In the world of superhero movies, it is hard to think of two films that are more dissimilar than Shazam! and Logan. One is a bright and cheery kids movie, while the other is a gritty and grim meditation on growing old and dying. Yet, as David F. Sandberg, who directed Shazam! recently pointed out on Twitter, the two films have something in common in terms of how they acknowledge the larger superhero world they inhabit.
"In the world of Shazam the events of Man of Steel & BvS happened but we also see that there are toys and merchandise of these characters and people who are fans, like Freddy. Kind of like how in Logan we see that X-Men comic books exist but X-Men are also real at the same time."
In retrospect, both the movies using toys and comics to acknowledge their superhero setting was a stroke of genius, because it allowed them to address their connections to their respective franchise, while also striking out in a completely new direction with no prior baggage. For instance, in Logan, the events of the previous X-Men movies were only referenced as outsized adventures that the world remembers as comic book stories, which were far removed from the gritty reality of the present film.
Similarly, in Shazam!, the movie takes place in the notoriously grimdark world of the DCEU, where Superman is viewed as an alien threat who killed a man in public, Batman regularly guns down criminals, and the Justice League is far from a shining beacon of morality for the world.
Despite such a dark setting, David F. Sandberg addressed the presence of the other superheroes only through action figures and conversations between the lead teen character and his siblings. Thus, the DCEU was seen through a younger, more hopeful lens, where the events of Batman v. Superman were reduced to two action figures of the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel being smashed together by a child, and Superman did the most "Superman" thing in his entire DCEU career so far when he showed up to support a bullied kid in high school at the end of the movie.
Of course, a major part of what helped set Shazam! apart was the confident portrayal of a sunny, cheerful superhero by Zachary Levi, who had the difficult task of playing a young kid trapped in the body of an adult superhero. In a previous interview, Sandberg had explained what sets Levi's portrayal of Shazam apart from the rest of the DCEU.
"[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, 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 arrives in theaters on June 2, 2023.