The Big Twist in ‘Shazam!’ Hides Another Fun Easter Egg
[Spoilers for the movie “Shazam!” follow.]
It’s complicated enough to tell a single superhero’s origin story onscreen, but “Shazam!” has a clever surprise in store: In the film’s final act, “Shazam!” reveals that you’ve actually been watching the origin story for an entire family of superheroes, not just one.
That twist comes after young Billy Batson (Asher Angel), who can turn himself into the muscular, full-grown superhero Shazam (Zachary Levi), realizes his power alone won’t be enough to stop a supervillainous onslaught. To turn the tide, he transforms his five foster siblings into super-swole Shazams who can fight alongside him, and some of those young performers become recognizable adult actors along the way.
“I’ve gotten calls from a lot of long-lost people since the movie opened,” said Adam Brody, who kept his cameo secret until the movie’s release earlier this month. The actor, most famous for his role on “The O.C.,” plays the Shazam-ified version of Billy’s foster brother Freddy, a comic-book geek. “We get to take all that goodwill that the kid actors generated for the whole movie and absorb it for free,” Brody said.
The third-act twist, which also introduces Shazam family members played by Meagan Good, D.J. Cotrona, Michelle Borth and Ross Butler, was so under wraps that the actors didn’t even know what roles they were auditioning for.
“With films like this, they leave you in the dark,” said Cotrona, who recently starred in the television adaptation of “From Dusk Till Dawn.” Cotrona plays the adult version of Billy’s shy foster brother Pedro, but he was given decoy audition pages to preserve the film’s ultimate twist.
Still, once he learned the truth, Cotrona said it was perfect casting: “If there’s one thing I feel like I have experience in,” he said, “it’s walking around as a grown man but sometimes feeling like a scared 14-year-old boy inside.”
The adult actors met with their young counterparts and were shown footage of early scenes by the director David F. Sandberg, but the group’s onscreen giddiness came naturally through costuming, Brody said. “When you put on those muscle suits, you immediately feel like you’re 10 years old in the best possible sense,” he said. “You can’t help but start flexing.”
For Brody and Cotrona, the path to those super-suits was a long and circuitous one that adds a second twist to their “Shazam!” appearances: In 2007, both actors were cast in a big-budget adaptation of “Justice League” that fell apart right as shooting was about to begin.
Their scuttled superhero film, “Justice League Mortal,” was to be directed by George Miller and star Cotrona as Superman and Brody as the Flash alongside the then-up-and-coming Armie Hammer as Batman, the Australian actress Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, and Common and Santiago Cabrera as Green Lantern and Aquaman.
“It was allegorical to the Greek gods, and each god had a realm they came from that we would see at a very large scale,” Cotrona said.
But though Miller had assembled a full cast and was ready to go into production, “Justice League Mortal” was hobbled by the Writers Guild strike that ran from 2007 to 2008, then denied a significant tax credit from the Australian government that would have brought the budget down to a feasible number.
Warner Bros. tabled the project and released its options on the cast, and though the studio eventually put out an adaptation of “Justice League” in 2017, that poorly reviewed movie only further stoked fan interest in the film that might have been.
“George Miller is one of the all-time great filmmakers, and you can imagine what he could do with these characters in a superhero setting, something we haven’t ever seen him do,” Cotrona said. Even Brody felt his passion for the project reawaken once he watched Miller’s Oscar-winning 2015 action film, “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
“I didn’t know how sharp he was still, or how hip he was, until I saw that,” Brody said. “It might be his best movie. It’s so old-fashioned in the best sense, and yet the filmmaking and the design and the palette is so fresh.”
So if the big twist in “Shazam” spurs a new round of speculation on what their “Justice League” might have looked like, “just know I, too, am curious,” Brody said. “But what are you going to do? Maybe the legend is still better.”
At least with “Shazam!,” Brody said, “It was satisfying to finally get to put on the tights.”