DC’s Shazam movie is happening – but even as we today confirmed that Dwayne “The Rock Johnson” is playing Black Adam, the film’s villain, there have been other details surrounding the project that are raising a few questions.
One noticeable anomaly is that the film is being produced by New Line Cinema – the subsidiary of Warner Bros. Pictures that has housed films like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. While Warner Bros. has partnered with studios like Legendary Pictures to produce films like The Dark Knight trilogy and Man of Steel, New Line is a new player in this superhero game; why they are housing Shazam (and if that’s the only film they’re producing) remains unclear.
The other big anomaly is that Johnson made the announcement of his Black Adam role without the studio providing additional info like a release date, director, or casting announcement of the actor(s) playing the titular hero, for that matter. It’s still early, but one would think something more official would have come from the initial casting reveal.
Well, EW has spoken to New Line president Toby Emmerich, and the Shazam film he describes has us mulling over even more questions. Read closely at Emmerich’s description of the Shazam film New Line is envisioning:
“It feels to me like Shazam will have a tone unto itself… It’s a DC comic, but it’s not a Justice League character, and it’s not a Marvel comic. The tone and the feeling of the movie will be different from the other range of comic book movies… [It] will have a sense of fun and a sense of humor. But the stakes have to be real.”
Okay, so a couple of things immediately come to mind:
“Not a Justice League Character”?
Um… What? DC Comics has gone to great lengths to position Shazam in the fully-connected, Justice League-centered, DC New 52 comic book universe. In fact, the New 52 Shazam was actually first introduced in the Justice League comic book, and the character (a longtime member of the League) was also recently featured in the DC Universe animated adaptation Justice League: War as a controversial replacement for Aquaman (who will be featured in the next Justice League animated movie).
Even before the New 52 reboot, Shazam was partnered with Superman for an animated short called The Return of Black Adam – a seeming test run for the character’s effectiveness onscreen (as well as that of his nemesis).
Point being: This is a character who has long been part of the League, and was clearly being groomed for the new Justice League multimedia brand DC/WB is creating.
In that sense, there are only three ways to read Emmerich’s comments: 1. He doesn’t know his comic book history (totally possible for a studio exec); 2. He misspoke (a publicist’s best defense); 3. He just revealed that the Shazam movie is not connected to the upcoming Justice League movie.
Additional facts lend that latter theory a bit more credit…
A Varied Schedule
A couple of months back, online scoop-chaser Nikkie Finke leaked a rumored DC/WB superhero movie release date plan, which read like this:
- May 2016 – Batman v Superman
- July 2016 – Shazam
- Xmas 2016 – Sandman
- May 2017 – Justice League
- July 2017 – Wonder Woman
- Xmas 2017 – Flash and Green Lantern team-up
- May 2018 – Man Of Steel 2
In the months since, additional sources and even official announcements from the studio itself have lent credit that some (if not all) of the above is pretty likely to happen. Now, as then, the question remains: how would the studio pull off a shared universe THIS rapidly? Ambition isn’t the word for it.
However, a closer look reveals some interesting new possibilities: Sandman and Shazam, the two other movies rumored for release in 2016 – the same year as Justice League launchpad Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice – COULD conceivably be their own things, apart from the Justice League universe. That would explain how DC/WB will build a superhero universe very rapidly (through subsidiary studios and independent creative teams) – while also taking advantage of both sides of the “solo films vs team-up films” debate that fans (and the Screen Rant staff) have been arguing over all along.
We recently breakdown the issue of Superhero Movie Overload in the film industry, and our speculation was what you see unfolding right in front of you.
A Hero of Every Type
“Superhero Movies” is really a thin term, as all that’s required to qualify for the genre is the presence of some fantastically powerful (or just skilled) individual out to do good in the world.
Marvel Studios proved in 2014 with spring political thriller sequel (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and a late-summer sci-fi/comedy/adventure OP (Guardians of the Galaxy) that dressing up superhero films in other genre tropes is a surefire way to score big box office money. And why not? Audiences like a tasteful mix of the familiar and the new – and a taste of superhero flicks, cooked slightly different ways, gives them just that.
Sandman shouldn’t be the same as a Justice League film, as Neil Gaiman’s seminal work was always considered high-art literature next to its pulpy DC superhero brethren. Different beasts under the same DC banner – and the movies should probably follow suit. For a character like Shazam, the obvious issue is his proximity to Superman; sure, one is magic-based and one is an alien, but they both have square jaws, three-toned costumes, capes, flight and super strength. So yeah, in the mind of the average moviegoer, how DO you differentiate these two heroes?
Answer: By not forcing them into the same sandbox (at first, at least) and letting them each be their own, separate, thing. If each piece stand$ tall on its own, then eventually maybe you see Shazam ported over to the Justice League world. It’s a safe way to risk a finger without ever losing the whole hand – a problem DC/WB has been wrestling with for years now in trying to build (or re-build) their superhero properties.
The Right Tone
Emmerich’s description of Shazam is encouraging. For those who don’t know, the story follows a young boy named Billy Batson (a troubled foster kid in modern telling), who is given the power to transform into what is basically Thor/Superman by an ancient wizard who believes the boy can be a force for good (or has no other choice, depending on the telling).
We’ve said it on the Screen Rant podcast – and in our “Why Shazam Could Be Awesome” breakdown: This character markets himself:
“Have You Ever Dreamed You Could Be Superman?”
One poster, showing a little boy on one end, stepping into a cloud of smoke and lighting, only to emerge on the other end of the poster flying high in the sky as Shazam? Yeah, what little boy hasn’t had that dream and wouldn’t see it represented in that poster?
As a family-friendly adventure, Shazam is a potential gold mine; but New Line and DC would do well to remember Marvel’s example with Guardians of the Galaxy. There was a film the studio trusted to a very unique, but idiosyncratic filmmaker (James Gunn), and let him firmly imprint the property with his style. It was a gamble, but the talent and love of the material was there in Gunn, and it all worked out beautifully.
Shazam is going to feature moments of a young actor switching places onscreen with a ripped older star; there’s so much comedy gold and great adolescent metaphor at work in that. Add in the seriousness that Johnson is likely to bring to the villain, Black Adam (who is a corrupt reflection of Shazam), and there’s also great adolescent metaphor for growing up and taking responsibility to play with.
In short: Even though Emmerich denies a Marvel movie comparison, Shazam does need to be more Guardians of the Galaxy than not.
The key question is whether or not writer Darren Lemke (Jack the Giant Killer) has what it takes to craft the unique and fun (sometimes dramatic) movie that Emmerich is calling for. Since Lemke just started work on the screenplay, no crystal ball can yet predict that one. Some rich source material is there, though…
We’ll keep you updated on the status of the Shazam movie as news develops. As of now, we’re looking at either the August 5th, 2016 or June 23rd, 2017 slots for yet-to-be-revealed DC movies as the most probable dates for Shazam’s release.