Did you catch that stealthy reference to the never-filmed Justice League Mortal? And what the deal with that bonkers end-credit cameo?
Shazam! is technically a new addition to the DC Extended Universe, but the titular hero has a comic-book history almost as long as more established citizens like Batman and Superman. And his first feature film is filled with Easter eggs from his eight-decade crimefighting career, as well as the six-year history of the DCEU. Here’s Yahoo Entertainment’s curated guide to the hit movie’s many in-jokes, shout-outs and surprise cameos.—by Ethan Alter, Adam Lance Garcia and Kevin Polowy
Whither The Rock?
Before there was Shazam, there was Black Adam: an ordinary man from Ancient Egypt granted godlike ability by the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou). Instead of helping others, though, he started to help himself … to power and riches. For his transgressions, he was banished to a distant galaxy, but eventually returned to become a regular antagonist for the next person to take on the mantle, Billy Batson. And long before Warner Bros. cast Asher Angel and Zachary Levi as Billy and Shazam, respectively, the studio enlisted Dwayne Johnson to make his comic book movie debut as Black Adam. The Rock was originally linked to the role as early as 2008 and personally re-confirmed his casting in 2014 after Man of Steel established the beginnings of the DCEU.
But three years later, DC announced plans to introduce Black Adam in a solo movie rather than as part of Shazam! Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment in 2018, Johnson provided a status update on that project, saying: “The script came in, [and] it’s great,” adding that he hoped to start shooting it in 2019. As of now, no production date has been announced, but there’s a moment in Shazam! that sets up Black Adam’s entrance in either the sequel or a standalone film. While Johnson doesn’t make a physical cameo in this movie, his presence is very much felt. While lecturing Billy about the responsibility he’s about the inherit, the wizard tells the story of his disgraced predecessor, using a hologram as a visual aid: a hologram whose face is distinctly Rock-shaped. Can you smell what future movies Shazam! is cooking?
That ’70s show
While the bulk of Shazam! takes place in the present day, a prologue turns the clock back to 1974, when young Thaddeus Sivana is offered the chance to inherit Shazam’s powers. Unfortunately, Sivana fails the test, setting him on the path to becoming the bald bad guy (played by Mark Strong) Billy tangles with four decades later. The choice of year isn’t an accident: 1974 saw the debut of Filmation’s live-action Shazam! TV series, in which Billy and his mentor traveled around the country via RV helping those in need. After a two-season solo run, the show merged with another oh-so-’70s superhero show, The Secrets of Isis, to form The Shazam!/Isis Hour, delighting kids … and literally no one else.
Return to Smallville
There’s another TV-related Easter egg hiding the prologue. Sivana’s dad is played by John Glover, better known to a generation of Smallville fans as Lionel Luthor — papa to one Lex Luthor on the popular Superman prequel series that ran from 2001 to 2011. Apparently, when a DC villain needs a father figure, Glover is the go-to choice.
Shazam loves the ’80s
Like every (geek) child of the ’80s, Levi grew up on a steady diet of repeat viewings of the Tom Hanks favorite Big and he’s repeatedly described Shazam! as that movie’s spiritual heir. “I’ve always been a fan of the movie Big, and I feel like this is my Big,” he told Yahoo Entertainment last year. And, sure enough, there’s one scene in the movie that explicitly references that earlier film. While tangling with Sivana in a mall, Shazam trips over one of those electronic floor pianos that Hanks and Robert Loggia played “Chopsticks” on three decades earlier. And Big isn’t the only ’80s movie that gets some love: an encounter between the adult Sivana and his father in a skyscraper boardroom is very reminiscent of RoboCop, with Thaddeus taking on the role of the ED-209. Sandberg’s horror roots also manifest themselves in the design of some of the monstrous creatures that Sivana unleashes. Several of them look straight out of Tales From the Darkside, the creepy 1984-88 anthology series and its equally creepy 1990 feature film.
Tawkin’ about tigers
Most heroes can’t boast to having a talking tiger for a pal — yet one more reason why Shazam isn’t like most heroes. In 1947, he became buddy-buddy with Tawky Tawny, a big-talking big cat from India who decides to take a vacation to the U.S. While local citizens are understandably a little freaked out to be conversing with a tiger, Shazam quickly recognizes that Tawky doesn’t pose any threat and welcomes him into his eclectic supporting cast. Flash-forward to the 1980s, and DC Comics killed off the character, although the publisher frequently snuck in clever cameos. (In more recent years, Tawky is back as a walking, talking, living character.) The filmmakers opt for a similar approach; in a flashback scene early in the movie, Billy and his mother are at a carnival, and she’s trying to win him a stuffed tiger from one of the game booths. The climax takes place at the same carnival decades later and wouldn’t you know it: those stuffed tigers are still very much in demand.
