In spite of the numerous promotions via Twitter he’s put out since taking on this project, one would never suspect that Shazam! was a project that Director David F. Sandberg was unfamiliar with.
“Basically, “ he admits, “they told me ‘It’s like Big with superpowers.’ I was like ‘That’s awesome.’ There’s so much you can have with that wish-fulfillment of this kid who gets to become a superhero and try all these things. It just felt very unique.” Upon taking the job, Sandberg set about heavily researching the backstory of orphan Billy Batson (played in the film by Asher Angel), granted Greek God-inspired powers bequeathed to him by a dying wizard via speaking his name, “Shazam.” Zachary Levi portrays his resulting adult, empowered form but still with the teenager’s personality.
With a plethora of Golden through modern age comic material, David wanted to convey a motion picture that was a balanced amalgam of the best of the character’s 80-year existence. “The suit is one part where it’s like ‘I want the shorter cape of like the Golden Age comics.’ But then, ‘Let’s try the hood from The New 52.’ And little things like that, and trying to balance it. So we have things and references from the old comics, but a lot of the story takes inspiration from the New 52.”
The story Sandberg refers to is the rebooted origin story that was a backup story in the relaunched Justice League comic. In that version, as in the film, Billy is placed in a foster home amongst several other kids taken in by a young couple. That deviated greatly from his original appearance of an orphaned boy on the streets trying to get by selling newspapers before being found by The Wizard’s emissary. The rebooted origin’s team of writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank also reintroduced classic Shazam antagonist Dr. Thaddeus Sivannah, played in this film by Mark Strong, and introduced the Seven Deadly Sins, also billed to be featured. The only departure from the story is that of the inclusion of Black Adam, whom Warners is reserving for Suicide Squad 2 and to be played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Despite the failure of 2017’s Justice League, and the recent decision by Warner Bros. Studios to abandon the DCEU in favor of director-focused projects, Sandberg’s direction has not been altered in any way. “It’s very different from Justice League. It’s still the same universe but has a different tone. [It’s] not dark and gritty. [It’s] not a pure comedy because [it] touches some pretty dark subjects. [I] like to compare [the essence and warmth of the film balanced with suspense and action] to 80s movies, like Goonies, Ghostbusters, and Back To The Future.”
Shazam! premieres in theaters on April 5, 2019.