It’s been suspected for some time that Warner Bros. and DC Comics have bigger plans for adapting their superheroes than they’re letting on – plans set to become clear once Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice hits theaters. But when the studio’s purported release schedule was leaked online, it packed one particular bombshell: it wouldn’t be a Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman film following just months behind the big screen team-up in 2016, but an unexpected magical heavyweight: Shazam.
The idea of Shazam being released effectively alongside Dawn of Justice is a startling one; but with undeniable appeal, and possessing one of the best stories in DC’s New 52 universe, the property has all the makings of a cinematic hit. Even so, the hero formerly known as ‘Captain Marvel’ may not be as established as his “DC Trinity” colleagues.
Allow us to present you with 5 reasons why Shazam could be THE next big DC/WB movie franchise.
Aside from the hero’s iconic phrase (“Shazam!”), it’s safe to say that not much is widely known about Shazam’s backstory. With that in mind, DC’s Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns’ recent reboot (part of DC’s New 52) supplied a rough outline for what to expect from a live-action film. For starters, the hulking hero is actually fifteen-year-old Billy Batson, a street-tough Philadelphia orphan.
The boy soon finds himself summoned to a mysterious tomb known as ‘The Rock of Eternity,’ where a mysterious wizard warns him that a great threat has returned to the world. While Billy is far from perfect, he possesses the potential for heroism needed to be named the wizard’s champion: simply utter the phrase ‘Shazam,’ and a bolt of lightning transforms Billy into a magical, godlike hero.
With the role effectively split between a young boy and a grown man playing a young boy, this particular hero packs a twist that makes him one of a kind in a genre filled with familiar tropes (while also offering more wish fulfillment for young viewers than any other hero). The humor inherent in any big screen version of the ‘World’s Mightiest Mortal’ should be obvious, and how Billy uses his new powers is a story that could be taken in any number of directions.
Casual audiences may think that a caped hero powered by magical lightning more than earns a spotlight all to himself – but despite having lost his own parents, Billy Batson is far from alone. In both the classic comics and the New 52, Billy is accompanied by his friends Mary and Freddy Freeman – with Johns’ reboot adding three more foster siblings to the group: Pedro, Eugene, and Darla.
With Shazam‘s obvious appeal to a younger audience, some might worry that the grim tone of WB’s approach to superheroes would be a poor fit. But the larger themes at play have the potential to be treated with respect and gravity (as adoption was in Man of Steel), and the ensemble cast of children spreads that potential farther, including minorities and women in a genre of film lacking both.
Then there is Black Adam, the former champion blessed with the powers of Shazam, and instant rival to Billy Batson (and his friends and family). Possessing the same abilities augmented by centuries of practice, Adam has become one of DC’s most established villains. So if Warner Bros. is in need of a magical baddie for their movie universe, Black Adam’s origin story kills two birds with one stone.
After Man of Steel, it’s understandable that audiences might not be excited by the idea of two men blessed with the strength of Superman going toe-to-toe. But with the realm of magic at both of their disposals, a showdown between Shazam and Black Adam could be as varied and awe-inspiring as the director chooses to make it (just ask the comic book fans how many different ways a lightning bolt can be used in combat).
But the real promise in the action comes from the fact that Shazam has the ability to share his gifts with his family. As it stands, superhero movies tend to be categorized by eager fans into ‘solo’ or ‘team-up’ adventures. But with Shazam able to use all his power for strength, or turn his siblings into magical superheroes alongside him, the movie can split the difference. Warner Bros. and DC clearly aren’t afraid of having their heroes share the screen, so a full roster of the Shazam Family fighting as a unit may be in store.
When it was first rumored that Shazam was not only in the cards for WB, but could be the studio’s next big franchise, many expressed doubt that its magic and mysticism could work in the world established by Man of Steel. But given that many doubted Zack Snyder could make Superman work in a world similar to The Dark Knight Trilogy, we would advise patience. Especially when the benefits outweigh the risks.
To dive headlong into the fiction of Shazam is to introduce the ‘Council of Wizards’ – a collection of magical beings seemingly linked to the history of China, Australia, Egypt, North America, and more. Besides the international appeal, the blend of fantasy and history may be easier to accept than a simple supernatural force of ‘magic.’ Geoff Johns also made the decision to not just expand the mystical world behind Shazam, but to begin his story with magic essentially ‘returning’ to the world.
So while Batman and Superman may be hashing out the destruction of Metropolis, audiences will know that a much larger threat may be looming. Yet that threat is one only Billy Batson is able to fight, meaning his place alongside DC’s biggest heroes would be ensured.
With all the momentum building around Batman V Superman, fans may have forgotten that Sandman was among the first films pitched by David S. Goyer following Man of Steel. And while the first arc in Neil Gaiman’s seminal graphic novel included both Batman and John Constantine, achieving the same blend of DC and Vertigo will be a tough task in the film universe – and trying to overlap them directly could fail entirely. But a character like Shazam changes all that.
Shazam’s strength may make him an analogue to Superman, but his knowledge and mastery of magic makes him just as important to the world of Constantine, Sandman, or the rest of the cast of Guillermo Del Toro’s troubled Justice League Dark project. In many ways, Shazam is a walking solution: the realm of magic is no place for the Justice League, but stories like DC’s recent “Trinity War” (featuring Constantine and Billy Batson joning forces) show how both the mystical and superhero universes can coexist.
It’s a tough trick to pull off, but confirming the existence of both worlds – made easier with Shazam’s ability to straddle the line – sets the stage for multiple crossover events down the road.
Below you’ll find a quick recap of why we believe a Shazam movie could be the next successful superhero blockbuster for DC Comics and Warner Bros. Do you agree with our reasoning? Let us know in the comments!
- The Story – An origin story (with a message) that will be every viewer’s dream come true.
- The Characters – Varied, unique, and diverse enough to feature plenty of promising stars.
- The Action – A superhero movie with fantasy action, AND a superpowered fist fight.
- The Mythology – An ancient world of magic that cracks DC’s movie universe wide open (if they wish).
- Continuity – A way to link Justice League and Sandman/Constantine properties without overlapping them.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.