The ‘Shazam!’ Filmmakers Tell Us Why They Can’t Call Their Superhero By His Actual Name (Captain Marvel)

Warner Bros.

Shazam! does feel like a bit of an underdog story. (At least, as far as big-budget superhero movies go anyway.) The reviews so far have been pretty stellar, which is a big coup for a franchise of movies that, well, it doesn’t always turn out that way. (Though, the film’s producer, Peter Safran, who we talk to here, also produced Aquaman, so he’s on a bit of a roll. Next up for him is Suicide Squad 2, and we’ll get to that.) Keep in mind, Shazam! isn’t exactly one of DC Comic’s signature characters, and the filmmakers couldn’t even use the character’s name, Captain Marvel, because of a legal snafu with Marvel’s version. Yet, so far so good.

(The TL;DR version: This version of Captain Marvel debuted in the early 1940s at Fawcett Comics. DC sued Fawcett because he seemed too much like Superman. Eventually, Fawcett stopped making Captain Marvel comics. DC then bought Captain Marvel, but forgot to trademark the hero’s name. Marvel Comics, noticing the trademark omission, pounced. So, now, in 2019, we have a movie about a character who can’t legally use his own name.)

Ahead, producer Peter Safran and director David Sandberg take us through the trials and tribulations of putting a fun Shazam! movie – starring Zachery Levi as the unnamed superhero that we’ll just call Shazam – in theaters, while also dodging some legal boundaries that made things … complicated. And, as previously noted, Safran has Suicide Squad 2 coming next, a total reboot of the first movie, directed by his longtime friend James Gunn. How does Safran feel about Gunn also now directing Guardians of the Galaxy 3? He tells us ahead.

I will start with something controversial.

Peter Safran: Uh-oh.

The poster promised there would be gum in this movie, and there’s no gum.

Safran: Oh, crap. I think they have some gum in their arms as they leave the store?

There’s no bubble popping.

Safran: I hope that’s your biggest quibble with the movie.

I was expecting Hubba Bubba or Bubblicious…

Safran: Stay tuned for the sequel. Tons of bubble gum.

What was your approach to coming into Shazam! in the first place? I’m sorry, it’s so weird calling him Shazam. My entire life he’s been Captain Marvel…

Safran: I know.

This is tough.

Safran: Yes. For all of us.

You took a more fun approach to this character…

David Sandberg: I mean, it was just a more fun character. That’s what sets him apart.

Well, is he? A lot of times in the past, he’s just a Superman kind of character…

Sandberg: Yeah, but if you look at his origins, there’s some goofy stuff happening in those old comic books.

That’s true.

Sandberg: So, it’s always been more natural, I think, for him to be more fun. But there’s been more serious versions of him as well. But not serious in like a brooding way, just more sort of earnest. If you look at the Alex Ross version of Shazam, which is just more serious in an earnest way, rather than a brooding way.