David F. Sandberg may not seem like the most natural choice to direct a movie about the lighter side of the DC Films universe. Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation don’t qualify as obvious precursors to Shazam!, a movie about a teenage kid who temporarily gets the body of a superhero by screaming the title of the movie. Storytelling is storytelling, however, and all one has to do is spend a few minutes with Sandberg (or review a few social media posts) to understand why he was the right person for the job.
“[Shazam] was lesser known to me when they approached,” Sandberg told Batman News‘ sister site Superhero News and other outlets on set last year. “Basically, they told me, ’It’s like Big with superpowers.’ I’m like, ‘That sounds awesome.’ There’s so much you can have with that wish fulfillment of this kid who gets to become a superhero and try out all these things. It just felt very unique.” Sandberg then dove deep into the comic book lore to develop the story of Billy Batson, played as a teenager by Asher Angel while Zachary Levi is on superhero duty.
Sandberg wanted the film to be influenced by recent and classic comic history. “I wanted to incorporate a little bit of everything,” he said. “Not just in [New] 52, but the older stuff as well. The suit is one part of that where it’s like, ‘Yeah, 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 set visit and interview took place midway between the box office woes of Justice League and the massive success of Aquaman. Shazam! never changed much from when Sandberg initially took the job. The film is not a response to anything that happened in Justice League or any common criticisms of DC Films since Man of Steel, though it is still part of that universe.
“I mean, it’s such a separate film that I don’t think it changed anything really,” Sandberg said. “It’s very different from Justice League. It’s still the same universe but just has a very different tone.” The lighter tone of Shazam! evolved organically from the premise. “It’s not dark and gritty,” Sandberg said, and why would it be? This is the story of a 14-year-old boy who can instantly grow into being a superhero (while still being his teenage self on the inside).
The story Shazam! tells is separate from the events of previous DC movies. Those films do, however, provide some context for how Billy and his pal, Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), react to Billy’s newfound superhero powers. This will also give audiences a look at what life is like for people in a world where the heroes of the Justice League actually exist and are licensed by toy companies. DC toys appear in the movie, but it’s all still canon, so only heroes who’ve actually appeared in the universe have merchandise at this point.
Shazam! is going to be every bit the fun movie that it should be, but that doesn’t mean the coast is clear for Billy Batson. There are villains in the form of Doctor Sivana and the Seven Deadly Sins, which will provide challenges for the hero and a few scares for the audience. “It’s not a pure comedy, because [the movie] touches some pretty dark subjects,” Sandberg explained. “I like to compare it to ’80s movies, like Goonies, and Ghostbusters, and Back to the Future.”
Sandberg wasn’t boasting that his film will rival any of those beloved classics, but Shazam! looks like it could remind audiences of what it felt like to watch those movies for the first time. It’s going to have action, humor, and warmth along with suspense and scares to give moviegoers a thrilling, fun, and complete cinematic experience.
For more coverage of our visit to the set of Shazam!, click here.