It’s not that much of a surprise that the “Shazam!” trailer looks so good.
Right from the start, director David F Sandberg made is clear that he was doing something different and fun. Despite coming from a horror background (I suspect this is why he was initially cast) he’s been talking a big game about making “Shazam!” cute, fun, and very humorous.
It seems awfully like he’s succeeded in his goal. More so than any DCEU movie – even “Wonder Woman” – the trailer for “Shazam!” feels fresh and energetic. This is a movie that, at least from the trailer, looks like it might manage to be actually enjoyable to watch.
There’s just one thing that I feel might improve the whole thing. One tiny little niggle in an otherwise flawless trailer.
Even as I’ve thought about this, I’ve come to second guess myself, but I still feel like it bears mentioning.
Say My Name, Say My Name
The movie focuses on Billy Batson, a young boy (played by Asher Angel) who can turn into a superhero by saying the word, “shazam”. The trailer makes it clear that his friend, Freddy Freeman, played by Jack Dylan Grazer, is a big part of the story.
From his first appearance in the trailer, Freddy is instantly more likable than Billy. He’s quick-witted, friendly, and optimistic. He’s also, it’s made clear, an enormous nerd who dreams of having his own superpowers.
Plus, just to add an extra layer of pathos, Freddy is physically disabled. This kind of representation is frustratingly rare in Hollywood, so it’s great to see a big-budget movie actually, willingly not only show someone with a disability, but also comment on how this affects their life.
Taking all this in, I couldn’t help but watch the trailer and think to myself, “why isn’t this kid Shazam?”
Freddy certainly fits the bill a lot better than this version of Billy. In the comics, Billy turns into a superhero because the power of Shazam allows him to take whatever form he admires, and he idolizes Superman and other superheroes.
The movie’s Billy seems embarrassed by the whole idea of superhero fandom. He’s too cool for this kind of discussion, and belittles his nerdy friend for caring.
Billy, ultimately, is the less interesting character of this pair. His troubled past and eagerness to steal cars makes him feel like more of a brat than an earnest hero, so it’s hard to sympathize with him.
I’d much rather see a character like Freddy take on the mantle of Shazam, as it feels like the better use of this wish fulfilment fantasy. We need to like the main character in order to care about him when he gains super powers.
This all said, I’ve also come up with a very good reason why Freddy should not be Shazam.
The Importance of Being a Sidekick
It’s clear from the trailer that “Shazam!” borrows a lot of ideas from the 1988 classic “Big” starring Tom Hanks.
In this movie, a young child is aged up magically, and is aided by his best friend who remains in a small body.
In this movie, the more compelling actor is, again, the sidekick. The character of Billy needs to have a lot of charisma and energy to be able to stay relevant alongside Tom Hanks. He also has a lot more screentime than the younger version of the movie’s protagonist.
If Jack Dylan Grazer’s character were the titular hero in “Shazam!”, we wouldn’t actually see that much of him. He’d be on screen only for mundane scenes, and he’d disappear whenever things get more exciting.
With the Freddy character as the sidekick, we get to enjoy him throughout the movie. Grazer gets a chance to play opposite Zachary Levi, and he seems to be doing a really great job at keeping up with an actor who is known for his comedic timing.
Plus, coming back to the issue of disability representation in blockbusters, this means greater opportunities to do something interesting with Freddy’s physical limitations. It would feel very awkward if he simply threw down his crutches at the first sign of danger and turned into a superhero.
While I would likely get more out of this movie if the fun, nerdy character were the hero, I understand the decision to make Grazer’s character the sidekick.
I can only hope that we get plenty of him bonding with the giant rubber Zachary Levi, as this looks like it could well be the highlight of the film.
One way or another, “Shazam!” is probably going to end up being my favorite of the DCEU’s varied upcoming lineup.
I’m looking forward to it.