Friday, May 27, 2011

John August SHAZAM script review

I finally got a hold of the John August script for Shazam! (or as it was officially titled at this point, Billy Batson & The Legend Of Shazam).  Unlike the William Goldman script, John August's draft is very heavily based on Jerry Ordway's Power Of Shazam graphic novel, even though August reworks some things, perhaps under the guidance of Geoff Johns, whom August said was his consultant.

The script opens on the fictional country of Kahndaq on an epic action sequence where Black Adam saves some people from a flock of monstrous hawk-men sent by the Pharaoh of a rival country.  Through out the script, Black Adam's actions are very violent and graphic, and I doubt they would make it to the screen as written, for it would get an R rating. Black Adam learns from one of the hawk-men that his wife is in danger. He speeds off to the Pharaoh, who is an eight year old boy.  After disposing of the Pharaoh, his high priest, and forty guards,  he speeds to his wife, but is too late.  She's dead.  Black Adam whispers that he can still save her.

Cut to the Rock of Eternity, where the statues of the seven deadly enemies speak in hushed tones, tempting all who pass.  Black Adam ignores them, and goes to the one he seeks.  Nope, not the wizard Shazam, but a young Central American girl named Maya, who acts soulless and seems to know past, present, and future.  Black Adam is about to take her, but then Shazam stops him.  Black Adam says Maya can bring his wife back.  The statues continue to whisper their temptations. Shazam takes a scarab, and imprisons Black Adam, Phantom Zone-like, in it.

From there we cut to the main titles, which is close ups of generic comic book panels.  It is revealed Billy Batson (age 13) is the one reading the comic book in the hallways of Fawcett City Junior High.  He is described as unmistakably good, and has a Norman Rockwell quality.  We also meet his best friend Freddy Freeman, who is a year older and described as quick-witted and crafty, and a survivor.  Billy is then bullied by an older kid and bravely stands up to him, calling the bully a coward. The bully is about to punch Billy out, but Billy is saved by a girl named Caitlin Bromfield (yeah, easy to figure out... August changed Mary Batson's adopted name from Mary Bromfield to Caitlin Bromfield).  Freddy has been videotaping the whole thing and the bully backs off.

It is then revealed Billy and Freddy live with their foster parents, Dale and Kitty Groot, in a small shack on the wrong side of the tracks. Why August created the characters of Dale and Kitty instead of just using Uncle Dudley in the role is one of those mysteries you can't figure out about Hollywood writers.  As it turns out, someone broke in, searching Billy and Freddy's room.  A cop questions Freddy outside while Billy goes to their room. He finds a man in his 40s, whom Billy assumes is a detective, in there.  He questions Billy, who explains his parents were archaeologists and have been missing since he was a baby.  Billy shows the man a stuffed toy tiger his parents gave to him.  The man, who is Theo Adam, quickly knocks Billy out, takes the tiger, rips it open to find the scarab.

Then there's a scene with Billy holding a cold can of pop on his black eye, as Freddy finds out the whole thing was a set up.  Billy and Freddy are afraid child services might get involved and they will be separated.  Billy gets suspicious that Theo Adam knows something about his parents.

Cut to a scene at Berlin University, where Theo Adam shows the scarab to a doctor who is 60 and is legally blind, forcing him to wear very thick glasses. Nope, not Dr Sivana, but a Dr Zehuti. Zehuti seems to have super strength, as he is able to lift Theo up as they argue about the scarab.  Then Zehuti exits, not to be seen anymore in the script.  The scarab begins to glow.  Theo touches it and it explodes into a halo of light and heat, transforming Theo Adam into Black Adam.  Black Adam is bigger than Theo was, as Theo's clothes have been torn and shredded by the "hulking-out" (yep, August uses the phrase "hulked-out" to describe the transformation, and there is no costume change with the transformation).  Black Adam flies up, and destroys a police helicopter that spots him.  Then it is revealed that Theo Adam and Black Adam have the "Firestorm" effect (for those not comics knowledgeable, Firestorm is a DC superhero who is a merger of a student and his teacher. In the Firestorm form, the teacher appears as a ghost to counsel Firestorm).  So it is here, Theo appears in a ghostly form to inform Black Adam as to where he is, and what is going on.

