Warner Bros. and DC Comics may have been late to the party of comic book movies in a ‘shared universe,’ but there’s no denying that Man of Steel has set in motion a plan – or at least a shared foundation – for the company to adapt most of their main superheroes onto the big screen.
But what does that mean for characters like Shazam!, who seemed to be heading to the screen before Superman arrived on the scene? Unfortunately for fans of the magical hero, it seems that Warner Bros. has deemed the box office big enough for just one of the two, at least for the time being.
It’s possible that DC movie fans who are new to the party may not be aware of the fact that when DC and WB were gearing up to develop not one, but several origin films (before Green Lantern helped bring those plans screeching to a halt), the magical Captain Marvel was chief among them, with a script all but completed and director Peter Segal (Grudge Match) attached to direct.
As we all know, those plans also failed to get off the ground, and in an interview with ComingSoon, Segal helped explain why he believes that Superman’s big screen presence makes a Shazam! film a long shot:
“The thing is, Shazam has always lived this tortured life going against Superman. This dates back to the 1930s. Because Captain Marvel had similar powers to Superman, the DC folks back then sued what was the most popular comic book on the stands at that time. Years later, they bought it and it became a DC property but, as long as Superman stays hot in the market place, there seems like a little bit of a crossover between the two characters. After Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns,” it seemed like there was a moment in time where Shazam was going to see the light of day. That’s when you heard those stories. Now that Superman is being invigorated and going up against Batman, I think it’s difficult for DC to figure out how to launch this character in the wake of Superman’s resurgence.”
Segal definitely isn’t wrong in pointing out that while Captain Marvel’s similarities to Superman may have helped the comic succeed in the early days, they make a big screen adaptation more problematic than it otherwise would be. In terms of an origin story, of course, the tale of Shazam! couldn’t be more different; Billy Batson stumbles onto a magical word (“Shazam!”) which turns him into an enormous, musclebound superhero.
Sure, Captain Marvel commands respect for being the only ‘true’ rival of Superman (at least in a fight), but the only real difference between the two once is that one owes his superhuman abilities to his alien physiology, while the other is blessed with magical gifts – something that even Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder’s camp might have a hard time making believable in their grounded universe.
Then again, it would seem that Peter Segal’s past experiences with films like 50 First Dates, Get Smart and now Grudge Match would imply that a serious, grounded look at every little boy’s dream come true was never the plan. Perhaps most surprisingly, Segal went on to address the notion that his failed Shazam! movie would have been laugh-filled, or kid-friendly:
“Well, it wasn’t. I was working with Geoff Johns. At its core, it’s a lot like Superman. There’s this boy trapped inside of a superhero’s body. He’s still a boy inside, so there’s this opportunity to play a lot of humor with the action. Originally, Stan Lee brought me “Fantastic Four” a number of years for that very reason. I always have the question when people bring me superhero properties, “Why me?” With Stan, he said, “It’s because there’s a sense of humor within all Marvel characters.” These characters are flawed and, within those flaws, there is humor. When Toby Emmerich came to me with Shazam, it was because of those same reasons. To draw from that humor and to mix it with great action and pathos. I’ve always loved Shazam, but I don’t know if it’s going to see the light of day anytime soon.”
In hindsight, Segal and the studio’s efforts to distance the character from Superman seem evident: first going with the official title of Billy Batson and the Legend of Shazam, and now hearing that the script included humor, but wasn’t going to alienate older audiences who took the source material seriously. Any comic fan knows that Captain Marvel’s nemesis Black Adam isn’t kid-friendly in any sense of the word, so we would maintain that a mature take on the comic could still work, if handled properly.
However, even if the child-turned-hero would offer Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel a worthy adversary on film, there’s no avoiding the fact that audiences have seen a similar fight once already. Not to mention that trying to launch two similar heroes would at the very worst have Shazam! pale in comparison, and at the very best split audiences for either movie. So for the time being – and we never thought we’d say this – Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman will have to do.
Do you think Shazam! could work on the big screen? Or do you agree with Segal that despite his potential, the similarities to Superman are too obvious to ignore for mass audiences? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.
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