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How DC’s ‘Shazam!’ is Bucking a Hollywood Trend

There won’t be any de-aging here.
By  · Published on August 30th, 2017

There won’t be any de-aging here.

DC is all about bucking trends lately. Last week, they announced plans to expand their cinematic output by creating standalone superhero movies outside their shared universe. This week, it’s all about ignoring the de-aging fad that’s featured in several Hollywood movies in recent years. Is this a sign of their desire to stand out from their peers?

This latest news relates to Shazam!, which tells the story of Billy Batson, a child who becomes a fully-grown superhero whenever he utters the word in the movie’s title. When director David F. Sandberg sat down with Collider to discuss the film, he assured fans that young Bill and the mighty Shazam would be played by different actors.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t want to do that.” he said of the possibility of digitally de-aging the adult star. “That seems like way too much of a hassle. So I think it’s just kind of best to have a kid and an adult.”

Years ago, such news was a given. Nowadays, it’s not so predictable to call.

Since Brad Pitt was digitally altered to look significantly younger in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in 2008, it’s gradually become commonplace to use CG wizardry to remove wrinkles from older actors rather than cast a youthful lookalike to play younger versions of their characters.

In the last five years alone, nine blockbusters have used de-aging visual effects to accomplish this, a third of which have been Marvel movies — Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, and Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. Furthermore, we know that Robert De Niro is to be de-aged in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, while Ridley Scott hasn’t ruled out applying the magic to Sigourney Weaver in future Alien movies. 

As welcome as the Shazam! news is, though, it’s hardly the first time this has happened in superhero movies. Casting child actors to play younger versions of heroes has been happening for years. We’ve seen it in Daredevil, Batman Begins, The Amazing Spider-Man, Man of Steel, and Guardians of the Galaxy, to name a few examples.

Meanwhile, casting multiple actors to play the same hero in the same movie or TV show isn’t uncommon either. The 1970s Shazam! TV series featured teenage Michael Gray as Batson and Jackson Bostwick and later John Davey as Captain Marvel. And in the old The Incredible Hulk TV series, for another example, Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno both played David Banner, depending on what type of mood the character was in at the time.

Elsewhere, in X-Men Days of Future Past, Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen both played Magneto, while James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart both portrayed Professor X. Even though back in X-Men: The Last Stand, we saw de-aged versions of McKellen and Stewart. 

However, given the wave of recent superhero movies to apply CG to actors, sometimes to an unnecessary degree, this decision is somewhat refreshing. While de-aging effecs undoubtedly have a place sometimes, they’re still quite distracting and unimaginative. Rather than show off technology for the sake of it, why not give another actor a chance to grab some of the spotlight?

Plus it’s weird; we know Robert Downey Jr. hasn’t been a teenager in quite some time, so seeing him as one in Civil War, regardless of how impressive it looked from a technical standpoint, was just bizarre. Remember how well De Niro and Marlon Brando worked out as the same character in The Godfather and The Godfather Part II? Let’s not lose sight of that, Hollywood.

Until now, DC movies haven’t incorporated de-aging effects. If they continue to resist the temptation, they can remain separate from a Hollywood trend that will probably increase as technology continues to advance in the coming years. We’ve already seen holograms of our favorite singers perform concerts and dead actors reprise old roles. Please don’t the CG-machine consume anymore humanity from our movies. 

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Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.