Earlier this week Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson tweeted that he will be playing Black Adam in New Line’s upcoming SHAZAM film (he made the right choice). Johnson has been teasing involvement with DC/Warner Brothers for years. Some speculated he would play Lobo or even Doomsday in the next Man of Steel film. Why these characters? Physique mostly, but also I think because people want to see Johnson play a villain. When he was in the WWE, we all loved The Rock as the heel. That’s what made him famous in the first place.
Speculation for a SHAZAM film started in June when Nikki Finke published a story that a SHAZAM would follow Batman v Superman in 2016. That got fans’ heads turning. Then Johnson, while promoting Hercules said he would be playing a DC Comics character, giving the hint “just say the word.” Hardcore fans knew he was referencing Captain Marvel, now rebranded as just Shazam to distance itself from Marvel comics and their own Captain Marvel characters. We all thought DC/Warner Brothers would make an announcement about Shazam at Comic-Con. Unfortunately, nothing was announced. Then Johnson said it was up to him to decide whether to play the hero or the villain in the film.
Let’s get familiar with the characters before we get into why Johnson made the right decision. In the 1940’s Captain Marvel was outselling Superman as the number one comic book on the stands. This is probably because he relates to kids more than any other comic book hero. Billy Batson is a young boy who becomes Captain Marvel by saying the magic word “SHAZAM!” After he says this word he is instilled with the power of mythological figures Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury and given the big red and yellow suit you see above. Captain Marvel’s mentality is still that of young Billy Batson, he’s just in the body of an adult, sort of like Tom Hanks’ character in Big.
Black Adam is Captain Marvel’s predecessor. A human in the fictional country of Khandaq, Teth-Adam was granted the same powers as Billy Batson but used those powers to conquer and rule his country. In the comics he was entombed for centuries until waking up when Captain Marvel appeared on the scene. In the last 20 years writers like Geoff Johns have turned Black Adam from a one-note villain into more of an anti-hero. Black Adam will do anything to protect his people and country from injustice but will do so violently. He will kill who he needs to kill. In the comic series 52 Black Adam split his power and created a wife for himself, Isis, whom was tragically killed later in the series. This arc was great because for a time Black Adam was the beloved hero and ruler of his country. Isis changed him and softened his cold, ancient heart. When she was killed he went into a rage and it took the entire world’s heroes to stop him. This storyline was one of the many in 52, but also the best.
I think Johnson chose right. Sure Shazam is the hero, and if successful will surely have a series of films, but Black Adam is the character who will make or break the film. It is always said that “villains make the hero” and it is true here. In a way Johnson has already played a character like Shazam in his in bomb, Tooth Fairy. He also tried playing the family market with The Game Plan. Both of these films were not well regarded critically and at the box office. After these missteps Johnson went back to his well with Fast Five, playing the badass FBI officer Hobbs. It was during this stage in his career that Johnson was considered franchise adrenaline as he brought the Fast and Furious and G.I. Joe back to the top of the box office. That’s the reason why he is in every Fast and Furious film after the fifth one.
If Johnson had played the titular Shazam, I think there would have been a lot of wariness about the film. Johnson has been able to carry films, sure, but never as the all-around good guy. Did Hercules do well this summer? Not at all. I think audiences are not interested in Johnson as a hero. Johnson made the smart business decision by doing what his audience wants. Films with Johnson as part of the ensemble in a supporting role have done better than films with Johnson in the lead. I think most hardcore comic book fans have already put their faith in Johnson as Black Adam. It was the “of course!” choice for comic fans. By playing Black Adam Johnson side-stepped all the pressure he would have had to face as the lead. Whoever is cast as Shazam will face a lot more pressure and speculation about the quality of their performance and looks in the costume.
Now all we have to do is see who will play Shazam. I’ve seen both Channing Tatum and Rob Riggle’s name thrown around as suggestions. My pick? Joe Manganiello of True Blood fame. He’s kind of an unknown in the film world, playing supporting roles in Magic Mike and Sabotage, but he’s not a complete unknown. He’s already got the physique and can probably be able to sign a multi-picture deal without too much complication. To me, Channing Tatum is a more unlikely choice because he has already made commitments to the X-Men franchise as Gambit. So vote Manganiello and Johnson for Shazam in 2016! Who do you think should battle The Rock as Shazam? Sound off below in the comments!