We cut back to Billy and Freddy in their room.  They take an internet quiz that asks "Are you a champion?" Freddy reads the questions and Billy answers them, all correctly. There is a power failure, but the computer continues to work. On the last question, a tricky one, "you have the chance to save your family, but doing so would unleash great harm. Do you save your family?", Billy answers "No." The computer asks "are you sure, Billy?" Billy affirms his answer as Freddy wonders how the computer knew Billy's name. Billy passes the quiz, and the printer prints out his prize: a map to a subway stop. Billy and Freddy sneak out to go see where the map leads them. At the subway station, they look for the right train. Billy spots it and tells Freddy to come on. Billy jumps aboard as the doors close, but then realises Freddy is still at the station looking at the map. Billy bangs on the window to get Freddy's attention, but it's like the world outside the train has frozen in time. Of course the train takes him to the Rock of Eternity, and we get the origin sequence. Maya is also there, observing everything. Shazam "blinks" out of existence instead of being crushed by a granite block.  Also, Billy does not turn into Captain Marvel at this point.  He is simply transported back to the train station next to Freddy.

Back at the boys' house, they talk about what Billy just went through.  Billy tries to recall the word the wizard told him to say. Shaboom?  Shaquile? Shazam.  We get to see the first transformation.  As August notes, "this is when those THX folks earn their money".  Billy is now Marvel (as the script refers him as), but still in Billy's clothes, now shredded (remember, there is no costume change). As with the Goldman script, there is a sequence of Marvel clumsily and comically trying out his powers, but at least Marvel doesn't speak with Billy's voice.  Freddy tries to coach him through. One funny bit has Marvel concentrating to see if he has heat vision, only to have Freddy yell in a panic, "Don't look at me!"

Later, Freddy and Marvel run into their teacher, Miss Hall.  Freddy passes Marvel off as Billy's uncle, and Miss Hall starts hitting on him, but Marvel doesn't catch on.

We cut to Black Adam, who tries to find the entrance to the Rock of Eternity, but cannot.  Those whispering statues inform Black Adam there is a new champion, and only he can enter the Rock of Eternity.

Then, Dale takes the boys to the parade honoring the Fawcett City Thunderbolts football team. He has Billy and Freddy wear Thunderbolt jerseys (that are too big for them) to get them signed by the players, so he could sell them.  At the parade, Billy spots some trouble, so he slips away and says Shazam.  As Marvel, the red Thunderbolt jersey now fits snugly, but Billy's jeans have shredded off.  Marvel grabs a pair of red pants and a white cape with gold trim from the marching band's uniform rack.  He stops a jewelry robbery, but the Sivana Electronics blimp is damaged when Marvel disposes of a bomb.  Marvel has to fly to save the people in the blimp, one of whom is Beautia Sivana. There is a near tragedy caused by a wardrobe malfunction of Marvel's cape, but he is successful in saving the people.  Meanwhile, Freddy, with his camcorder, got footage of Marvel in action, and sold it to a TV producer.  With the money the boys run away from their foster home and check into a hotel.

There's a montage of Marvel stopping various crimes (including a cameo by Stanley Printwhistle, who becomes Ibac in the comics).  Marvel tries to get back into the Rock of Eternity in order to get the instructions on how to use his powers better.  He can't get in at the subway station, so Freddy has the idea to go to a comic book store, and get in by the adult section (why this works is kind of muddled).  At the Rock, Marvel meets Maya, who tells him about Black Adam.  Its revealed Maya is sort of a human incarnation of the Historama, and can go back to any point in time.  If she stays too long, history will be altered.  Marvel flies to Kahndaq to see Black Adam's tomb.  He also finds a photo of his parents holding Billy as a infant.

