Why the Shazam! movie will blow you away

DC is set to bring a different kind of superhero to the big screen in 2019 with Shazam!, a family-friendly pic telling the story of Billy Batson, a teen who discovers he has the ability to turn into a god-like superhero with just one word. (Three guesses as to what.) The movie, which will feature Chuck's Zachary Levi in the leading role, is set to be directed by Annabelle: Creation's David F. Sandberg based on a script from Henry Gayden (Earth to Echo) and Darren Lemke (Jack the Giant Slayer).

There is absolutely no shortage of superhero films clogging up studio release schedules over the next few years, and it can be hard for a new project about a less flashy hero to stand out. However, there are a lot of reasons why you should be excited to see the superhero formerly known as Captain Marvel take his shot at big screen glory. Here's why DC's upcoming Shazam! movie will blow you away.

Not your average superhero

Shazam, who used to be called Captain Marvel until that became a bit confusing, made his debut in Whiz Comics #2 in 1940. A number of unusual quirks set the character apart from your average superhero. Although he has the same musclebound look, on the inside, he's actually 14-year-old Billy Batson, an orphan who's gifted with the ability to turn himself into an adult superhero by uttering the magic word "Shazam."

This magic word is an acronym, showing that his superhero will have the genius of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the unbreakable will of Atlas, the lightning blasts of Zeus, the power of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. However, even with this strong exterior, Shazam is still a kid at heart, meaning that he has to deal with school, self-esteem issues, and figuring out his identity. 

The movie's synopsis teases that it will definitely play with how Billy being a kid gets in the way of Shazam's abilities. While every major superhero has responsibilities to worry about, Billy's unique problems should be a fun new addition to the comic book movie genre. Shazam will be decidedly different from the rest of the DCEU's superheroes, but the character's long-standing popularity in the comics shows that he has no shortage of his own appeal just waiting to be brought to the big screen.

A leading man born for the part

The success or failure of a superhero movie often comes down to its lead, and Zachary Levi has proven that he's more than up to the task of playing a hero. The actor is best known for his starring role on the NBC action comedy Chuck, playing the title character, a nerd who's roped into becoming a spy after uploading a super computer into his brain.

Chuck Bartowski may not have had many fighting skills as first, but that gave him a chance to use his charm and smarts to pull himself out of dangerous situations. When the character got an upgrade that gave him combat skills at the end of the second season, Levi showed that he was easily up for the task of kicking butt, giving him lots of prep to play a superhero.

Shortly after wrapping his run on Chuck, Levi made his MCU debut in Thor: The Dark Lord, replacing Josh Dallas in the role of the Asgardian warrior Fandral. Although he didn't get much screen time, Levi's performance reportedly impressed MCU execs so much that they brought him in to screen test for the role of Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Levi lost out to Chris Pratt for that part, but he's continued to build an impressive résumé, appearing in the NBC miniseries Heroes: Reborn and lending his voice to Disney's Tangled. He also earned a Tony nomination for his appearance in Broadway's She Loves Me and showed off his villainous side in Psych: The Movie. With a star that multi-talented, Shazam! is already on the path to success. 

A terrifying villain

Although Shazam won't be facing off against his arch-nemesis Black Adam (more on him later) in the movie, he will have a pretty terrifying opponent in Mark Strong's Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, described as "an evil sorcerer who regenerates from death with world domination on his mind," which should prove quite the test for our newly created hero. 

Strong has been making a name for himself in big blockbusters for quite a while now. He played Prince Septimus in the 2007 Neil Gaiman adaptation Stardust, and then starred as villainous Lord Blackwood in Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes. He then appeared in another comic book film, playing the crime lord Frank D'Amico in 2010's Kick-Ass.

In 2011, Strong made an appearance in another DC film, although it didn't go overly well: He played Sinestro in Ryan Reynolds' Green Lantern movie. Strong has revealed that, as hinted at the end of the film, Sinestro was supposed to go bad in the planned sequel, but after the movie was panned by critics, that unfortunately never came to be.

Between Green Lantern and Shazam!, Strong has had plenty more time to refine his onscreen persona, appearing in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Zero Dark Thirty, The Imitation Game, and the Kingsman films. With his past experience, it seems like he's well prepped for the challenge of playing a big-screen villain.

A talented ensemble

Levi and Strong have a lot of very interesting supporting stars for the film, including Disney Channel actor Asher Angel, who will play the young Billy Batson, the 14-year-old orphan who turns into Levi's adult superhero after uttering the titular exclamation. Angel's past roles include a starring part on Andi Mack and appearances in Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders and Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn. 

Angel will be backed up by a group of other young stars, including Fresh Off the Boat's Ian Chen, Annabelle: Creation's Grace Fulton, and It's Jack Dylan Grazer. All three will play residents of the foster home in which Billy lives; their foster parent will be played by The Walking Dead's Cooper Andrews.

