This weekend, moviegoers will find themselves uttering the true magic word: Shazam! Part of the DC's upcoming film slate will be the story of youngster Billy Batson, who with one simple word can turn into the superhero Shazam!, formerly referred to as Captain Marvel, an adult hero with powers ranging from super strength and flight to various forms of magic. For kids who pretend to be superheroes on the playground and around their house, being able to turn into one instantly is the ultimate wish fulfillment! Okay, let's be real, a lot of us who are adults would love this opportunity as well.
Captain Marvel/Shazam! has been fighting crime on the comic book pages for over eight decades (though he was put on ice for 20 years), and has been one of DC Comics' most popular characters since the 1970s. Aside from a film serial released in the early 1940s, this project will mark Shazam!'s full-length theatrical debut after years of appearances in cartoons, video games and even a live-action TV series. The film is now only a couple of days away, but there is still enough to chew on, both about what's already been announced, like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson playing Black Adam, and what we may end up seeing. Here's everything we know so far about Shazam!
Shazam! was originally expected to hit theaters on April 5, 2019. At the time, that was placing it right after the unnamed DC film being released on October 5, 2018, but before Justice League 2 was scheduled to come out on June 14, 2019. Even though the DCEU has gone through numerous scheduling (and content) changes since late 2014, we can say for sure that Shazam! has kept that spot. April is an unusual time for a big blockbuster movie to come out, but as Captain America: The Winter Soldier proved in 2014, that doesn't mean they can't be successful in that release slot.
That may not be as applicable to Shazam!, considering that Winter Soldier was a sequel and most people aren't familiar with Shazam! the character (the word, much more so). Originally, the release date was seen as being beneficial to Shazam!, as there wasn't much box office competition set, giving it plenty of room to stretch its legs. But, as we near the movie's debut, that has changed quite a bit. Captain Marvel opened less than a month ago, and with that movie recently crossing the $1 billion mark, there may still be folks who head out this weekend to take it in. Plus, Jordan Peele's Us has been stronger than expected, and in the next few weeks we'll see the Hellboy reboot and Avengers: Endgame open, meaning that Shazam! will have to find its audience quickly and/or stick around for a while to really make its money back.
Shazam! didn't get its official for a long time, as is customary, but we now know that the film will be rated PG-13. In mid-February 2019, the MPAA made its decision on the rating of the film due to "intense sequences of action, language, and suggestive material." Past DC movies, and for that matter, most modern superhero movies, get the same rating. With Shazam! being one of the lighter entries from DC, it was pretty much guaranteed to hit the PG-13 target. Another thing we can safely count on is that Shazam! won't come out with an R-rated extended cut for home media...I hope.
It was quite a while before Shazam! confirmed who would be directing the superhero flick, but in July 2017, it was announced that David F. Sandberg had officially obtained the job. Sandberg's moviemaking experience primarily rests in the horror realm with movies like Lights Out and Annabelle 2. Having him helm a movie about a boy who becomes a fully-grown superhero upon exclaiming a word sounds like a weird pairing, but it wouldn't be the first unorthodox pick for a superhero director. Remember, Aquaman director James Wan also has a horror background. And, Sandberg himself has said that he thinks he's the best person for the job since he didn't grow up knowing a lot about the hero.
Billy Batson, a.k.a Captain Marvel, was created by Fawcett Comics in 1940, and at one point was considered the most popular superhero of the 1940s. Like most comic book characters, Billy's origins have been retconned several times, but the basic premise remains the same. Orphaned at a young age, young Billy was led by a mysterious stranger through a subway tunnel. Brought before the ancient wizard Shazam! in the Rock of Eternity, he is chosen to receive the powers of Captain Marvel because of the goodness in his heart. Whenever Billy says the word "Shazam!", a magical lightning bolt strikes him, and he becomes the adult Captain Marvel, though he still has Billy's intellect and personality. To transform back into Billy Batson, Captain Marvel just has to say the same word. Each letter in "Shazam!" corresponds with one of the magical abilities Billy inherited from various Greek and Roman characters: S for the Wisdom of Solomon; H for the Strength of Hercules; A for the Stamina of Atlas; Z for the Power of Zeus; A for the Courage of Achilles and M for the Speed of Mercury.