Black Adam goes to the country of Nanda Parbat, where he encounters the Crimson Avenger (an old DC hero pre-Superman) and Felix Faust (a JLA villain).  I have to ask why use these characters instead of more appropriate Fawcett characters like Spy Smasher and Ibis? Then it's back to the Junior High, where Billy and Caitlin share a moment, and Marvel and Miss Hall do some flirting and go on a date.

Child Services come to the hotel and take Freddy away.  Marvel arrives home from his date and sees that Freddy has been taken.  Then it's back to Nanda Parbat, where Black Adam gets some Hindu techno-babble from Rama Kushna that enlightens him to go after Captain Marvel.

On the school bus, Billy sees Freddy, and Freddy explains he was taken to a group home.  Freddy is angry at Billy because he's always Marvel, and treats Freddy like a kid.  Suddenly, a giant meteor made of ice starts falling to Fawcett, chunks of it leading the way, causing destruction.  Billy slips away to change into Marvel.  Caitlin follows him. As he takes off his outer street clothes revealing his makeshift costume, he notices security cameras. Billy jumps off the roof to avoid the cameras, yells Shazam in mid air, and turns into Marvel in a slapstick manner, crashing into the street.  Caitlin witnessed the transformation.  Marvel flies up to stop the ice meteor, but cannot figure out how to do it.  Suddenly Black Adam whizzes past Marvel, and stops the meteor using his lightning to smash the ice into harmless hail.  The two meet in mid air for a conference.  Black Adam is now dressed in a black outfit with a gold sash he got from Nanda Parbat, the first time we see him in anything resembling the traditional comic book costume. He hovers like a regal warrior, while Marvel is like a newborn deer struggling to stay aloft in mid air.  Adam tells Marvel to meet him later.  Freddy says Marvel shouldn't trust Adam, that its a trap.

Then Marvel breaks up with Miss Hall. In the hallway Caitlin tells Marvel she knows. She tells him her real name is Mary, and he can trust her.

At the meeting between Adam and Marvel, Adam tells Marvel how he needs Maya to bring his wife back.  Marvel refuses, and the big fight is on.  Punching, destruction, Adam killing a few people just for fun.  Then they start fighting with their lightning bolts, but unlike the comics, Adam's bolt doesn't transform Marvel back to Billy, it just hurts Marvel really bad.  Likewise Marvel's bolt on Adam.  But Marvel's bolt turns him back to Billy, and Adam is able to grab him before he can say Shazam again.  He throws Billy down to his death, but saves him at the last minute, warning him he will not show mercy again.  Give him Maya or he will destroy Fawcett City.

Back at Dale and Kitty's house, both Billy and Freddy moved back in.  Dale shows that he really cares for the boys, as Billy and Freddy end their argument.  Caitlin comes over, and the three of them use comic books to find a solution to the Black Adam problem.  Billy figures out who Theo Adam is when he sees an old photo of his parents on an excavation, with Theo in the picture with them.  Billy goes to the Rock, and the Wrath statue shows Billy how his parents were murdered by Theo Adam. Maya approaches.  Billy changes to Marvel and takes Maya to his house.  There Freddy and Caitlin did detective work to find out more about Theo Adam.  Black Adam arrives, and Marvel has Maya rupture the time steam, so that the past and present start merging.  World War I bi-planes start flying in the sky... dinosaurs crawl up from the sea... Marvel goes back through Billy's life... he is able to get the stuffed tiger before Theo Adam gets it... back in time to Black Adam's wife's death... we see she is even more evil than Adam.  Marvel takes the scarab from the stuffed tiger, says Shazam, and allows the lightning to absorb Black Adam and his wife into the scarab. Theo Adam and Black Adam are now separated.  Theo taunts Billy with how he killed his parents.  Billy is about to say Shazam, but Maya takes him back to the day Theo Adam bought the knife he would kill his parents with.  Billy gets to have a moment with the parents he never knew.

