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Early last spring we were reporting on Shazam, a comic book project at Warner Bros. that was not, I repeat not, at all related to the Shaq vehicle Kazaam. It's a take on an old comic book hero, Captain Marvel, who was apparently developed as DC's attempt to cash in on Superman.
The project was a go in the spring, but apparently Warner Bros. took a look at their flops and successes of the year and decided to call Shazam off. Screenwriter John August wrote online, as reported by IESB.net, that Shazam was aimed at kids, and since Speed Racer was aimed at kids and it flopped, Shazam was done for.
It might be a little more complicated than that, but August seems really clear-- and really angry-- in his blog post. "[Speed Racer] flopped; [The Dark Knight] triumphed. Given only those two examples, one can understand why a studio might wish for their movies to be more like the latter. But to do so ignores the success of Iron Man, which spent most of its running time as a comedic origin story, and the even more pertinent example of WB’s own Harry Potter series. I tried to make this case, to no avail."
If August is right-- and even he admits that all he knows is his own perspective, and he might have just written terrible screenplays-- then Warner Bros. is taking a ridiculously narrow view of comic book movies that is going to hurt them in the end. The Dark Knight succeeded despite its incredibly dark themes, despite the fact that it doesn't resemble a summer blockbuster in any regard. It succeeded because it's great. The only good part of Speed Racer was the intense, candy-colored visuals, presumably the part to appeal to kids; the terrible storyline, which lost both kids and adults, was what sank it.
I was never particularly attached to the idea of Shazam or Captain Marvel, but it worries me that WB might have killed the project thinking that every project from now on will be dark and gloomy like The Dark Knight, or their upcoming Watchmen. There's a whole world of comic books out there worth adapting, and sticking only to the depressing ones will keep everyone but Christopher Nolan and Frank Miller out of business (and please, hasn't Frank Miller done enough?) Hopefully someone at WB will come to their senses and breathe life back into Shazam, but if all we see from now on is emotionally disturbed superheroes, we'll know John August isn't to blame.