When the DC Extended Universe launched in 2013, a Shazam! movie felt like an afterthought. Warner Bros. was moving full steam ahead after Man of Steel, intent on building a cinematic universe around Henry Cavill's Superman and pushing on with Zack Snyder's sequel, which became Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Fast forward six years later, and the Last Son of Krypton is out of sight and seemingly out of mind for now. Meanwhile, the hype is building for David F. Sandberg's Shazam! flick starring Zachary Levi as the titular magically powered hero. This unexpected sequence of events has some fans wondering, if this film actually succeeds, is there a need for the DCEU's Superman anymore?
Director Peter Segal spelled doom and gloom out when it came to his Shazam! project in 2013, making it clear that all hopes were dead for it now as Warner Bros. wanted to focus on Superman and, as we'd come to find out, the heavy-hitters of the Justice League, like Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Flash. From a narrative standpoint, Segal felt that because both heroes basically had the same powers -- flight, invulnerability, super-speed, etc. -- there would only be room for one, and that was the godlike Kryptonian, arguably the comic industry's biggest pop culture icon. A kid-friendly version of Superman in the form of the magically transformed Billy Batson just didn't;t jibe with Snyder's grim, bleak and violent vision for DC's superheroes.
But now, with Ben Affleck retiring as Batman and Cavill apparently out as Superman, things are very, very different. After the failure of Justice League and the love for Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman and James Wan's Aquaman, it's clear DC fans want fun, inspiring superheroes on the big screen. Judging from the trailers so far, Levi's goofy, down-to-earth and relatable take on Shazam is exactly that.
If Sandberg's film registers as a hit, a sequel will almost definitely be greenlit as Warner Bros. is intent on building more solo franchises. But it's worth noting that while Billy is sort of a comedic take on Superman, ultimately, he's no Man of Steel.
Let's be honest, as long as there's a DC filmverse, there'll always be room for Batman and Superman. Warner Bros. may have adopted a streamlined approach focusing on individual characters to generate success in the near future, but the truth is, there's nothing stopping both characters from co-existing on screen, just as they do in the comics. With the course correction Justice League did for Superman, and audiences really taking to that version of the hero, there's no reason to keep him out of play. There's still a lot to be told in terms of a refugee seeking haven/asylum on Earth and becoming its protecter, especially in these sociopolitical, times where immigration is a big topic.
As it stands, the adolescent Billy and mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent are two different peas in the same pod, and while some may think Shazam! nullifies the need for a Man of Steel, it really doesn't. Is Superman needed right now? Maybe not at this very moment. Levi's spin on Captain Marvel will surely act as a buffer and overall placeholder in the interim, but ultimately, we all want to see a Superman on the big screen, the iconic blue, yellow and red trunks-wearing hero we all know and love.
There's no reason Shazam and Superman can't co-exist. They're cut from the same cloth, and their personalities are completely different. Having both of them in the same film universe adds variety to the idea of nigh-omnipotent beings traipsing around with the rest of us. Right now, the gradual shift in what DC fans want swings in Shazam's favor, but this should allows Warner Bros. to take its time and perfectly set up how, where and when to bring Kal-El back into play.
Arriving April 5, director David F. Sandberg’s 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.