Back in the present, Theo demands Billy to hand over the scarab, or he will kill Freddy.  Suddenly, a pteranodon scoops up Theo and rips him in half.  Maya then sets the timeline right again.

Back home, Billy discovers the picture he has of his parents is only half, there is another half with a second baby (in a pink blanket) in it.  He's interrupted by Freddy, who enters the room to tell him a giant shark has attacked a yacht.  Billy says Shazam, and is off to save the day.  Closing credits.

Post-credit scene.  Caitlin in her bedroom at night,  She has an identical stuffed tiger toy on a shelf. She whispers "Shaza--"  cut to black.  End of film.

Sidenote: There is also an earlier draft of this script I have read. The only real difference is with Black Adam.  After the pre-credits sequence, he is only seen in nightmares Billy is having.  A 60 year old university professor, Dr Theodore Adams is introduced into the story. Its slowly revealed he is aware of Black Adam's existence, and at one point there is a flashback to a scene lifted directly from the Power of Shazam graphic novel, where Adams and Billy's parents are in Egypt, and they find the scarab. Adams kills the Batsons and takes the scarab.  Later, Adams discovers how to transform into Black Adam (although there is still the "Firestorm effect"). 

If there were a choice between the Goldman script and the August script, the one that would make the best Captain Marvel film would be... well, neither. Neither one would make a truly great movie. Goldman's script is very short on action and adventure, but it does have heart, good suspense, and some great moments. August's script has much more action (and in the case of the finale, with all the time ruptures, one might say slightly overdone), but his script has minimal suspense and lacks heart.  It all seems very mechanical and sterile.  There's no magic.

Billy and Freddy, foster brothers in this script, are both portrayed in a very likable way.  Billy very honest and good, Freddy with more of an edge.  This is an improvement over the Ordway graphic novel and series, where Billy was usually a whiny brat. But August's take on Caitlin/Mary comes off as too aloof, perhaps even slightly creepy.

The August script, based heavily on Jerry Ordway's graphic novel, also comes with some major flaws. Unlike the Goldman script, where Sivana is a mad scientist, as he should be, August's script casts Sivana as a millionaire businessman, a copy of Lex Luthor (Sivana doesn't actually appear in this script, but we see all kinds of advertising for Sivana Electronics, and Beautia does have a small cameo). There is the link that Marvel looks like Billy's father, C.C. Batson, a concept that never sat right with me. Marvel, himself, is somewhat bumbling and awkward. The attempt at a romance between Marvel and Miss Hall seems like space filler, and has no heat at all, unlike the Billy/Marvel-Jenny Richee-Beautia triangle of the Goldman script.

The things that kills both scripts are the themes they share in common: attempting to be a superhero version of Big, and having Billy "learn" about being a superhero by reading comic books.  In the August script, both these themes not only give Black Adam more stature, and his scenes more epic, while Captain Marvel comes off as clumsy newbie, but it gives the script a schizophrenic nature, where the Adam scenes are typical superhero fare, while the Marvel scenes border more on parody, not unusual since Geoff Johns served as August's consultant, and Johns is responsible for building Black Adam's popularity in the comics at the expense of Captain Marvel.  (The earlier draft, perhaps because it has much less Black Adam, seems less schizophrenic and is a slightly better, more cohesive draft.)  Since both scripts contain these elements of Big and having Billy learn from comic books, it's obvious these are mandated aspects to be included in the film by either Michael Uslan or Warner Brothers powers-that-be, and that is really a shame, because it is those aspects that will kill this film, and should it ever be made, make it a critical and box office failure.

Now, to locate the Cohen-Sokolow script...!

1 comment:

Cynthia Finnegan said...

Well, it's a d@mn good thing it was rejected, because it looks like I've would have been screwed by Warner Brothers yet again. The only "Caitlin" who was ever "involved" with Captain Marvel was an original character I created for a fan fic.