Shazam spoilers ahead!
Shazam has been out for almost a week at this point, which means it's time to talk about some major spoilers. If you haven't seen it yet, don't keep reading! Unless you don't care about Shazam spoilers, in which case, have at it.
If you managed to go into Shazam totally blind without being exposed to any spoilers, congratulations! You just experienced one of the most fun twists in superhero movie history: the surprise introduction of the Shazamily. During Shazam's climactic fight, Darla, Mary, Eugene, Freddy, and Pedro all got to Shazam themselves for the first time, transforming into their super-powered, adult alter egos and helping Billy to defeat Dr. Sivana and the seven deadly sins.
It was a fun, exhilarating moment on multiple levels. For one thing, it was a payoff for things the movie had been hinting at from the start. It fulfilled the thematic promise of Billy's search for a family. And it was great to see the cleverly cast adult actors (including The OC's Adam Brody) who played the superheroic versions of the kids.
In some ways, it seems like an unlikely twist. In the current superhero movie landscape of sequels, prequels, and ever-expanding connected cinematic universes, it's easy to imagine a different version of Shazam that focused entirely on Billy Batson and saved the Shazamily for the sequel--maybe with a teaser thrown into the post-credits scenes. But for once we got to live in the best possible timeline, and Shazam really nailed this crucial twist.
Director David Sandberg told GameSpot that this was the plan from the start. "That was always the idea," he said. "We wanted to have that payoff--you get to meet these kids and see their personalities, and then have that transferred into superhero form. That was always the big thing about the movie--that's going to be the big payoff."
"It's a delightful moment," Zachary Levi, who plays Shazam himself, told GameSpot. "The movie has so much wish fulfillment in it, and then you get it like times five, right? Five more kids get to be their super-self. I mean, that's f***ing dope...I thought that about it when I read it in the script, and was like, 'This is so cool! We're team building in our own franchise--total Voltron superheroes,' you know?"
Part of the magic is that the kids' superhero forms really do look like juiced up versions of themselves. That's down to good casting, including Meagan Good as the adult version of Faithe Herman (Darla), Michelle Borth as Grace Fulton (Mary), Ross Butler as Ian Chen (Eugene), D.J. Cotrona as Jovan Armand (Pedro), and of course, Adam Brody as Jack Dylan Grazer (Freddy).
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"It makes your job as a director so much easier if you cast people who basically are these characters," Sandberg said. "If you cast it right, your job just becomes 10 times easier." That began with Zach Levi, who the director fondly referred to as "a big child," and extended to casting the other Shazams later. Sandberg also said the most important thing was making sure the adult actors' personalities matched their younger counterparts.
As an aside, it's worth noting--as Sandberg pointed out to The Hollywood Reporter--that Brody and Cotrona were also at one point cast as The Flash and Superman, respectively, in George Miller’s Justice League: Mortal, production on which stalled around 2008. "So, afterwards, we said, 'Oh, s***! They finally get to be superheroes in a DC movie,'" Sandberg told THR. "They didn’t even know they were auditioning for superheroes."
Of course, if you pay attention to these things, you might have seen the Shazamily twist leak ahead of time. But the filmmakers went to great lengths to prevent that from happening as much as possible. For example, in order to prevent spoilers when they auditioned the actors that would play the adult versions of the kids, they wrote new scripts that weren't actually from this movie. "We just wrote special scenes with characters that have their traits, basically--Darla would be the fast talker, and so on," Sandberg said. "And so, when they auditioned, they had no idea what it was for really, or what it was actually going to be, but we still had close enough personalities to be able to cast from them."
Levi said he's glad he wasn't responsible for any of the leaks. "I'm really good at keeping secrets. Loose lips sink ships, as I learned from my time in the Navy during the Second World War," he joked. "You don't want to spoil anything. It's really interesting that people like to spoil things. They like the feeling like they're the ones who gave the secret information. But that's the worst. It's way cooler to not tell people and let it be a surprise."
As Sandberg pointed out, the Shazamily reveal works best as an unexpected twist. "I think it works so well when you don't see it coming--and even if you suspect that it's coming, but you're not sure, it still works really well," the director said.