SPOILERS for Shazam! ahead.
Shazam! director David F. Sandberg says Henry Cavill was originally meant to reprise his role as Superman in the film, but things didn't work out. The latest addition to the DC Extended Universe, Shazam! is already a critical success on its way to turning a tidy profit at the box office. It's all the more impressive an accomplishment when you consider that, just a year or so ago, the titular superhero was a relatively obscure character compared to the DCEU's other solo headliners up to this point (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman),
Speaking of the Man of Steel - he and Shazam! have a long and sometimes tumultuous history in the world of comic books, going back to Shazam!'s time as Fawcett Publications' answer to Superman (then the mascot of National Comics) in the late 1930s and early '40s. That connection only helped to fuel the longstanding rumors about Superman having a cameo in the Shazam! movie, with either Cavill or someone else playing the role. While the character was ultimately brought to life by Shazam! star Zachary Levi's stunt double in the film, that wasn't always the plan.
Related: Every DCEU Connection in Shazam!
Sandberg confirmed that Superman's cameo was alway part of Shazam!'s screenplay during our interview with him, adding that the Man of Steel "was definitely something we wanted to have in there". In a separate interview with Inverse, the director added that Cavill was originally supposed to reprise his DCEU role as the character, but was "unavailable" when the crew was filming the scene in question at a real school in Toronto (which was on-holiday at the time).
As a refresher: Shazam! concludes with Billy Batson (Asher Angel) showing up transformed into Shazam! and finally making good on his promise to sit next to his foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) at school during lunch. However, when he does, he's accompanied by another "friend" in the form of Superman, who's only shown from the neck down to hide the fact that he isn't Cavill. Speaking to Inverse, Sandberg explained that Cavill's Superman was originally going to sit down and talk to Freddy, but that portion of the sequence was dropped when Cavill couldn't make the shoot. And while he admitted he was worried at first that the cameo would feel "cheap" and leave people feeling "cheated" without Cavill, he felt much better once he saw the scene all cut together during post-production:
“It just made us laugh. You see Freddy’s reaction, and a hard cut to credits, and it’s just funny. It turned out better than what it was originally where he sat down and had a little chat.”
While a number of DCEU fans would've no doubt loved to see Cavill back in his blue-and-red Kryptonian suit, Superman's Shazam! cameo arguably plays better the way it's presented in the final movie. Like Sandberg pointed out, Freddy's reaction to seeing Superman is a great punchline to cut to the credits from, and that wouldn't have been the case had the scene carried on beyond that. Moreover, the final shot really encapsulates the movie's theme about the awe and wonder that superheroes inspire for kids in the DCEU (and, by proxy, that these characters have for people in the real world). It's a good example of how, sometimes, less really can be more effective, and serves to illustrate how the DCEU can continue to use Superman in the future, whether Cavill returns to play him again or not.
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