Why “Shazam!” Should Be A TV Series Instead Of A Movie

Posted: June 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

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There have been rumblings of a Shazam movie (or Captain Marvel…whichever) for quite some time now. The most prevalent rumor is that Peter Segal (Get Smart, Anger Management, 50 First Dates) would direct and Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson would star (at one point as the titular Captain Marvel and later, rumor has it, as the villain – Black Adam). That version of the film was also rumored to be a family friendly action-comedy, which makes sense given the director and the fact that Johnson often stars in such films.

For those who don’t know who Captain Marvel/Shazam is, he’s a DC Comics superhero dating back to the early 40s (originally published by Fawcett Comics). It’s the story of Billy Batson, a young boy working as a radio reporter who is granted powers by the wizard Shazam. When he speaks the magic word (“SHAZAM!”) he’s instantly transformed into an adult superhero, endowed with the powers of six archetypal figures (consisting mostly of Greek gods and mythological heroes). Together with Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr., his “Marvel Family,” Billy fights a battle against the likes of Dr. Sivana and Black Adam to save the world and such. The comic was a huge success because it was the first time that the hero in question was actually a young boy (the target audience of the time). Even Robin, Bucky Barnes and the other young sidekicks lacked the fantastical abilities of their mentors. Captain Marvel was a boy who became a hero. Very resonating stuff. One can understand where the family friendly action-comedy genre would come into play.

The comic stopped publishing in 1953 following a lawsuit from DC Comics that the character infringed upon Superman, whom was losing in sales at the time. However, by 1991, DC Comics would have accumulated the rights to all of the Marvel Family characters and would once again be publishing them as part of the DC Universe, with Captain Marvel being a frequent contributor to both the Justice League and the Justice Society.

The biggest problem with getting Captain Marvel to film, it seems, is the same problem that got him canceled in 1953: his resemblance to Superman. In 2006, Warner Bros. released Superman Returns in an attempt to revive the 20 year old film franchise and was met, unfortunately, with mixed critical reviews and a general lack of interest in a follow-up. Personally, I loved Superman Returns but that’s neither here nor there. Following the crash and burn of Superman Returns and the overnight drop in Superman’s popularity that even Smallville couldn’t keep on track, there was renewed hope from filmmakers that Captain Marvel (or Shazam!) would finally make it to theaters.

But then 2013 hit with the release of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, followed by the promise of 2016’s Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Alleged Shazam! director, Peter Segal, had this to say:

“As long as Superman stays hot in the marketplace, there seems like a little bit of a crossover between the two characters. After Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, it seemed like there was a moment where Shazam was going to see the light of day. That’s when you heard those stories. Now that Superman is being invigorated and going up against Batman, I think it’s difficult for DC to figure out how to launch this character in the wake of Superman’s resurgence.”

Of course, despite that, it would seem that there are still plans for young Billy Batson to hit theaters in July 2016. A leaked schedule of DC’s films through 2018 hit the Internet recently and it has Shazam slated as the next film to follow Batman V. Superman. However, there are a number of reasons why I believe this to be a bad idea. I’m going to start with the simple business issues that Warner Bros. would face.

1. Releasing the film in the immediate wake of Batman V. Superman: Despite mixed reviews of Man of Steel, the anticipation of the Superman/Batman mash-up is riding high. So much so that the impact it will have on the box office is very likely to surpass a two month window of revenue. With that in mind, Henry Cavill’s Superman is incredibly likely to overshadow Captain Marvel whom, to be honest, is a lot less known to mainstream audiences.

2. The MARVEL Competition: Along with the aforementioned DC/Warner Bros. release, we also get Marvel’s Captain America 3 in May 2016. Captain America: The Winter Solider has been the biggest success of 2014 and audiences can’t wait to see what happens next. So the 2016 Summer Movie Season is really going to be an all out fist fight between Cap, Supes and Bats. But wait! There’s more! Marvel has an as yet to be announced film slated for July 2016, which would be an even more immediate threat to the untested DC hero. More than likely, too, the mysterious Marvel film will either be the recently announced Dr. Strange or the rumored to be in pre-production Thor 3 (possibly known as Thor: Ragnarok).  Both of which could severely put a hurting on Shazam‘s similar theme of gods and wizardry.

3. Who the hell is Captain Marvel?!: As noted above, the mainstream audience has no idea who Captain Marvel/Shazam is. Marvel Studios has often said they took a huge risk with launching their Marvel cinematic universe with the untested Iron Man. But he at least had the benefit of most people knowing who he was, whether it be from a long, steady history in comics or the popular Iron Man cartoon from the mid 90s. Guardians of Galaxy currently has the same stigma going against it. Your average viewer has no idea who they are but that film has, at least, been supported by a brilliant marketing campaign that showcases popular stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and John C. Reilly. Captain Marvel is a cultural enigma who’s biggest claim outside of comics is being a second rate Superman. It would have to take one hell of a marketing campaign (bigger that GotG‘s) to get this film out there over the competition it would likely be facing from Marvel Studios. 

