Dwayne Johnson has been teasing his involvement with the DC cinematic universe for months—over a year, actually—and finally yesterday he announced on his Twitter that he is indeed playing a marquee role in an upcoming DC movie—just not the hero. Johnson will be Black Adam from the Shazam! comics—a villain. And given how long Johnson teased this out and that he seemed in serious pursuit of a superhero gig, I think he chose this role over playing the hero.
Which is good because Shazam! is a dumb character (he’s yet another orphan, who, when he yells “Shazam!”, is struck by magical lightning that makes him big and strong) but Black Adam is, like Loki, more of an anti-hero than a pure villain. He’s an ancient being descended from Egyptian gods who is prone to fits of genocide, but who also just wants to hang out at home with his family. He’ll straight murder you if crossed, but then he goes off on these cross-time/cross-universe jaunts, seeking redemption. He’s the most complicated and interesting character from an otherwise highly stupid property, so it’s no wonder Johnson went in this direction.
What’s most interesting, though, is that the Shazam! movie in which Johnson will star is not being produced by Warner Brothers but by New Line, a production company under WB’s banner (they also make the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings movies). It seems like Shazam! will not be part of the same universe as Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman. This fits with some recent rumors that WB has issued a “no jokes” edict for Batman vs. Superman and its potential spin-offs. Shazam! is a silly character who exists in a silly world, and I wondered how it would mesh with the universe established by Man of Steel.
But if it’s being treated as a separate property that doesn’t have to connect to the Zack Snyder movies, then it doesn’t have to fit into that same grimdark box. That can only be a good thing—there’s no way goofy-ass Shazam! would succeed in that context. It would also be a waste of The Rock, who is at his best when his natural, upbeat charisma is allowed to shine through. I’m very interested to see how he’ll play the anti-hero. Everyone talks about Marvel’s villain problem, but really, besides Heath Ledger’s Joker, no supervillain has been all that interesting. When it comes down to it, there’s The Joker, and then there’s Loki, and that’s pretty much it. A strong, complex Black Adam as played by a tremendously engaging actor will be a welcome addition to comic book movies.
Attached - Johnson at the Berlin premiere of Hercules a couple of weeks ago.