Sellers Points Breakdown: Shazam!

Shazam logo

Now we’re getting to the even more ambitious portion of the WB/DC film slate. Captain Marvel Shazam is one of those characters with a dedicated fan base, but not much name recognition. While that’s slowly changing, especially with the involvement of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on this project and a recent high-profile comic reboot from Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, it’s an uphill battle.

This character has gone through a lot of changes over the years, even being owned by a couple of different comic book companies. Did you know he even had a TV show at one time? It wasn’t all that great or anything, but he was popular enough to make the transition between media. That’s saying something about his potential.

But should this movie follow the same formula as other superhero flicks? Maybe it should trying something completely different to set itself apart. Who should play the title role? Who could play off The Rock well enough to be believable? What happens if the movie doesn’t work? Is there really that much franchise potential?

All this and more in the next part!

Costume design is pretty much done, yeah?
Costume design is pretty much done, yeah?

Big (green) Red Cheese

It’s true that Shazam is a superhero and that the movie will probably have some of those tropes in it, but it’s something else, too: a magic-based fantasy story. Think Harry Potter meets Superman. That in mind, let’s look at how much those movies costs the studio, which is actually the same one making this movie.

The first Harry Potter film was made for around $125 million while the latest Superman film, Man of Steel, cost about $225 million. For a fresh, unproven franchise it makes more sense to keep the budget from exploding on the first outing, so expect it to be somewhere in the $150-175 million range. There will be special and visual shots aplenty, but expect much of it to be saved for maybe three-four key scenes with a couple of minor ones tossed in throughout and the vast majority of the film to be character-focused instead. If flashbacks are used to tell Black Adam’s story (that’d be the villain/anti-hero The Rock is playing), then the budget might get closer to $180 million.

Here's the $$$
Here’s the $$$

Shazam is a magical character, so there are lots of possibilities for the special and visual effects teams to play with and some pitfalls to avoid. Since CGI will have to be used in quite a few scenes, it’s important the studio spend money getting a team that can make it all look believable. The team that made the last Harry Potter films, for example.

But what happens if this movie goes off the rails and collapses? There are several possibilities, but two big ones come to mind. If the movie doesn’t work for audiences, then it can be distanced from the larger DC Cinematic Universe since it’s being made by the New Line Cinema branch of the company. It doesn’t have to be part of the larger tapestry if the studio doesn’t want it to be. And if it fails, it’ll be to everyone’s benefit to distance themselves from it as much as possible. The other possibility is that the studio will take the property away from New Line and give it a few years before attempting a possible reboot, likely mixing it in with the larger DC movie universe to help make it feel more relevant and distanced from the previous effort.

One other possibility is that, since this is a lesser-known property, it’ll just get shuffled off to the side and never heard from again. Luckily, if Dwayne Johnson’s comments are being interpreted right, and this movie is its own thing rather than part of the DC Cinematic Universe, then it won’t really have any effect on the other DC movies at all. Though the in-development Dark Universe (aka Justice League Dark) might be in for some delays.

Maybe Shazam could join this roster instead?
Maybe Shazam could join this roster instead?

The World’s Mightiest Mortal

There are several decades worth of history for this character, going all the way back to 1939 when he first appeared in Wiz Comics #2 as created by C. C. Beck and Bill Parker. At that time, the character was owned by Fawcett Comics and was called Captain Marvel. Shazam was the wise wizard who bestowed the powers of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury on the one chosen to wield the power as the Earth’s chosen protector. Hence the name, SHAZAM.

His powers are somewhat ambiguous, with only flight, super strength and super speed being the constants. He also uses “magical lightning” for various things from offense in lieu of, say, heat vision or freeze breath, and to cast spells of varying sorts. This is why a writer and director who think in Harry Potter terms would come in handy here. Billy Batson is Shazam’s alter ego and is usually portrayed as a child between the ages of 10 and 13. When fully transformed, he looks and sound like an adult, thus no one would ever make the connection. Though he still has a similar personality. But who should play him? We know who the likely main villain will be (The Rock’s take on Black Adam sounds awesome, by the way). But we need somebody who can play off of The Rock and still be essentially a big kid trapped in a superhero body.  *slides under the desk, puts on hard hat and pads* I’m just going to say it as one possible choice because he and The Rock have had some great banter and fun “battles” in the past…John Cena. *pelted with all the internet hate*

Pretty much how every DC movie announcement goes anyway.
Pretty much how every DC movie announcement goes anyway.

Of course, I only suggest Cena because he has some acting ability and natural chemistry with The Rock. But it doesn’t mean he’s right for the role. There are other actors who could pull this off and probably be better. Armie Hammer (The Social Network, The Lone Ranger) comes to mind. He’s got pretty good comedic timing and he’s kind of a classic, square-jawed hero type that Shazam is modeled after. (Yes, he was an attempt to compete with Superman in the late 1930’s, and he wound up outselling him at one point, too)

But how about a director and story?  I mentioned in a previous article that James Wan was rumored to be on the short list of directors for this one. He’s a favorite at Warner Brothers and is already working with Johnson on the final Fast and Furious film. That does seem to put him as a strong contender, but my personal top pick would be between David Yates (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows parts 1 and 2) and Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol). I mostly put Bird there because I believe he can accomplish anything, but it would take a miracle to wrestle him away from Disney. As for the story, that’s easier: the recent New 52 origin from Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. It’s as straight-forward as it gets with plenty of fun moments and wink-nods to the past that won’t alienate newcomers and it’s just a fun story that lends itself to film quite well.

Just go buy this. It's worth your time and money.
Just go buy this. It’s worth your time and money.

There’s also some elements from something like Judd Winick’s The Trials of Shazam! that would work well and would give the movie a decidedly Harry Potter feel. And with those movies being over and the studio looking to hold onto that audience, that could be a really smart move, if executed properly. Who better to execute a Harry Potter strategy than the guy who just finished it off? Just hire Yates, WB. It’ll be the safe/smart move.

Of course, since you’re in this position of starting fresh, maybe safe isn’t the answer. To really get attention and keep it, it might serve the studio well to think even further outside the box. Anybody know what Sam Raimi is up to these days?

Franco knows what's up.
Franco knows what’s up.

Holy Moley! I’m Big!

Many of us never thought we’d see the day when we’d be gearing up for an actual Shazam film. Fans of all versions of Captain Marvel/Shazam should be excited just for the fact that enough confidence in the character has been established to allow for this to happen.

It does seem like we have longer to wait than normal for an announced movie, but what really matters is that the filmmakers take their time to get this one absolutely right. Dwayne Johnson has suggested that the film will be in its own world and not connected to the larger DC Cinematic Universe, but hopefully that’s just a misinterpretation of what was said. Or that the powers that be see an opportunity to make the movie universe much more diverse in terms of character types.

We need more movies that establish a sense of wonder for younger and older fans. I can’t think of a better character to pull that off than Shazam. We all need this movie to be good and for it to be a huge hit. The current incarnation of the character in the New 52 has been a lot of fun to read when he gets a chance to be out front and with this movie happening; hopefully it means he’ll be getting a bigger push in the coming year. If so, I can’t wait!

Wisdom of Solomon, yo!
Wisdom of Solomon, yo!

Opens April 5, 2019. Subject to change, of course.

Come back next week for a breakdown of Justice League Part 2!

Author: Russell Sellers

Comic book geek extraordinaire, Russell Sellers enjoys enthusiastic conversations about all things geek. He also traffics in ill-timed puns and random obscure Ghostbusters quotes. Send Russell an email