The recent name change for the superhero goes back to legal troubles the character faced in the early 1950s. Due to a copyright infringement lawsuit from DC Comics over Captain Marvel's similarity to Superman, Fawcett Comics agreed to stop publishing stories featuring him and the other members of the Marvel Family, and they weren't seen again for nearly 20 years. During this interim period, Marvel created their own Captain Marvel and trademarked the name. So when DC got ahold of Captain Marvel and his supporting cast in the early 1970s, although they could still call him Captain Marvel within their published stories, they couldn't publish a comic book called "Captain Marvel." As a result, the various series over the years starring him have had titles circling around the word "Shazam!"
When the character was rebooted in 2012 as part of the New 52, writer Geoff Johns decided to rename him Shazam! since many already associated that word with the superhero. Now Billy shares the same name as the being who gave him his powers, and now it's been retconned so that Billy has to say "Shazam!" with good intentions to become the superhero rather than simply say it. This eliminates the pesky problem of him accidentally transforming back into his child self when introducing himself in his superpowered form.
Though Armie Hammer had expressed interest in playing Shazam! following a social media post from The Rock, who is set to portray villain/anti-hero Black Adam, though not in this film (more on that later), we finally found out who would step in to play the odd hero for his first solo film in October 2017: Chuck star Zachary Levi. This isn't his first foray into the world of superhero movies, either. Levi also played Fandral in the last two Thor films, but this will be his first time leading a superhero movie.
As we discussed in the previous section, you can't have Shazam! without Billy Batson, the teen who the Wizard entrusts with superpowers that allow him to become an adult hero. In early November 2017, the film finally cast the role of young Billy, and it found him in Disney Channel star Asher Angel. As for how Billy will be portrayed in the film, director David F. Sandberg has confirmed that the version of Billy most recently used in the comics during the New 52 era won't be in the movie. So, instead of "huge dickhead" Billy Batson, we'll be treated to a more traditional take on the character, with him being fun and happy-go-lucky this time around.
The origins of the entity who gave Shazam! and Black Adam their powers are steeped in mystery. In a story from the 1980s, it was explained that 5,000 years ago, he was a shepherd who was chosen to be the ancient superhero the Champion. Centuries later, now going by the name Shazam!, the wizard passed along his power to Teth-Adam, but when Adam abused his powers, it wasn't until millennia later that he decided to trust another with his power. That person was Billy Batson, but soon after he transformed the boy into Captain Marvel, he was killed by a falling granite block. Though dead, his spirit remained connected to his lair the Rock of Eternity (where he safeguarded the Seven Deadly Sins and other captured mystical threats), and he served as a mentor to Billy and the rest of the Marvel Family.
In the New 52, the wizard is one of seven beings who controlled magic in ancient times. In the present day, he is the only member of the council who hadn't been killed by Black Adam, and knowing he was near death, he attempted to find a person with purity of heart to inherit his power. After going through several candidates, he finally chose Billy, who helped him realize that no one's heart is truly pure, but knew that the boy has potential to be good. After transforming Billy into Shazam!, the wizard passed away.
Now that Captain Marvel has been renamed in the New 52, he shares the same name as the wizard, so it's important whenever discussing these characters to clarify which Shazam! you're talking about. As for his role in the 2019 film, it will most likely be the same as in the comics, i.e., giving Billy and Black Adam their powers, as well as possibly serving as a mentor. Expect him to be a major (if not the most important) supporting character.