4. The Tone: It’s been rumored that, with the obvious involvement of Peter Segal (it’s currently unknown if he’s still attached), that the film would be a comedic action film. However, with the tone established by Man of Steel, a family-friendly action comedy just doesn’t fit. It’s a sad day in and of itself that a Superman movie (of all things) established a universe that is dark, grim, violent and all together unpleasant, but that’s the hand we’ve been dealt for better or for worse. Suddenly tossing in a comedic pop corn flick just doesn’t mesh and can unravel the already chaotically woven web.

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Those are the major business and financial reasons as to why I think Shazam is a poor decision to launch as a movie. But now I want to touch on some points that are more in line with some of my previous romps through the world of DC Comics cinema. These are specific reasons why I think Shazam would make a great television series.

1. The Story Is Too Big: This is a huge point that I pushed in one of my previous blogs. DC Comics superheroes have the drawback of having stories and backgrounds that are just too big for film. You need to explain how they got their powers. You need to explain where those powers come from. You need to demonstrate the negative impact those powers have on them to help introduce conflict outside of the typical villain. And more importantly, you need to set up a strong emotional story because that’s what makes a DC superhero resonate outside of the beat ’em up action stuff. It’s just not as simple as Tony Stark taking shrapnel to the chest and realizing that he’s been a dick his whole life.

2. The Story Isn’t Shazam. The Story Is Billy Batson: It’s easy to think that the thing to be most excited about is the character of Shazam, his powers and how cool a super powered smack down would look between him and Black Adam. But you’d be wrong. What attracted people to the character back in the 40s, to the point that he outsold Superman and Batman, was that underneath it all he was young Billy Batson. The story of a young boy (let’s say high school age for the sake of the show) suddenly getting powers and dealing not just with the responsibility and the consequences but also with the genuine “cool” factor is a topic ripe for television (especially on a network like the CW). It’s tough being a kid and a social outcast in one life but a powerful beyond belief hero in the other. It’s a fine line that 2 hours of film, mostly catering to the high spectacle action, just can’t capture. Story point: Imagine Billy dealing with a bully at school and NOT being able to call on the power of Shazam because he knows that would not only expose his secret but also hurt the bully unnecessarily. That’s not CG action that people pay 15 bucks for. That’s life drama. That’s TV. 

3. Relationships: Yes, all heroes have their significant others. Lois Lane. Pepper Potts. That SHIELD Agent that lives across the hall from Steve and had that scene where she was doing laundry (yes…I know…that was Sharon Carter…but my way was funnier). However, Billy’s relationships are a little harder because he’s a kid who turns into an adult. Physically he’s a 30-something bruit with strong chiseled features like Superman. But inside, in heart and mind, he’s still a kid. That’s touchy stuff. Geoff Johns wrote a fantastic storyline in JSA where Billy (as Captain Marvel on the team) developed close romantic feelings to young Courtney Whitmore (Stargirl). Courtney, of course, knew who Billy really was which helped in her feelings being mutual. But nobody else on the team knew that Captain Marvel was really a 15 year old, so to them it just looked like a super powerful, adult male crushing on a 16 year old girl. It brought the highly controversial story of pedophilia into play (which of course was not really the case) and that’s something that would need to play out continuously over episodes. It doesn’t have the same affect if it’s summed up quickly over a couple of minutes in film and moved on from. More than likely they would scrap it all together and just have him crush on someone and not take it anywhere for the sake of “appropriateness.”

4. The Marvel Family: Every character has their supporting cast or someone who helps them out in a jam. Whether it’s Rhody Rhodes, Bucky Barnes, or Black Widow. There’s always someone there. Those characters are also interchangeable. They can pop up if needed or be absent all together. Sometimes the same situation can be resolved with anybody inserted into that role. Black Widow was a huge part of Captain America: The Winter Solider and her involvement served as a means of keeping it connected with the larger scale of the Avengers universe. But would the story have played out any differently if, instead of Black Widow, we were given a larger role for Sharon Carter? Hmmm? Hot female SHIELD Agent. The distrust of whether or not she was Hydra. Think about it and be honest with yourself.

Now, the Marvel Family, well they are just that. A family. Mary Marvel is Billy’s twin sister. Freddie Freeman (Captain Marvel Jr.) is Billy’s best friend. And so on and so forth. It’s a regular cast of characters with a family dynamic that makes for great television. Very few action film franchises continue with the same cast throughout it’s run but with the Marvel Family there’s no way around it.

 

But there you have it. If there was any truth to the leaked film schedule then I’m sure there’s no stopping Shazam from gracing the screens. And if so, hopefully it’s a fine, enjoyable film. I just wanted to throw my two cents out there that it would, in fact, make for one hell of a television series and would clear room in the film slate for characters with less back story and/or social struggles.

It only makes sense, right?

 

 

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