Bullet in a baggie
Like any superhero fan, Freddy Freeman has a collection of shirts, newspaper clipping and scale replicas celebrating his favorite heroes. But the prize of his collection is an authentic bullet that bounced off of Superman’s steely form. The bagged souvenir comes complete with signed letter of authenticity, and we think we see a Wayne Industries logo on it … which only raises more questions.
So many Bat-gags
Ben Affleck may be gone, but Batman still casts a long shadow in the DCEU. There are multiple references to the Dark Knight scattered throughout Shazam!, which makes us even more curious how Matt Reeves plans to ease us all into the post-Affleck era in 2021’s The Batman. Freddy’s superhero memorabilia collection includes a seemingly genuine Batarang, and when the still inexperienced Billy begs him to help master the powers that come with this “caped crusader stuff,” the expert dismissively reminds the newbie that that term is associated with the non-superpowered Batman. Meanwhile, during the aforementioned mall fight with Sivana, Shazam tries to protect himself by grabbing a large Batman figure and hurling it at his opponent.
For the most part, Batman is treated with kid gloves, but there is one moment of subtle shade thrown in Affleck’s direction. During the climactic battle, we see a young kid recreating Batman and Superman’s Dawn of Justice squabble with action figure versions of the two heroes. In an early trailer for Shazam!, the kid is heard humming the John Williams Superman theme from Christopher Reeve’s beloved 1978 movie while smashing the two figures together, but that particular gag didn’t make the final cut. At least he doesn’t recreate the infamous “Martha” moment.
Annabelle’s watching you
Wondering why there’s an Annabelle doll in the pawn shop where Billy tricks some Philly cops? It’s hardly a coincidence, and more like a slice of corporate synergy. The Warner Bros. produced Shazam! is directed by David F. Sandberg, whose last film was — wait for it — Annabelle: Creation, the sequel to the 2014 horror hit. Both films also share a producer, Peter Safran, who is one of the puppet masters behind the Warner’s ever-expanding Conjuring franchise. Ever since James Wan’s 2013 blockbuster, The Conjuring cinematic universe has grown to include Annabelle, The Nun and a planned Crooked Man film. Don’t know about you, but we’re totally down for a DCEU/Conjuring crossover.
Beware the Crocodile Men
Behind one of the many magical doors in the Rock of Eternity lurk the Crocodile Men — perhaps the deepest cut reference to Shazam’s Golden Age origins. First introduced in Captain Marvel Adventures No. 22 in 1943, the Crocodile Men were humanoid crocs from the planet Punkus and key members in comicdom’s first-ever super-villain team, the Monster Society of Evil.
A double dose of Djimon
It’s already bizarre that we’re getting two Captain Marvel movies released within a month of each other. Here’s what’s even more bizarre: Djimon Hounsou serves as the nexus point between these two Marvel-ous heroes. In Captain Marvel, the Oscar-nominated actor reprises his Guardians of the Galaxy role as Korath the Pursuer. And in Shazam! he dons a long beard to play the titular wizard, who passes his powers along to young Billy, transforming him into a big-time superhero. We can’t wait to see what comic book universe Hounsou winds up in next. Maybe Archie?
Shazam’s gonna fly now
You can’t set a movie in Philadelphia without acknowledging that it’s the home of cinema’s most celebrated boxer — and a superhero in his own right — Rocky Balboa. Shazam! places the title character on top of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which the Italian Stallion famously races up in almost every one of his movies. There is one bit of Philly history that the movie declines to repeat: although it includes a scene with Santa Claus, it misses a golden opportunity for bystanders to heckle St. Nick or even pelt him with snowballs. And here’s another way that Shazam’s Philadelphia differs from our own: Billy attends the fictional Fawcett school, which takes its name from Shazam’s original publisher, Fawcett Comics.
It’s a miracle, man
You probably already know that Shazam’s comic book history includes a controversial name change, but were you also aware that he has a British cousin? After Fawcett Comics, went belly-up in 1953, the London-based comics publisher L. Miller & Son kept the character — then known as Captain Marvel — alive by re-christening him as Marvelman. Other details were altered as well: instead of Billy Batson, Marvelman’s human identity was Micky Moran and in order to transform, he uttered “Kimota” rather than “Shazam.” One thing didn’t change, though: Marvelman’s career ended with his publisher declaring bankruptcy. But he unexpectedly returned in the 1980s under the guidance of a young comic writer named Alan Moore, who took Marvelman to new creative heights by completely undoing his origin and setting him on a newer, darker path. Moore’s comics made their way to America in the mid-‘80s, but Marvelman underwent yet another name change to Miracleman to avoid any legal issues with Marvel Comics, which had fought and won the right to use the Captain Marvel name. (In yet one more wrinkle to this story, Marvel Comics currently owns the rights to the character, but continues to call him Miracleman.) This is a long way of saying that there’s a very small, but significant Marvelman/Miracleman Easter egg in Shazam!: the security officer who monitors the hallways of Billy and Freddy’s school is named Moran. Can we get a “Kimota” for spotting that?
