This article contains major Shazam! spoilers.
Shazam! might be the best example of DC’s superhero movie universe working exactly the way it’s supposed to. Gone are the days where Warner Bros. was looking to duplicate the Marvel Studios method of seeding clues to a big team up movie in assorted films. But despite the fact that they’ve ditched that approach, that doesn’t mean that the DCEU is dead.
In fact, far from it. While Aquaman made passing reference to the events of Justice League, Shazam! goes a little further and leans all the way in to the idea of a world populated by superheroes, with Jack Dylan Grazer’s Freddy Freeman collecting actual superhero memorabilia and spouting knowledge of superhero lore.
“It was a great freedom to not have any mandates of you have to incorporate this or you have to set up this that’s going to come down the line,” Shazam! director David F. Sandberg says. “Just focus on making this the best Shazam story could be, but then, of course, as a fan, it was great fun to put in all these references to the world and what’s happened before in this universe.”
“And these superheroes exist in the world in which our characters live, so it would be very natural for Freddy Freeman to be a big fan of these guys the same way you might be a fan of a celebrity or a musical artist today,” producer Peter Safran says. “It all makes sense. It was all very organic. There was no pressure to push forward any DCEU agenda.”
Yet despite all of these nods to the DCEU peppered throughout the film, it saves the biggest one for the end. That’s when Freddy’s favorite superhero, the Man of Steel himself, walks into the Fawcett Central lunchroom to join the entire Shazam family at the table. It’s a lighthearted moment, one that relies entirely on the power of the costume and the barest hint of John Williams’ iconic Superman theme to sell it. It’s so light, that during a conversation with director David F. Sandberg and producer Peter Safran, that I had to wonder if it was a last minute addition. It wasn’t.
“No, that was always the thing,” Sandberg says. “We wanted to have that payoff.”
“We’d set that up with the bully saying, ‘What, Superman’s going to deliver the dessert?’ So that was always the intent,” Safran adds.
Of course, you never see the actor’s face, just the costume. And you could feel the audience holding their breath when Superman turns a corner and the “S” comes into view, hoping that the camera would pan up to reveal Henry Cavill, whose future as the Last Son of Krypton remains uncertain at best. The filmmakers had hoped to get Cavill in to film the cameo, but it wasn’t to be, not because of the mysteries of Hollywood contracts, but because of scheduling issues.
“We planned to have just a little bit of a scene talking to the kids, but we just couldn’t make it work because we could only be in that school for a very short period of time when the kids were out of school,” Sandberg says. “So we had to do this instead, which actually worked out a lot funnier, because it’s just seeing Freddy’s reaction to him showing up and then just cutting away just makes it so much funnier than what we originally had planned.”
“That’s what it’s really about,” Safran says. “It’s about Freddy’s mind being blown. So to be able to end on his reaction is everything.”
Shazam! is in theaters now.