It’s not often that a movie being split into two is good news. The never-ending controversy over The Hobbit being stretched from two films into three films springs to mind as does the franchise-killing decision to split the final Divergent movie into two. Even The Hunger Games took flak for padding out its final two instalments and it’s easy to see why. So, most of the time, more does not necessarily mean better.
The DC Movie Universe, not exactly a familiar face when it comes to good news, may have just changed that.
As Deadline reported, the Shazam movie is scheduled to be split into two parts, the first of which will focus on the series’ villain, Black Adam, played by the man SNL once called Franchise Viagra, Mr Dwayne Johnson, a Rock and a hard man not to like.
The first is Johnson himself. The most fundamentally affable, watchable leading man in Hollywood right now he’s very much in the second bloom of his career. His career-redefining work as Luke Hobbs on the Fast & Furious movies has at least two more films due and a possible spin-off; the upcoming Jumanji and Baywatch films are both getting good early word and the San Andreas sequel is set to see him lead an emergency services team struggling to deal with a Pacific Rim-spanning series of disasters.
Dwayne Johnson. Punching volcanos in the face. Sign us up.
That’s even before you get to his phenomenal vocal turn in Moana and his ongoing TV work with Ballers. All of which is the major reason why GI Joe 3 hasn’t happened yet which, we found out recently, was at one point set to feature the Transformers.
The man is busy. And with good reason: he’s excellent at what he does.
And crucially, what he does is changing, and Black Adam is a huge part of that. Johnson has flirted with adversarial roles before including in Doom and Be Cool but Black Adam is a step up from them. There’s a lot more to the character than his villainy and he’s a clear chance for DC to stretch their box office and Johnson to expand his range.
So who is he?
Black Adam, or Teth Adam, is the principle villain for DC’s Captain Marvel. Who, to differentiate him from Marvel’s Carol Danvers (and for complex legal reasons), has been referred to as Shazam since 1967. Shazam is Billy Batson, a teenager chosen by a wizard to receive the attributes of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury (Shazam, see?) to act as a champion against evil. Originally created by CC Beck and Bill Parker in 1940, the character has evolved constantly over the years. The core principle remains the same; fundamentally decent, if troubled kid tries to balance the responsibilities of his superpowers with his real life but gradually a lot of the goofier elements have been phased out. Given the premise, that’s understandable.
It’s also one of the bones of contention people have had over a Shazam movie. The character is fundamentally good-natured and hopeful – his nickname is the Big Red Cheese for God’s sake. Putting a character like that into a movie universe that features Batman branding people, Superman dying and where the most sympathetic characters are a former gangster’s moll, a serial killer who takes credit cards and a gangbanger turned warrior monk was never going to end well.
Which is the second reason why a Black Adam movie is such a smart plan. Adam is an earlier recipient of the Shazam power set. An Egyptian from the time of the Pharoahs, the most recent take on him saw him depicted as the uncle of Aman, a young slave boy. They both received the powers but while Aman wanted to help people, Adam wanted vengeance on the men who had enslaved them. It’s implied, heavily, that Adam killed Aman to get full control of the abilities and that set him on the path to villainy.
A Villain With Depth
A wounded, bitter man who has every reason to be, lashing out with the first power he’s ever known for what he thinks are good reasons. That’s some serious dramatic potential and you can see why Adam stands with the other great comic villains of the last few decades such as Magneto, Gail Simone’s take on Bane and Scott Snyder’s take on Two-Face. All of them trying to be more than they are. Some of them, Adam included, succeeding.
And that’s the third reason this is a smart move. Adam, as we first see him, is absolutely a perfect fit for the DC Movie universe. He’s articulate, violent and furious. You could put him next to any of the characters we’ve met so far and he wouldn’t look out of place. In other words, he’s a perfect carrier wave for the Shazam premise. Drop Billy next to Batfleck, Super Jesus or Deadshot and it won’t work. Put Black Adam there and it will.
And better still it gives you somewhere to go. The DC movies have, rightly, been criticised for being cinematic grimdark. By rolling Black Adam out first, and then stepping across into Shazam, the producers are able to shift the entire tone of the universe. Johnson has talked about Adam having a redemptive arc in the movies as he has in the comics. Using that to shift the tone of the DC movie universe makes perfect sense. Better still, it gives Shazam real narrative weight and importance as the movies lighten to accommodate that set of characters.
Shazam and Black Adam are two of the DC universe’s most interesting characters and consistently two of the hardest to sell. But Johnson is absolutely up to the task. So, here’s to the Big Red Cheese. He and his nemesis really may end up saving the day. Or at least, the DC movie universe.
Article by Alasdair Stuart