In a switch from previous intentions to create a cinematic universe based on DC Comics properties, Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment have decided to develop movies that aren’t necessarily connected to the DC Extended Universe that includes Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman and the upcoming Justice League. The first project down the chute for this new direction is Shazam, which features a Superman-like figure powered by the ancient gods whose alter ego is a young boy.
Given that Shazam (previously called Captain Marvel in his original comic book incarnation, but DC changed that to avoid any conflict with their closest competitor) is a big, muscular, perhaps boyish superhero, most of the casting rumors swirled around actors who had the physique to meet those requirements. That makes the choice of Zachary Levi to play the character a curious one. The surprising news was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter‘s Borys Kit.
Best known for his lead role NBC’s Chuck, Levi has often portrayed himself more as a goofball and largely been cast in comedic roles. But he has taken a turn toward some action and dramatic parts in NBC’s Heroes Reborn, Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok, and Netflix’s upcoming Alias Grace. It was probably silly to typecast Levi as a comedic actor to begin with, but he’s been fighting that perception. Yet he also doesn’t hide his love of geek culture, enjoying video games and comic books, and annually throwing a party at Comic Con. So playing a superhero isn’t necessarily just about landing a lead role in a blockbuster for him.
While Levi may not be what comic book fans envisioned for Shazam, to say that he can’t physically measure up to the role is probably silly. The movie isn’t being released tomorrow. He’s already tall and fit, has plenty of time to bulk up, and we have no idea whether or not director David F. Sandberg (Annabelle: Creation) wants his star to be as big as Henry Cavill’s Superman or Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. This sort of thing has been done in both directions before, whether it was Chris Pratt leaning out to play Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy or Christian Bale bulking up from near-skeletal proportions to play Batman.
What’s clear in casting Levi is that Sandberg, despite his horror background, wasn’t kidding about this movie having a lighter, comedic tone. That would be entirely appropriate for a concept which could be distilled to an elevator pitch of “The movie Big, but with a superhero.” Ideally, this would be closer to what we’ll apparently get in Thor: Ragnarok (and maybe Levi can bring some of his experience from that film over to Shazam).
Making things more fun is also important for DC Entertainment as it tries to distance its future films from the dark, grim tone of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. DC hopefully has plans to lighten up Superman and make him less angsty once he’s (spoiler alert?) revived in Justice League.
But a sure way to distinguish a relatively similar superhero is to make him more fun with a bigger personality, and Levi can definitely provide Shazam with that. Being more of a known commodity is surely what gave him the nod over other reported candidates for the role, such as wrestler John Cena (who would have definitely measured up to that comic book physique), Joshua Sasse (Galavant), Billy Magnussen (Get Shorty), Derek Theler (Baby Daddy) and Jake McDorman (Limitless).
Really, the best choice would have been Dwayne Johnson, right? He’s a hulking figure with a charming personality and comedic sensibility. And there were rumblings that he would somehow be involved in a Shazam film, but as arch-enemy and anti-hero Black Adam. Johnson definitely would’ve added some star power to the project, but apparently he and DC Films have a separate Black Adam film in mind. Maybe Shazam will end up being involved in that if his film is successful. (In the meantime, we’re left to wonder who the villain in Shazam will be.)
While Levi is an unexpected choice, he could very well be a good one. We’re talking about a boy who becomes a superhero with a magic word. It’s virtually every kid’s dream. And a guy who often acts like he’s a kid at heart seems just right. As a comic book fan, I just hope Shazam gets his classic costume, rather than the version redesigned for DC’s “New 52” reboot. His outfit is one of the best comic book costumes ever created with a red-and-gold lightning bolt emblem that is iconic. It should look great on the big screen, no matter who’s wearing the uniform.