Earlier this year, Zachary Levi finally got the starring role as a superhero he’s long deserved in DC’s delightful Shazam! But Zachary Levi is a real life comic book nerd, and Shazam (or Captain Marvel, if you prefer) is neither the first comic book role he played nor is it the role he originally wanted. Once upon a time, Zachary Levi really wanted to play Deadpool. Speaking about his desire to be the Merc with a Mouth, Zachary Levi said:
I wanted to be Deadpool for so long. Like a long, long [time ago]. When I was reading Deadpool I wanted to be Deadpool, but Ryan is crushing that.
Zachary Levi not only liked Deadpool before the feature films made it cool to do so, he wanted to play him long before Ryan Reynolds snagged the role and 2016’s Deadpool proved the commercial viability of an R-rated superhero blockbuster. As Zachary Levi said at FAN EXPO Boston (via Comicbook.com), he was reading Deadpool comics, and that’s what made him want to play the character so badly.
You can’t blame Zachary Levi, as Deadpool is a really cool and fun character that is surely a blast to play. Who wouldn’t want to wear a cool costume, be a lethal badass and get to break the fourth wall, curse and make off color jokes? Deadpool is almost pure id and that’s what makes him so watchable. So for a long time, Zachary Levi really wanted to play Wade Wilson.
That obviously didn’t happen though, but Zachary Levi doesn’t seem too upset about it because he admits that Ryan Reynolds is crushing the role and you won’t find too many arguments to the contrary on that. Zachary Levi would have probably made a great Deadpool, but it’s the role that Ryan Reynolds was born to play.
Although he didn’t wind up playing Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds did end up in the world of comic book movies. First, he played the minor role of Fandral, one of the Warriors Three in Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok, and then he landed his big role as Billy Batson/Shazam in the DCEU film. Zachary Levi actually sees some parallels between his current superhero alter ego and the one he once coveted, as he explained:
I actually kind of think that Deadpool and Shazam! are similar movies in that we’re both satellites of a greater universe that we get to kind of look at and point at and realize as an audience we can all do that together. Deadpool got to take all those potshots at the Marvel universe [laughs], particularly the X-Men franchise, and it was so genius. And that we get to be on the outside, existing within the DC Universe but not necessarily having to subscribe to everything that’s already there.
It’s an interesting point. Both Deadpool and Shazam! technically belong to shared cinematic universes, Fox’s now presumably extinct X-Verse and the DCEU, respectively. But although both films have connective tissue with greater universes, they each largely function on their own, unaffected by the larger goings-on. That affords them the ability to offer a bit of meta commentary and freedom to have fun at their universe’s expense.
Shazam! is very much about what it means to be a superhero, and that’s informed by the likes of Superman and Batman. Freddy Freeman is a superhero fan, very similar to what a comic book movie fan is in the real world, and he and Billy are almost looking at the rest of the DCEU from our vantage point. They exist within it, but are at an arm’s length.
In Deadpool, that is very much by design but for Shazam!, it is a bit more circumstantial as Zachary Levi’s character has only shown up in his solo film so far and Warner Bros' DCEU still seems to be in kind of an ambiguous place as to whether or not it wants to be a full-fledged cinematic universe akin to the MCU, have some connectivity or just be entirely separated. But for now, as Zachary Levi said, Shazam! is in the DC Universe but doesn’t have to strictly adhere to everything happening within it.
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