Warning: SPOILERS for Shazam!
Shazam! not only introduces the DCEU’s newest superhero family, it also makes up for one of DC’s most legendary canceled projects: Justice League: Mortal, which was to be directed by George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road). With Adam Brody and D.J. Cotrona playing the superhero versions of Freddy Freeman and Pedro Peña, Shazam! essentially lets Miller’s film live on spiritually in the DCEU – since Brody and Cotrona were once cast as the Flash and Superman.
David F. Sandberg’s film is both a continuation and course-correction of the DC Extended Universe that began with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel in 2013. About five years before Snyder relaunched Superman starring Henry Cavill, George Miller was ramping up a Justice League movie that would have united all of the World’s Greatest Superheroes. However, Miller’s ambitious project never made it in front of cameras, despite the film being cast and pre-production being well underway.
During the late 2000s, the superhero movie landscape was very different. The Marvel Cinematic Universe had just launched with 2008’s Iron Man while that same summer, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight took the world by storm, earning the late Heath Ledger an Academy Award for his portrayal of the Joker. Meanwhile, Brandon Routh had only recently made his debut as Superman in Superman Returns, and Tom Welling had an ongoing role as Superman in the popular CW show Smallville. Miller’s Justice League: Mortal would not only have introduced live-action versions of Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and the Flash years before Gal Gadot, Ryan Reynolds, and Grant Gustin/Ezra Miller, it would have included competing versions of Batman and Superman. This was just one reason why Justice League: Mortal was abandoned.
As Shazam! furthers the DCEU’s focus on entertaining standalone superhero films that keep their shared universe connections with a lighter touch, here’s how Billy Batson’s big screen adventure also inherits the mantle of Justice League: Mortal.
George Miller’s Justice League: Mortal Explained
George Miller’s Justice League: Mortal was written by Kieran and Michele Mulroney. It was based upon the popular Justice League: Unlimited animated series and it was also an adaptation of Mark Waid’s DC Comics Tower of Babel storyline, in which Batman’s strategies on how to defeat the League were discovered by the villanous Maxwell Lord and used against the World’s Greatest Superheroes. Adam Brody’s Flash (Barry Allen) was the POV character and, along with D.J. Cotrona as Superman, Miller assembled a cast that included Armie Hammer as Batman, Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, Common as Green Lantern, Santiago Cabrera as Aquaman, Hugh Keays-Byrne as the Martian Manhunter, Zoe Kazan as Iris West, Jay Baruchel as Maxwell Lord, and Teresa Palmer as Talia al Ghul.
Production on Justice League: Mortal was ready to go in Miller’s native Australia in February 2008, with WETA Digital handling the film’s numerous visual effects. Warner Bros. placed the production on hold due to issues with its huge $200-million budget as well as problems with the script. The Writers Guild of America strike in early 2008 then made rewrites impossible. Warner Bros. also decided that production would be moved to Canada, in spite of Miller’s insistence for the film to be shot at FOX Studios in Australia.
Another issue was director Christopher Nolan and Batman actor Christian Bale not being happy about Justice League: Mortal. Nolan was in post-production on The Dark Knight and both he and Bale expressed displeasure at another version of Batman appearing on the big screen and competing with his own. With Miller, the budget, the screenplay and the studio at odds, the options for the cast were allowed to expire and production was ultimately ended. Justice League: Mortal is now one of the most famous “What if?” superhero films.
Shazam Introduces The Shazam Family
Shazam! is set in the DCEU after the events of Zack Snyder’s Justice League (which was drastically changed by Joss Whedon’s reshoots), but a cool surprise is that the film doesn’t just introduce the titular hero played by Zachary Levi, it actually debuts five other superpowered defenders of truth and justice: the Shazam Family.
Despite Shazam’s many awesome powers like super strength, hyperspeed, the ability to fly, and the power to shoot lightning, he soon finds he’s in way over his head when he’s hunted by Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong). Sivana wants to add the power of Shazam to his own evil might, which was given to him by the Seven Deadly Sins. In the end, Billy is able to share his magic and form an unexpected superhero team comprised of his new foster siblings. Ironically, the Shazam Family is not only Billy’s own version of the Justice League, but it’s fitting that two of its members would have once been part of the League themselves.
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