The movie serial itself retells Billy's origin as the superhero, surrounded by largely new characters with the notable exception of the wizard Shazam. The film follows an expedition to Siam, the nation now known as Thailand, for a legendary artifact referred to as the Golden Scorpion that is capable of immense destructive power.
Billy, a young radio broadcaster and assistant on the expedition, is selected by Shazam to become his new champion after the boy respects the ancient warnings not to trespass in the forgotten civilization's crypts. Upon saying the Wizard's name, Billy transforms into Captain Marvel and fights a criminal syndicate, led by a figure known as the Scorpion, to recover the artifact and destroy it for good, lest it fall into the wrong hands.
In comparison to cost cutting measures employed by Columbia Pictures' Batman and Superman live-action serials in the years to follow, Adventures of Captain Marvel actually went over its original production budget by approximately 7 percent, complete with live-action flying sequences unlike the animated rotoscoping used for similar sequences in the Superman serials. And despite being nearly 80 years old, the serials largely hold up for their advanced age, capturing the pulp sense of adventure common at the time.
While Superman is the first modern comic book superhero, ironically, licensing and legal hurdles surrounding the Last Son of Krypton led to the title's biggest rival, Captain Marvel, reaching the big screen first. Just as the Fawcett Comics' property was the biggest superhero title on the stands at the time, the release of the movie serial further fueled National Comics' legal campaign to prove that the bestselling superhero was completely derivative of their own flagship character.
By the time the dust settled, well over a decade following the release of Adventures of Captain Marvel, National Comics would ultimately succeed in their lengthy endeavors, effectively putting Fawcett out of business for good and gaining the rights to the character that had rivaled Superman's sales for years. But, as Billy Batson prepares to return to the big screen for the first time in 78 years, it's important to point out that the Earth's Mightiest Mortal led the charge to adapt superhero comics to the movies.
Directed by David F. Sandberg, Shazam! stars Asher Angel as Billy Batson, Zachary Levi as Shazam, Mark Strong as Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, Djimon Hounsou as the ancient wizard Shazam, Grace Fulton as Mary Bromfield, Jack Dylan Grazer as Frederick “Freddy” Freeman, Ian Chen as Eugene Choi, Jovan Armand as Pedro Peña, Faithe Herman as Darla Dudley, Cooper Andrews as Victor Vásquez and Marta Milans as Rosa Vásquez. The film hits theaters April 5.