects due to her Scarlet Witch demands. The actors succeeding the most in this format are those who entered their multi-film contracts with pre-established and varied careers, such as Scarlett Johansson and Benedict Cumberbatch. Zachary Levi was best known for an NBC action-dramedy, Chuck, that always had more of a cult fandom than commercial clout. It’s not quite the same thing.

It’s not as though Levi is untalented. He’s appealingly roguish in his voice work in Disney’s Tangled, a witty everyman in Chuck, and a proper romantic song and dance man in Broadway’s She Loves Me, which landed him a Tony nomination. Men with far more limited range than he have gone further in Hollywood. There is definitely a niche he could fill, somewhere between a minor Chris and a ’90s rom-com hero. While he is good in Shazam!, he seems far better suited to the kinds of mid-budget comedic fare that the industry is less focused on creating these days. One gets the sense the figure he’s most eager to emulate is Chris Pratt, the former TV schlub funny-man turned muscled action bro with a snarky twist. But if Pratt is a tracing paper copy of Harrison Ford then Levi is a step down from even that. Hollywood isn’t exactly hurting for chances for decent-looking cishet white dudes, but the current landscape is not a creative oasis outside of the franchise fare. Levi’s not succeeding but he’s not alone in that, at least.

Most of the exhaustion around Levi isn’t connected to his work, however. Levi has conservative politics, which fall in line with his Christian faith, and often veers into uncomfortable territory in regards to gender. He’s a fan of Jordan Peterson, referring to him as ‘one of the deepest thinkers I’ve ever heard break down human behaviour’ on Joe Rogan’s podcast. He’s also appeared on the 700 Club, and, earlier this year, he retweeted an anti-trans figure who claimed that ‘Pfizer is a real danger to the world.’ He’s frequently putting his foot in his mouth, revealing some questionable opinions, such as when he lamented that his surname (which is actually his middle name) sees him stereotyped as ‘too Jewish’ for certain roles. Some actors you just expect to make you cringe when they talk. Levi is one of them, alas, even when he’s well-meaning. There’s this fallacy that Hollywood is majority progressive and utterly allergic to the mere presence of right-leaning figures. That’s never been true and it’s certainly not so in 2023, so just watch out once we inevitably see cries that Levi’s politics are being punished by audiences and the industry. It’s arguably less to do with leanings than personality. Frankly, the more Levi talks, the easier it is to dismiss him.

As always, Twitter is premature in saying that Levi’s career is over. This dude will be fine. Actually, outside of Shazam!, his roles are more varied and intriguing than any of his caped counterparts. Even all of his weird online behaviour will eventually be clamped down once the right project comes along and a weary publicist is on hand. It will be interesting, however, to see if he leans more towards faith-based films, as he did with the 2021 film American Underdog. That market is steadily successful and has seen many non-religious stars take leading roles over the past several years. If he wants a niche, it’s certainly a better fit for him than trying to replicate Dwayne Johnson, a veritable workaholic who is more concerned with his brand than his craft. A lot of his future will rely on whether or not he wants to shut up, to put it bluntly. If he doesn’t, well… we all know how many people have made a fortune out of screaming about how they’ve been silenced.

What I think hurts Levi more is simply the circumstances of the business. He’s done everything that’s supposed to pave the way for cushy success, and it’s not paying off as vowed. He’s thoroughly B-List, which is hardly a failing, but it’s not what he’s aiming for. The industry doesn’t seem entirely prepared to tackle the increasing inevitability of superhero fatigue, and we’re long past the promise that all of these films are guaranteed to be hits. They don’t instantly make you a movie star either. That takes a few more installments, a major contract renegotiation, and a ton of outside clout. Zachary Levi might be the lead of Shazam! but he’s not indispensable to DC, certainly not now that the franchise is undergoing yet another revamp. If they don’t even keep Superman or The Rock around, why would they go to bat for Chuck?