While casting for the wizard wasn't confirmed for a long time, January 2018 brought the news that Ron Cephas Jones, of This Is Us fame, was in talks to play him on the big screen. When this guide was originally written, the movie had been filming for a few weeks, making it seem likely that Jones was, indeed, cast in the part. To our surprise, though, we were wrong, as official word came down around mid-July of the same year that Djimon Hounsou, who was already set to reprise his MCU role as Korath in Captain Marvel, and was also playing one of the leaders of the seven undersea kingdoms in Aquaman, would actually take on the part of the ancient magic man who gives Billy's his powers.
Millenia before Billy Batson became Captain Marvel/Shazam!, the ancient wizard Shazam! chose another to be his champion. That person was Kahndaqian (previously Egyptian) Teth-Adam. Adam also shouts "Shazam!" to turn into his superpowered form, but the letters in the word represent the Egyptian gods: S for the Stamina of Shu; H for the Swiftness of Heru; A for the Strength of Amon; Z for the Wisdom of Zehuti; A for the Power of Anon and M for the Courage of Mehen. After he becomes corrupted by his power (in the New 52, Adam actually steals the power from its intended recipient, his nephew Aman), he is banished for thousands of years until he is freed from his confinement in the present. Originally, in the pre-New 52 universe, Adam's descendant Theo Adam said, "Shazam!" to transform into Black Adam, but it was then retconned so that Teth-Adam/Black Adam are their own individuals, though Black Adam rarely transforms back into his human form.
Although Black Adam was originally written as a stereotypical supervillain bent on world domination and all that jazz, over the years he has evolved into an anti-hero who wants to do what's best for his people, but his methods are more brutal than what most superheroes are comfortable doing. This is the characterization we will see in the DCEU. Dwayne Johnson has stated that like the New 52 version, the DCEU Black Adam will be a former slave, which has made him very angry. So while he will be a "bad guy" in the sense that he will battling the protagonist at some point, he can't be classified as evil.
Now, here's where some confusion comes in. It was originally thought that Black Adam would serve as the primary antagonist for Shazam! in this film, with the character also being spun off into his own film, which would see him transition from an antagonist to someone who is keen on doing the right thing, but who just happens to get in a lot of fights in the process. It was later decided, however, that Dwayne Johnson's Black Adam would actually not make his debut in Shazam!, but in his own proposed solo movie. That will leave some unknown future film to finally give audiences the battle of wills and superpowers that will result when the two beefy heroes meet.
It took around four years, but plot details have been revealed about Shazam!. With principal photography beginning at the end of January 2018, we were finally given an idea of what the overall storyline for the movie would be, and we're pleased to say that the story is a classic origin tale that features many aspects of the comics. Take a look at the synopsis released by Warner Bros.:
We all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In Billy Batson's case, by shouting out one word---SHAZAM!---this streetwise 14-year-old foster kid can turn into the adult Super Hero Shazam!, courtesy of an ancient wizard. Still a kid at heart---inside a ripped, godlike body---Shazam revels in this adult version of himself by doing what any teen would do with superpowers: have fun with them! Can he fly? Does he have X-ray vision? Can he shoot lightning out of his hands? Can he skip his social studies test? Shazam sets out to test the limits of his abilities with the joyful recklessness of a child. But he'll need to master these powers quickly in order to fight the deadly forces of evil controlled by Dr. Thaddeus Sivana.
So, we'll see Billy playing around with his newfound superpowers to figure out just how crazy powerful he is, and then, hopefully, getting used to what he can do enough to take down Dr. Sivana and whatever minions (supervillains always have minions) he has causing trouble all over the place. Since the Wizard will play a definite part in this story, maybe audiences will also get some details regarding his background, and magic as a whole in the DCEU. After Wonder Woman, Shazam! is the next best film to go down this path.
With Black Adam no longer a part of Shazam!, the superhero movie has moved on to the next logical character to pit against the World's Mightiest Mortal: Doctor Thaddeus Sivana, who first appeared in 1940's Whiz Comics #2, the same book in which Captain Marvel debuted. While Black Adam has the brawn to go toe-to-toe with Captain Marvel/Shazam!, Sivana usually relies on his scientific mind, sending his unusual experiments and creations to cause trouble for the hero. In the comics he rarely did physical battle because of how weak he was typically portrayed, but it was made very clear by Shazam!'s second trailer that this version of Sivana will be a physical force for the Big Red Cheese to deal with his first time out.
