Film discussion

Shazam! – 2019 Preview

It seems 2019 will be a good year for comic book movies, especially for fans of heroes called ‘Captain Marvel’. Or, as is the case with this DC Comics character, one whose name was finally officially changed from ‘Captain Marvel’ – not to be confused with Marvel’s Captain Marvel – to ‘Shazam’ with the release of DC’s New 52 comics line in 2012.

Shazam! will follow streetwise teenage orphan Billy Batson (Asher Angel) who can turn into an adult superhero just by shouting the magic word. Batson bounces from one foster home to another until he eventually ends up in Philadelphia with the Vasquez family.

While protecting his foster brother Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) from some bullies, Billy is transported into a strange realm by an ancient wizard who imbues him with fantastic powers whenever he speaks the wizard’s name, Shazam. The now super-powered Billy (Zachary Levi) works together with Freddy to discover the extent of his newfound abilities, whilst also contending with the mysterious villain Dr Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).

What immediately sets Shazam apart from other superheroes is the fact that Billy transforms from a teenage boy into a super-powered man. This isn’t a film about a billionaire who makes himself a suit, or a displaced alien, a super-soldier, or someone with mutant abilities. Billy is a kid, not too much unlike any other child, chosen by the wizard to receive his powers for his bravery and kindness. Shazam appeals to younger audiences because anyone could be like him.

Despite this broad appeal, it’s hard to believe it’s taken so long for the him to appear in a live action film, with the character not having been portrayed in cinema since 1941. Thankfully, with the popularity of DC characters outside of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman increasing – thanks in part to the DC Extended Universe movies like Aquaman and CW television shows such as Arrow and The Flash – audiences seem ready for a more fun and lighthearted hero to follow.

Shazam! has been in the works for years and in various stages of development since the early 2000s, but finally seems to be have turned into a film that’s packed with the fun, charm and wonder of the comics if the trailer is anything to go by.

The magical hero is one of the oldest existing characters in DC’s publication history, having first made it to the page in the 1940s, created by the (now defunct) Fawcett Comics. Ironically, DC threatened Fawcett with legal action over then Captain Marvel’s similarity to Superman. While he lay dormant in the 1960s, a certain rival publisher saw fit to create a hero of their own using that same name and had the wherewithal to trademark it. Cue a rebrand from DC in the 1970s (who now owned the rights to the original Captain Marvel) and thus Shazam! was (re)born.

Ergo, there is a wealth of stories and a gallery of characters for DC Comics to draw upon from the series’ history. This upcoming adventure film could be the beginning of an exciting new franchise for DC Comics, especially with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson rumoured to be attached as Shazam’s iconic foe Black Adam.

Shazam! is set for release in April next year, just a few weeks before Avengers: Endgame hits cinemas. It could be a defining month for both studios and their superhero franchises.

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