All The Legends & Lore That Inspired Shazam

20 Apr

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Amongst Baby Boomers, The Adventures of Captain Marvel defined the pulp-action superhero who would later be known as Shazam. For Gen X’ers, The Shazam/Isis Hour was a maligned television show of the mid-70s and it has its cult appeal. Jump to 1981, The Greatest American Hero showed how Stephen J. Cannell developed a fun, purposeful superhero sporting a different kind of symbol who wants to do what’s right in a cop buddy sitcom formula. The problems the character faced as the series progressed include learning how to use his powers, talking to the aliens in why he was selected and trying to keep those he loved safe.

To bring all those previous iterations of a superhero sitcom movie, Shazam, took several decades of storytelling in the television world to experiment with and the payoff is terrific. Ignoring the troubled property when it was first introduced in the ’40s to its reinvention by DC Comics, this 2019 movie borrows on many comedic tropes from the small screen as Billy Batson (Asher Angel) tries to figure out what being a superhero means. He has no book to guide him. He only has a comic book superhero obsessed foster brother Freddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) to offer tips and his own moral compass to keep him pure. The only misfire is in how nothing new is added to make it stand out.

Longtime viewers of Canadian television may well wonder if director David F. Sandberg borrowed from the 1988 Canadian-made TV show, My Secret Identity, to give the film gravitas. This program starring Jerry O’Connell (who incidentally voiced the animated version of Shazam!) showed the young hero facing more than daily life as a teen. The program taught the boy a thing or two about life. He had to learn how to adapt to his newfound responsibilities. In the big screen take, Shazam is hardly doing any good until the bad guy shows up.

Zachary Levi is the perfect choice for the role. Much like his breakout role in NBC’s Chuck, his irrepressible charm sells this character. Even though this actor underwent massive training for this role, I still feel costume design added a few bits to add to his physique. It’s more visible with the other characters and saying who they are is a huge spoiler. The setup of Billy meeting a new family was blatantly obvious to me and I have a fairly good knowledge of the comics. I loved this series ever since Black Adam became crucial to the mythos.

I found paying homage to Big (starring Tom Hanks) was unneeded and overstated. The film’s plot was just as thin.

Image result for shazam movie 2019

The DC Extended Universe hardly matters in this origin movie and it really should. When all the films belong in the same universe, a few nods here and there to connect the dots becomes more important, despite the fact not everyone liked Zack Snyder’s vision. Geoff Johns is trying to do some course correction, and if I was to guess at what’s next, the sequels will tie into the other films more and be less about the Justice League but more about heroes helping fellow heroes out.

Until the Gods of the Ancient Mediterranean world arrive on Earth to task Batson (he never figured out a superheroic name for himself and we can only assume it’s Shazam) to save the seven realms, he’s on his own–much like how Ralph is left with nothing but the suit to fight crime. This film only glosses on why the Rock of Eternity (where Batson went to receive his powers) is important and the little easter eggs and post-credits sequence only point to its mystical and future significance. If the New Gods are going to become part of the DCEU, then Darkseid is right around the corner.

Of the three main adversaries Shazam faced in the comics, Sivana is not too unusual as the first choice. His knowledge of the grander scheme will be significant for future movies. After years of neglect from his father, he has plenty of reasons to be ill-tempered and maniacal. This counterpoint to Batson’s childhood story is one decent aspect of this film. However, it’s not enough to explain why Sivana is not fit to gain the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus and the courage of Achilles and speed of Mercury.

Image result for shazam movie 2019 Sivana

Only a person with good intentions can inherit their abilities. A person of ill-intention, as the Wizard explained, is not worthy–much like how both Indiana Jones and Walter Donovan sought the Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail in The Last Crusade.

Not a lot of backstory is given to explain why Shazam is needed to bring balance to the world. Although The Seven Deadly Sins sought escape upon realizing the Wizard’s powers are fading, not a lot of detail is given to say if the successor must live in this magical gateway forever. Pandora’s box will eventually have to open, and just what that means suggests Batson aka Shazam will eventually meet Wonder Woman. Thematically, these two must meet.

If there’s to be another Justice League film, I suspect a few more magic users will be required. Swamp Thing is headed to the small screen, being streamed on DC Universe. In the big screen front, however, all the production companies involved must bring Doctor Fate, if not Zatanna to the fore!

3 Stars out of 5

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