Warner Bros. Pictures’ new trailer for their upcoming Shazam! doubles down on the lighter tone of the first trailer, released back during Comic-Con in July, and continues to offer potential audiences a look at one of the more whimsical superheroes in his seemingly natural habitat – a coming-of-age story set in the DC Comics world of powers, magic and the Batman. But the trailer also offers a few clues into some interesting ideas layered into the story. So let’s take a look at five things we learned from the Shazam! trailer.
In both trailers, Billy (Asher Angel as a boy and Zachary Levi as the hero) reaches out to his friend Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) to help him with all this superhero stuff. In the earlier trailer, we learned Freddy is all about the heroes. He even tries to get Billy to admit to the superpower he wants most. And now that Billy has powers – thanks to the Wizard Shazam (Djimon Honsou) – the two explore the limits of his abilities.
In the comic books, the Shazam powers include the Wisdom of Solomon, the Strength of Hercules, the Stamina of Atlas, the Power of Zeus, the Courage of Achilles, and the Speed of Mercury. The Power of Zeus (as electricity manipulation), the Courage of Achilles (as “bullet immunity”), and the Strength of Hercules (conventional super-strength) were highlighted in the earlier trailer and a few television ads, but the new trailer finally showcases the Speed of Mercury in its purest form – Flash-like superspeed, which he uses to save Mary (Grace Fulton) about halfway through the trailer. As it happens, the Speed of Mercury is also the source of his ability to fly, although, as we see late in the trailer, it is first the means to leap great distances – just like Superman in his early days – and requires Billy’s concentration to master. We also expect the Wisdom of Solomon will be the last of the powers Billy will acquire, considering how often the trailers remind you he is just a boy.
The opening shot of the new trailer reveals Shazam!‘s specific geographic location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This is, of course, a departure from the comics, where Billy, Freddy, and the rest of the Shazam family live in Fawcett City – itself a nod to the character’s original publisher, Fawcett Comics. But in lieu of putting another DC Superhero in another fictional city, relocating Shazam! to Detroit offers the hero a certain grounding. Which is a good thing considering just how fantastical Shazam! really is, with its mix of magic, caped superheroes, and super-genius villains. Building up a new DC city would take too much time and energy away from making Billy’s journey to a dependable hero believable and fun.
That said, we’d still love to see Hub City or Opal City featured in a DC film or television series some day.
One of the most interesting and recurring details across both trailers is the commercialization of the Justice League. Entering the realm of meta-commentary, we see Freddy already owns items like a Batarang replica – but then, who doesn’t at this point? – and an Aquaman logo T-shirt which looks like it came directly from a promotional event for that film.
But in the new trailer, the commercialization of the League becomes a point of comedy, as the hero uses a 1/2 scale Batman toy to hinder his opponent, Sivana (Mark Strong). The toy even says the Dark Knight’s signature line — “I’m Batman!” — before Billy launches it at his foe. It is doubtful a bit of plastic can stop the villain, but Billy has plenty of other products to pelt him with, including toy utility belts, plastic busts, fashion dolls, child-sized costumes, and even branded skateboards.
And at this point, there is plenty to poke fun at in regards to the Justice League as a toy brand. For decades, Warner Bros. has been licensing the characters and their logos for products as expensive as a recent Batman: The Animated Series Batcave playset and as cheap as paper birthday party supplies. It’s something that comics and television shows have touched upon, but it is new material for a live-action film based on the DC Comics characters.
And where would Shazam! be without a proper antagonist? With the character’s traditional archenemy, Black Adam, held in reserve for either the sequel or his own solo film starring Dwayne Johnson, the first film focuses on the hero’s oldest foe, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana. This version of the character, though, may not be the one comic book fans would naturally expect to see.
For most of his existence, Sivana has been a character of science, using his intellect and inventions to battle the hero and conquer the world. His attempts always, eventually, fail. In more recent years, he was revised into a scientist desperate to quantify magic, with a raid on Black Adam’s tomb giving him the ability to “see” magic in one eye — a visual cue definitely present in the trailer.
But for the purposes of the film, Sivana is a former pupil of the Wizard Shazam. And as seen in the trailer, he appears to have some of Billy’s powers as well – the Powers of Zeus, Hercules, and Achilles being the most obvious. He also deduces that Billy is much younger than his hero self, though you wouldn’t need the Wisdom of Solomon to guess that. Nevertheless, that knowledge will come in handy as Sivana and Billy become mortal enemies.
And if you’ve noticed we’ve avoided referring to Billy as “Shazam” whenever possible, that’s because of the key moment in the second trailer when Freddy refers to him as “Captain Sparklefingers.” It feels important. There is also a subsequent moment, after Billy saves Mary with the Speed of Mercury, in which she awkwardly says, “you are ‘the hero.’” It tells us that for most the film, Billy will be in search of a name. It is a thematically interesting idea that corresponds to Shazam’s publishing history in a very unique way.
The character debuted in 1940 as “Captain Marvel.” His comics – published by Fawcett – soon began to outsell Superman and Action Comics. As impossible as it seems now, he was the most popular superhero of the decade. Noting the similarities to their character, DC tried to sue Captain Marvel out of existence, and after 8 years of litigation, Fawcett settled and ceased publishing Captain Marvel comics in 1953. This would lead to the creation of Marvelman in the UK comics scene – a story for another time – and eventually, Marvel Comics debuted their own Captain Marvel, making sure to file a trademark on the name in 1967. When DC finally bought Captain Marvel and the associated characters, they were forced to refer to him as “Shazam” on comic book covers while still calling him Captain Marvel in the interior pages. This practice finally ceased in 2011, when the company declared he only had one name: Shazam.
Nonetheless, people still enjoy pointing out this curious bit of comic book history, made all the more curious by the fact that Marvel’s Captain Marvel feature film and DC’s Shazam! open in theaters a month apart. It seems the destinies of all “Captain Marvel” characters are inexorably linked.
Either way, all signs point to Billy embracing the “Shazam” name by the end of the film. If that turns out to be the case, the issue of Billy’s superhero name will parallel his journey to control his powers and save the day. It’s suitably whimsical, even if the film downplays some of the character’s more whimsical elements (like a verbal tiger man called Tawky Tawny). But it leaves us wondering if Freddy and Mary – who became the heroes Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel in the comics – will go on similar journeys, should they receive powers in a sequel.
Shazam! opens everywhere on April 5.