With only a weekend’s worth of box office under its belt, Shazam! has been green lit for a sequel, with screenwriter Henry Gayden returning to do the honors. Starring Zachary Levi , the film soared at the box office with a $53.5 million opening weekend. Director David F. Sandberg and producer Peter Safran are also set to return.
A Bird’s Eye View
The DC Entertainment Universe is dead. You already knew that if you have watched Batman v Superman and then saw SHAZAM! this weekend. Zack Synder’s dark vision of the DC Universe left viewers wondering if they were experiencing the same heroes as they have for a generation. Answer: They weren’t.
This new DC Universe, features an unsmiling and morally conflicted Superman and a stylishly, murderous Batman, who actually branded any enemies who survived his capturing of them. Wonder Woman (2017), offering only the tiniest sliver of light, in what was turning out to be a dark and dreary mess. And don’t even get me started about Justice League (2017).
Wonder Woman was the only bright spot in Batman v. Superman and she further invigorated viewers with the heroism expected from DC’s iconic heroes. Her own movie starring Gal Godot again, became an instant classic and the first DCEU movie where people were happy with the portrayal of an iconic DC hero.
Not to be outdone, 2018’s Aquaman, with Jason Momoa and its reveal of Atlantis and the underwater world, as well as Arthur Curry’s personal disinterest in their partisan politics, further expanded the mythology of the DC Universe to emphasizing the diversity of life on DC’s Earth.
Now, with the release of SHAZAM!, the DC movie franchise, such as it is, springs to life in the enthusiasm and joy of a boy blessed with the powers of magic and who steps into a world filled with legends. With barely a weekend under its belt, the producers of SHAZAM! are talking about a creating a sequel with the original screenwriter, Henry Gayden.
SHAZAM! with its as yet unnamed hero (I am voting for Captain Thunder) brings the light and joy back to a movie-going genre getting darker by the second.
With the Marvel Cinematic Universe putting its capstone on the first decade of its movie-making with the battle against the nihilist Thanos, the darkness of their Universe is all but overpowering the genre. To further darken said landscape, movies like Brightburn (a retelling of the Superman mythos with our alien visitor as a deadly invader) subverts the original tones of brightness we have traditionally expected from the superhero genre.
Shazam! Allows Superheroes to be Fun Again
SHAZAM! allows superheroes to be fun again. Filled with all the moral aspects of a well-told fable, Billy Batson and his ersatz family become a cornerstone of a movie universe. The film was rushed into production apparently without a plan, sometimes flawed and with little idea of what was expected and apparently trying to keep up with the successes of the MCU. Despite the minor problems, the film has been has been easily outperforming the rest of the DC cinematic universe both in terms of quality and in content and crushing them at the box office.
The overall story told in SHAZAM! originated in Justice League issues numbers 7-11, 0, 14-16, and 18-21 back in 2011 which denotes the re-emergence of Billy Batson and his new Marvel Family, not quite as C.C. Beck envisioned them but as re-imagined by Geoff Johns. This series of stories were later compiled into a trade paperback in 2013 called SHAZAM! These New 52 series characters would survive DC’s Rebirth era and continue in the new series starting in 2018, written by Geoff Johns.
While the movie closely parallels the later compiled trade paperback, there were some shifts in characters, presumably to avoid using Black Adam, a controversial character in the DC Universe these days.
… But no Black Adam.
The role of Teth Adam, however, is recast as Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, a long-term foe of our hero, who instead of a prodigious intellect (which he may or may not still possess) he is empowered by the eldritch might of the Seven Deadly Sins. Despite this, the story is almost a page for page retelling.
Where Henry Gayden plans to take the story might be found in the pages of both the rewrite and compilation as well as the newest series focusing on the new Marvel family, creating challenges for the use of their magic and visiting realms shown both in the movie and the comic as the Magic Lands.
In the movie, the Magic Lands are probably featured as those doorways to parallel Universes found inside of their new lair at the Rock of Infinity. There were many doors, indicating the possibility for strange or exotic creatures to cross from their world into ours.
Captain Marvel, um … I’m sorry, SHAZAM! … has plenty of room for emotional resonance given the size of his revised and now super-powered, Marvel family. The unusual creations of C.C. Beck are still a possibility, such as the terrifying menace of the miniature Mr. Mind, making for surreal stories able to be mined for pathos and laughs.
Henry Gayden has plenty of material to draw from, both the original writings of C.C. Beck as well as the periods in which the Marvel/SHAZAM family has been reignited in the DC Universe. One of the benefits is that because Captain Marvel/SHAZAM has had significantly less back history set in stone, there is plenty of opportunity to surprise viewers with new, original stories. Instead of merely mimicking the character’s history, they have a chance to create it.
Let’s hope SHAZAM’s Marvel family will become headliners in a hopefully better DC Entertainment Universe, focused on expanding the best and most enduring parts of their Universe. DC has been killing it on television, it would be a shame if their movies couldn’t cut it.
While they didn’t use Teth Adam, I am ever anticipating, he too, will get to make an appearance down the road. SHAZAM! gives us renewed hope for DC’s movie franchises whose dour tone and grim-dark sensibilities have proven to be a complete disaster for the DCEU.
Keep making lighting with your hands, Captain Thunder!
SHAZAM! features: Zachary Levi as Shazam, Asher Angel as Billy Batson and Djimon Hounsou as the Wizard. Mark Strong plays the villainous Mr. Sivana.
Also starring: Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman and Adam Brody as super-heroic Freddy. Faithe Herman as Darla Dudley, with Meagan Good appearing as Superhero Darla. Rounding the family ranks, Grace Fulton as Mary Bromfield, and Michelle Borth as superheroic Mary, as well as Ian Chen as Eugene Choi and Ross Butler superheroic Eugene. Jovan Armand as Pedro Peña and D.J. Cotrona as superheroic Pedro.
Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews are the foster parents, Rosa and Victor Vasquez.
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.