Growing up Shazam-style
It’s the moment that never fails to inspire wild cheers from the audience: Billy shares his Shazam-given powers with his foster family — Freddy, Mary, Darla, Eugene and Pedro — and creates the Shazam Family. Beyond the giddy excitement of seeing kids revel in suddenly being super-strong, super-fast and super grown-up, this marks the first time that the entire family of heroes have been immortalized in live action in their 80-year history. Mary and Freddy (played in this film by Grace Fulton and Jack Dylan Glazer), a.k.a. Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr., joined the clan in the 1940s when they were still known as the “Marvel Family.” But Darla, Eugene, and Pedro (Faithe Herman, Ian Chen and Jovan Armond) are recent additions to the Shazam canon, first introduced by DC auteur Geoff Johns in 2011 and are still part of the Shazam Family eight years later.
Just as Levi takes over from Angel when Billy utters his magic word, the younger actors are replaced by adults when they activate their powers. Mary Marvel is played by Michelle Borth, while Darla ages into Meagan Goode and Eugene grows up to look like Ross Butler. But the two best casting surprises are Captain Marvel Jr. and Pedro, played by Adam Brody and D.J. Cotrona, respectively. Once upon a time, those two actors were going to be part of another DC Comics super-team …the Justice League.
In 2008, Mad Max mastermind, George Miller, sold Warner Bros. on funding the motion capture-enhanced Justice League Mortal, which would have starred Cotrona as Superman and Brody as The Flash, alongside Armie Hammer, Megan Gale and Common as Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern respectively. How to Train Your Dragon’s Jay Baruchel was set to play Maxwell Lord, and hasn’t been shy about sharing stories about the never-made movie. Speaking with us in 2017, the actor gleefully described “bad-ass” fight scenes and Cotrona’s “gorgeous” Superman outfit. “It was going to be something special,” Baruchel said of Justice League Mortal, which itself was mortally wounded by the 2008 writers’ strike as well as the studio’s skittishness about the budget. It may have taken another decade, but at least Brody and Cotrona finally got their superhero close-up.
Speaking of Superman, his crowd-pleasing cameo at the end of Shazam! is a major casting coup. But which Man of Steel is it anyway? Since the big blue Boy Scout only appears from the neck down, there’s no visual evidence that current DCEU Superman, Henry Cavill, reprised the role for the fourth time. Behind the scenes, there’s been a lot of speculation about whether the actor will ever don the super-suit again after a September bombshell from The Hollywood Reporter suggested he was moving on. While some sources claimed that he and Warner Bros. mended fences so he could appear in Shazam!, Levi has disclosed via Tweet that he’s never met his supposed super-buddy. (We do know that they’re Instagram pals, though.)
Sandberg confirmed his star’s account. Speaking with Inverse, the director revealed that the original plan was for Superman to actually have a conversation with Freddy. But Cavill was unavailable to appear, so Levi’s stunt double filled out Superman’s costume instead. That meant, of course, that the cameo would have to be dialogue-free. “I was worried. Is this gonna feel cheap?” Sandberg remarked, adding that the faceless cameo played as well in the editing room as it plays in theaters. “It just made us laugh. You see Freddy’s reaction, and a hard cut to credits, and it’s just funny. It turned out better than what it was originally where he sat down and had a little chat.”
Mind over matter
First glimpsed in a container stored among various tchotchkes at the Rock of Eternity, the small, but sharp Venusian worm Mister Mind is a classic Shazam! bad guy, whose origins date back to 1943. Over the decades, the character has grown — metaphorically and literally — into major-league threat in a seemingly minor-league body. In the film, he establishes his bad guy bonafides in a memorable mid-credits scene.
Echoing the last scene from Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, this scene shows us the movie’s primary villain — in this case Mark Strong’s Dr. Sivana instead of Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor — in prison. Where Luthor just rages, Sivana is using his time in lock-up to improve his art skills, sketching strange symbols all over the walls. He probably shouldn’t spend too much time decorating his cell, though — he might not be there very long. Who should appear in the cell but Mr. Mind, who offers an alliance to his fellow bad guy that potentially sets up a sequel. “The seven realms are about to be ours,” the worm says, referring to the magical lands that exist beyond the Rock of Eternity. “What fun we’re going to have together.” Why do we think it won’t be any fun for the Shazam Family?
The post-credits scene declines to do any other sequel set-up, but it does further tie Shazam into the wider DCEU by throwing a little shade at his fellow hero Aquaman. In the scene, Shazam is testing his ability to speak to fish like the newly crowned King of Atlantis. After Billy calls the superpower stupid, Freddy — ever the fanboy — explains how Aquaman is really a bad-ass. Despite his best efforts, Billy remains unconvinced and labels Aquaman “lame.” He’s got some ‘splaining to do to Jason Momoa if the two ever meet.
Shazam! is playing in theaters now. Visit Fandango for showtime and ticket information.
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