Mark Strong, who played Sinestro in the ill-fated Green Lantern film and Merlin in the Kingsman series, has signed on to portray Sivana in Shazam!. According to what Strong had to say about his training for the part in January 2018, it sounds like they're planning to adapt Sivana's New 52 reintroduction. There, Sivana was responsible for accidentally awakening Black Adam during his search to find a magical solution to save his family from unknown circumstances (perfectly setting up Black Adam for Shazam! 2), and he also gained some meta-human abilities after getting struck in the face with some magical lightning.
Shortly before Shazam!'s release date was officially announced, New Line Cinema president Toby Emmerich mentioned that the movie would have a "tone unto itself." This led some to wonder if Shazam! would exist separately from the other DC films. DC Comics eventually clarified the situation in December 2014 by confirming that Shazam! will exist in the DCEU, so we can expect to see the World's Mightiest Mortal flying in the same world as the other heroes. Given the character's history, though, we can also expect the film to be more lighthearted than most of DC's cinematic fare, and star Zachary Levi has likened the movie to the Tom Hanks classic Big.
Despite his connection to many DC superheroes, Shazam! did not appear in Justice League, even though he's a member of the team in the comics. And, since there's been no word on other DCEU heroes appearing in Shazam!, fans are wondering how this movie will connect to the other DC films that have come before it. The answer, it seems, lies mainly with an action sequence set in a toy store. According to news from a set report, this scene will feature stuffed toy versions of other DC characters like Harley Quinn, Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman. In addition, Billy's new foster brother Freddie will be obsessed with the world's heroes in the movie, giving us lots of references there.
Like most of DC's biggest heroes, Shazam!/Captain Marvel has a diverse group of supporting characters by his side, several of whom are superheroes in their own right. The two primary members of the Marvel/Shazam! family are Mary Bromfield and Freddy Freeman. Mary, originally Billy's long-lost twin sister, was also given her powers by the wizard Shazam!, meaning that she utters the same word as Billy to turn into Mary Marvel. The film will see Mary played by Annabelle: Creation actress Grace Fulton. In Freddy's case, he was given his powers directly from Captain Marvel after being critically injured by a supervillain, and as a result has to say "Captain Marvel" to become Captain Marvel Jr. IT actor Jack Dylan Grazer will play Freddie in the film; the character is Billy's best friend and (for a time, anyway) the only one who knows the truth about Shazam!.
The movie will also be including the rest of Billy's foster family from the New 52, which consists of Mary and Freddy, as well as new additions Eugene, Darla and Pedro. Ian Chen, of ABC's comedy Fresh Off the Boat, will play Eugene, while Jovan Armand from The Middle portrays Pedro. This Is Us actress Faithe Herman has also been confirmed for Shazam!, and although her character wasn't given, it's a safe assumption that she'll be playing Darla, the youngest member of Billy's siblings.
In the comics, each of Billy's foster siblings were briefly given powers during Shazam!'s fight with Black Adam (as seen above), but these were temporary. If Mary, Freddy and the others do become superheroes in the DCEU, that will probably be saved for future films, especially since Shazam! won't feature any tussles with Black Adam.
If you're wondering who's going to be in charge of all these foster kids, well, Shazam! isn't going to let them fend for themselves on the big screen. Cooper Andrews, from The Walking Dead, has been cast in the role of their guardian, Victor Vasquez, who will care for the large family along with his wife Rosa, who'll be played by Spanish actress Marta Milans. The film cast almost 80 roles, so it's good to know that Billy will have a solid foster family behind him to help him deal with his new, double life.
We can see how all of these intriguing pieces fit together when Shazam! opens in just a few days, on April 5, 2019!