Ever since Man of Steel debuted in 2013, the DCEU has been battling a general perception that the films in the franchise are unnecessarily dark and "edgy". The problem is a vocal minority of fans loudly dismiss any DCEU films that lean more towards comedy or fluff. Director of Shazam. David F. Sandberg recently had such a run-in with a fan on Twitter. When the fan wrote, "We aren't a fan of comedy Shazam", Sandberg replied with a piece of fanart, and an attached comment, "Great, then you'll love the new direction we're taking the character in! #ItsNotAPhaseMom".
The Shazam 2 fan art shows a doctored image from the original Shazam! film, where the titular hero's appearance has been changed drastically to make his vibrant red suit a dull gray. The dark circles under the character's eyes, his pallid complexion, and his angry expression further emphasize that this new Shazam is no longer a happy-go-lucky guy, but a dark and brooding hero who can snap at any moment.
The joke is particularly effective because everything about Shazam in his movie seemed specially designed to avoid the "dark anti-hero" tropes that the DCEU is so plentifully populated with. With Superman snapping Zod's neck, Batman gunning down criminals in cold blood, and a deleted scene from Batman v. Superman showing Wonder Woman posing for a photo while holding a chopped head, "edgy" Shazam could have easily become yet another grimdark DCEU character.
Instead, the character stayed true to his nature in the comics, a young kid who can transform into a mighty superhero with the utterance of a word, and who learns the true meaning of family while cracking jokes with his brother and happily building his social media presence. Actor Zachary Levi proved to be the unexpectedly perfect choice to play a child trapped in an adult superhero's body. In a previous interview, Sandberg had explained how Levi managed his performance in the film.
"[Zach] is a big child. It was very interesting, because auditioning all these people before him I saw what a lot of people do when they try to act like a child, which is that they lower their IQ or they act dumber. But then when I saw Zach, he was more about enthusiasm and excitement, which felt so much like a genuine kid. And I think that's what really sets up apart, what sets adults apart from kids. Kids have this excitement and this enthusiasm about things that adults... I don't know if it's just the troubles of the world on our shoulders or whatever, but to me it was just like he feels like a big kid. He just felt perfect for the role."
Directed by David F. Sandberg, the upcoming sequel to Shazam!, titled Shazam!: Fury of the Gods stars Zachary Levi as Shazam, Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman, Asher Angel as Billy Batson, and Marta Milans as Mama Rosa. The film is set to arrive in theaters on November 4, 2022.