So I recently saw the new Shazam movie. It was great but you probably already knew that. There are so many reviews talking about how it’s the best modern DC film and/or better than most MCU films. All of these reviews are absolutely correct. There is nothing I can say about the new film that hasn’t already been said but I do want to talk about it. This isn’t the first Shazam film to ever be made. The first one was called “The Adventures of Captain Marvel” and it premiered in 1941. It wasn’t just the first Shazam movie. It was the first superhero film, period, because, once upon a time, Captain Marvel aka Shazam was the most popular superhero, beating out characters like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Captain America. Today, I’m going to compare the two films in an attempt to show and appreciate just how far the superhero genre and cinema, in general, have come.
I feel the need to provide some context so that this article might make a little more sense. For starters, Captain Marvel was the original name of the hero. Marvel Comics was called Timely Comics at the time and Captain Marvel was a Fawcett Comics property. Fawcett Comics was out of business and no one had a legal claim to the name, Marvel, when Timely Comics changed their name. Theirs more legal stuff involved but that’s a topic for another article. Just know that Captain Marvel and Shazam are about the same character. When I say, “Captain Marvel,” I’m talking about the old movie. When I say, “Shazam,” I’m talking about the new one.
The Adventures of Captain Marvel was released in twelve parts. It was kind of a mini-series of twelve short films or long episodes. This was a common thing to see in theatres back in the day. Films were often shown in segments as part of a matinee that would include things such as short cartoons, advertisements for upcoming films, and the news to go with the main feature. Some of that still exists today but, back to the point, the film was made to be watched in 12 episodic segments. I watched them all, back to back, as a singular, four-hour film. This absolutely had an effect on my viewing experience.
The Adventures of Captain Marvel is about a young radio reporter named Billy Batson who goes with the Malcolm Group on an archeological expedition to Siam to discover the secret of the long lost Scorpion Kingdom. There’s a chamber with a sign that says something along the lines of, “Do not enter,” so, of course, everyone but Billy decides to enter. The wizard, Shazam, appears to Billy and grants him superpowers as a reward for being literally the only person who followed the rules. In this scenario, Shazam is Willy Wonka and Billy Batson is Charlie. Despite breaking the rules, nothing bad happens to the archeologists. Instead, they discover an artifact called the golden scorpion. It uses sunlight shown through a series of lenses to turn whatever the light points at to gold. The archeologists immediately determine that this makes them the most powerful men in the world and then decide that no one man should have all that power right after that. They each take a lense from the golden scorpion so that no one can use it. Back in the states, A masked villain named “The Scorpion” goes around, killing them and taking their lenses one by one. It gets super repetitive from this point so, long story short, Captain Marvel saves the day. Sorry about the spoilers for this 78-year-old movie.
Shazam! Is about a 14 -year-old orphan boy named Billy Batson. He’s been transferred from foster home to foster home while simultaneously on a quest to find his parents. He gets superpowers from the wizard, Shazam and gets into a lot of fun teenage mischief with them. He eventually battles the dastardly Dr. Savana and the Seven Deadly sins. He discovers the definition and value of family along the way. I will not give spoilers for this one as it is far more recent and way more worth your time.
So how do the two compare? The new movie is better in every way. The only movie has really good special effects for the time but that was 78 years ago. I don’t hold it against the old film because the new film has an unfair advantage, there. The acting is also fine and surprisingly not all that corny for an old movie. The new movie just has great acting which is aided by a much better script. I don’t fault the old film for it’s acting but I do fault it for the really boring script. Between Citizen Kane, Casablanca, and The Maltese Falcon, I know people knew how to write a good murder mystery back then and this ain’t it. The original film does win on historical value as it was the first superhero film and the best-produced one for a very long time. The new movie is also way more accurate to even the old comics from the ’30s. I did not like the old film but it was better than Catwoman, Batman Forever, Daredevil, Elektra, any of the Brian Singer X-Men movies, and so on. If you would still like to watch the old film, I’ll leave a link to a 2-hour cut I found on YouTube. The Adventures of Captain Marvel is in the public domain so I don’t imagine that link will be going anywhere, anytime soon.
Watch whatever you want but I promise that you’ll enjoy the new movie way more. We’ve had 78 years to learn since the first film and the industry has clearly learned and applied many lessons in that time. I hope you enjoyed this article enough to like, comment, subscribe, share with friends, and do whatever else I’m supposed to ask you to do. Either way, thanks for reading.
- Adventures of Captain Marvel. Directed by John English and William Witney, performances by Tom Tyler and Frank Coghlan, Jr., Republic Pictures 1941.
- Shazam!. Directed by David F. Sandberg, performances by Asher Angel, Zachary Levi. Mark Strong, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Djimon Hounsou, New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. Pictures 2019.