Also reportedly in the cast is This Is Us Emmy nominee Ron Cephas Jones, who is said to be in talks to play the wizard who gives Billy his powers. This wouldn't be Jones' first role in a comic book project — he has also appeared in Netflix's Marvel show Luke Cage. Although Jones hasn't officially been confirmed yet, his rumored involvement, along with the rest of the cast members, should be very exciting for fans.

A talented director

Warner Bros. recruited a fresh director for Shazam in David F. Sandberg. Sandberg's journey to the big screen was pretty unique: the director, who hails from Sweden, was making short horror films in his apartment using his iPhone when he caught the attention of execs at Warner Bros., who tapped him to direct their 2016 film Lights Out. After that film became a surprise box office hit, he was brought on to direct the Conjuring spinoff Annabelle: Creation

Annabelle: Creation was a prequel to 2014's Annabelle, which was trashed by critics but still a box office success. With Sandberg at the helm, Creation was able to scale the box office heights achieved by its predecessor while building a much better rapport with critics, earning a 69 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Although most of his experience has been in horror, Sandberg clearly knows how to create a compelling story that draws out all sorts of emotions in his audience. Sandberg's social media has also shown that he has quite the sense of humor, which should translate into a fun final product.

It will be 'Superman meets Big'

Back in his heyday, Shazam was just about as popular as Superman himself, and Levi has hinted that his movie might lift a little of the Man of Steel's blockbuster DNA, saying that the film will be "Superman meets Big" — the latter a reference to the 1988 Tom Hanks film in which a teenage boy wakes up in the body of an adult. 

"That's just so fun," Levi told Entertainment Tonight about the film's mish-mash of the two tones. "I get to be a superhero that's excited about being a superhero, and I think that's refreshing. It's not glum, and like, 'Oh, I have to save the world again.' So I think it's all really gravy." 

As the synopsis teases, Shazam "sets out to test the limits of his abilities with the joyful recklessness of a child." This is a big departure from some of DC's more responsible superheroes, and combined with Levi's comments, highlights the fact that Shazam views his powers as a gift rather than as a curse. This should help the movie set itself apart from more serious-minded comic book films — particularly in the darker DCEU — and give it its own colorful flair.  

A change for the DCEU

The DCEU has earned the ire of some critics and fans for focusing mostly on darker movies, and while many people are fully in favor of that, Shazam will offer up a more cheerful tone for people looking for their superheroes with a bit less angst. In addition to the fact that it has a young and happy hero, Sandberg has said that the movie will have a "very fun, lighthearted" vibe. 

Levi elaborated on his comments, suggesting that the movie's tone could have something in common with another popular superhero project of recent years: James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy. "It brought so much heart and humor and I think was kind of this dark horse that took everybody by storm," Levi said. "I think Shazam kind of has the possibility to do that." (Hopefully Shazam! can also emulate Guardians' rocking soundtrack.) 

While dark superhero movies are understandably very popular, there's also something to be said for a superhero film that you can safely watch with the whole family. Shazam! seems primed to toe the line between a kids' flick and an adult movie, providing something that people of all ages can enjoy. The movie's lighthearted tone also seems to emulate DC's most critically successful film to date, Wonder Woman, which hopefully bodes well for Shazam!.

Potential DCEU cameos

Shazam! will probably have a decidedly different tone than the rest of the DCEU, but that doesn't mean that there's no chance for some of your other favorite heroes to pop up. A well-hidden Batman Easter egg was already spotted on the movie's set, and it's possible that one of the other members of the Justice League could stop by to offer the young Billy some heroic advice.

Levi actually already has a DCEU hero in mind for the movie. The star said in an interview with Entertainment Tonight that he would love to see Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman visit for a cameo, describing the actress as "awesome," "effervescent," and "such a charm." As he pointed out, "I think it would be really funny to have the 14-year-old Billy Batson inside of Shazam that's really awkward around this beautiful Amazonian."

Although it's unclear whether we'll actually get any other DCEU cameos, Wonder Woman would be a great fit if Warner Bros. decided to go that route. Her standalone film was the most similar in tone to Shazam! thus far, and Levi is right that it would make for a very fun scene. We can hold out hope for a familiar face in the film — or, at the very least, in a post-credits scene. 

It opens the door for Black Adam

Dwayne Johnson has been attached to play the DC villain Black Adam for a long, long time. He was initially set to appear as Shazam's arch-nemesis in the character's standalone film, but with his ever-increasing star power, DC decided to first give Adam his own film, reportedly depicting him as an anti-hero — similar to recent developments in the comics, which feature the character facing off against enemies who tried to enslave his people. 

Although Black Adam is set to get his own movie, many fans have still been holding out hope that he would first make an appearance in Shazam!. Unfortunately, DC head Geoff Johns has confirmed that that is not the case, but the movie should still open up the world for his potential introduction in a later film. In the comics, Black Adam is one of Shazam's greatest foes, and it's quite likely that the hero will at least get a whiff of his potential future antagonist at some point. With how highly anticipated Johnson's DCEU entry is, even the tiniest of hints should get fans very excited.