The DC Extended Universe is headed for an extreme youth movement. This April, Shazam! will tell the ultimate wish fulfillment story of a 14-year-old boy who gains the incredible super powers comparable to (and perhaps greater than) those of Superman by saying the titular magic word.
Superhero News was among a fortunate group of outlets invited to visit the set of Shazam! last year. We learned a lot about the movie and will be sharing what we can in the coming days. We begin with a summary of what you need to know about the film and, hopefully, answer a few burning questions you may have.
Shazam! is indeed set in the current DC Films universe (DCEU) that began in Man of Steel.
This was made clear throughout the set visit. All that’s happened in the previous DCEU films has transpired in the world of Shazam! Metropolis was nearly destroyed, the Justice League got together, and Aquaman is popular enough to have t-shirts that are fixtures of Freddy Freeman’s (Jack Dylan Grazer) wardrobe.
“We are definitely within the DCEU world,” said Shazam himself, Zachary Levi. “I think since the Man of Steel, all of that has really happened in our world. All of that stuff, theoretically, we could have been watching on the news as it was going down.”
Being part of a larger universe will not come at the expense of the film’s ability to tell its own story. Shazam! will stand alone in that respect and have a different tone compared to other DC movies.
What does Shazam mean anyway?
As comic fans know, Shazam (or really SHAZAM!) is an acronym referring to the powers Billy Batson gains by saying that magic word. He gains the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed and flight of Mercury.
Freddy Freeman is the biggest fan of DC heroes in the DCEU, but Billy couldn’t care less (at first)
The 14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) has been too busy moving from one foster home to the next to really pay attention to all of the recent superhero activity. Freddy Freeman, however, is a huge fan of the JL heroes with plenty of newspaper clippings and collectibles to prove it. He acts as Billy’s guide to all things super once the latter transforms into Shazam (Levi). It’s played for laughs when Freddy tests Shazam’s abilities in convenience store robberies and feats of strength, but this friendship plays a vital role in Billy’s arc. Freddy helps Billy learn what it really means to have courage and be a hero.
Billy Batson just found a new family in Philadelphia
Billy begins the film having just been placed with a new foster family. That’s where he meets Freddy, along with Mary (Grace Fulton), Eugene (Ian Chen), Darla (Faithe Herman), and Pedro (Jovan Armand). In the comics, these characters go on to become the Marvel Family, but their future wasn’t discussed during the set visit. We’ll have to wait and see what happens with them in this film or a potential sequel.
Billy has been through this process too many times to get attached to his foster family at first, but he is inherently decent and cares for others. Billy unwittingly finds himself on the path to becoming Shazam after defending Freddy from a group of bullies at school.
Shazam! was filmed primarily in Toronto, but the story is set in Philadelphia, which takes the place of Fawcett City in the comics.
Shazam will have to confront Dr. Sivana and the Seven Deadly Sins
Doctor Sivana is Shazam’s oldest foe in the comics and Mark Strong will bring him to life in this film. He knows the power Billy possesses and wants it for himself. Shazam! will cover some of Dr. Sivana’s backstory to help the audience understand his motivation in the film.
Dr. Sivana will be aided by the Seven Deadly Sins (Pride, Envy, Greed, Anger, Sloth, Gluttony, and Lust). We can’t share much about them yet, but you can catch a glimpse of them in the extended TV spot released on January 20.
The New 52 and classic, Golden Age comics influenced the film
“I wanted to incorporate a little bit of everything,” director David F. Sandberg said. “Not just in [New] 52, but the older stuff as well. The suit is one part of that where it’s like, ‘Yeah, I want the shorter cape of like the Golden Age comics.’ But then, ‘Let’s try the hood from the New 52.’ And little things like that, and trying to balance it. So we have things and references from the old comics, but a lot of the story takes inspiration from the New 52.”
The New 52 was particularly influential when it came to Dr. Sivana, about which Mark Strong was very excited. “Well as you all know this is the New 52 version in which he’s much more robust and much more powerful,” Strong said. “He is a proper supervillain. He gets to fly, he can create electric fields in his hands and fire electricity.”
The Rock of Eternity plays a part in the story
The Rock of Eternity is known in DC Comics lore as the home of the Wizard (Djimon Hounsou). It is the Wizard who bestows the powers of Shazam on a worthy champion. We can’t share much here beyond what the trailer and extended TV spot have shown, but comic fans should be happy to see the Rock of Eternity and witness how it factors into the story.
Shazam! is a fun movie, but not a response to any criticism of the DCEU
“Not really,” Sandberg responded when asked if he thought about any previous criticisms of the DCEU while developing Shazam! It’s a fun movie and Sandberg noted that “it’s not dark and gritty,” but that’s simply because the story features a kid getting super powers. Going lighter and having more humor comes naturally with that premise.
The movie was influenced by 80s favorites
Aside from the obvious similarities to Big, Sandberg also mentioned Goonies, Ghostbusters, and Back to the Future as films he would compare to Shazam! in terms of the tone and feel of the movie.
Shazam! could be a new Christmas classic
The movie hits theaters April 5, but Shazam! could become a new holiday favorite. The story takes place during the holiday season and we saw plenty of Christmas decorations on set. Shazam! might even have been better served by a November or December release date, but it’s not overtly a “Christmas movie,” so it should still work as a spring release. Still, there is a good chance Shazam! will become a fixture of many holiday rotations once it comes home on Blu-ray.
Shazam! is a smaller story, but the stakes are still high
Dr. Sivana has plans that could mean trouble for the entire world, but that’s not really the focus of this story, which plays out on a smaller, more personal scale. Big action sequences take place at a mall and a winter carnival. Holiday shoppers need saving just as much as anyone else when a villain comes along and to a first-time superhero, the stakes for Billy couldn’t really be much higher. He’s going to have fun as a superhero, but he’s also going to see that people are counting on him and if he fails, the consequences will be very real.
Shazam! has all the makings of another hit for Warner Bros. and DC Films. It’s nowhere near as big as Aquaman, but it doesn’t need to be. Superhero movies need to tell stories of all sizes and Shazam! looks as though it could stand out with a smaller story that offers big action and big fun. The friendship between Freddy Freeman and Billy Batson will be the not-so-secret weapon of Shazam‘s success.
More to come…
We will have more to share from our Shazam! set visit, starting with this interview with Zachary Levi!