‘Shazam!’ Feels Like An ‘O.C.’ Throwback & Not Just Because A Certain Cohen Shows Up
Spoilers ahead for Shazam! Towards the end of the latest DCEU movie Seth Cohen shows up. Fine, The O.C. character isn't really in Shazam!, it's actor Adam Brody. But I'm not just saying that because Seth is the character he's best known for. It really feels like Seth Cohen is there, because for the entire movie up until that moment, Jack Dylan Grazer, who plays the young version of the character Freddy, seems to be channeling him. So, when Brody appears, it's the perfect casting. (It also makes you wish a certain someone else had been cast as Shazam himself, but we'll get to that.)
Before Shazam becomes Shazam, he's Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a teen boy who was separated from his mother when he was only four years old. His first scene in the movie involves him breaking into a police car, so that he can use the cops' license plate records to try to track her down. He's a foster kid, he's run away from various homes he's been placed in, and he torments police officers. It's no surprise that Billy is a moody kid, and this is how Angel plays him. He's witty and makes jokes when he wants to, but mostly, he's pretty quiet, especially as compared to his new foster sibling Freddy. Sound familiar? Maybe like one Mr. Ryan Atwood? (It will only sound familiar if you're an O.C. fan. Feel free to leave and go watch the entire series right now if you aren't. Yet.)
But it's not just Billy being a somewhat rebellious, neglected kid joining a new family that will remind you of Ryan. Billy and Freddy's rapport is so much like Ryan and Seth's that it stood out to me long before Brody even appeared on screen as the superhero version of the latter. Freddy talks constantly and has an unending curiosity about Billy, and Billy responds with a particularly Ryan Atwood-y combination of annoyance, awe, sarcasm, and acceptance that is hard to put into words without using a whole bunch of them.
Billy goes on to beat up bullies to protect Freddy in a very "You know what I like about rich kids?" style. Billy and Freddy both have Season 1 Ryan and Seth hairstyles. Freddy is into "nerdy" things, like collecting superhero memorabilia, and Billy has deep parental abandonment issues that color the way he reacts to everything else in his life — the connections are all there! It makes you want Angel and Grazer to play Ryan and Seth in some sort of O.C. prequel... until you remember that, one, they're actually around the age Ryan and Seth were supposed to be during Season 1 (lol), and two, that Ryan and Seth wouldn't have known each other before that.
While the young versions of Freddy and Billy seem very Seth and Ryan-y, the older version of Billy throws The O.C. comparison off. Zachary Levi, who plays older Billy/Shazam, takes the character in a totally different direction than the one we initially get from Angel. Levi's Billy is loud, wacky, and over-the-top. He an extrovert who uses his powers for show and does goofy dances. (He's a Danny, basically). It's reasonable to think that becoming a superhero would help Billy come out of his shell to an extent, but this Billy is a totally different person right from his first appearance.
It's clear that DC and the studio wanted to go with a funnier, lighter DC superhero, and Billy Batson's origin story doesn't actually mesh well with that. As a result, we get the same character played in two very different ways: kid Billy as a frustrated, emotional teen with drier humor — which makes sense for his story — and adult Billy/Shazam as a silly caricature.
On the other hand, when we meet the older Freddy, his evolution makes sense, especially if you're an O.C. fan. The similarities in his personalities at different ages makes the difference between the two Billys stand out even more, and made me wish that somehow this movie could have been an O.C. reunion where Ben McKenzie (in character as Ryan Atwood, obviously) was cast as Shazam.
Of course, movies aren't generally cast based on dream TV reunions that will make a small portion of viewers happy. And McKenzie is already in the DC universe as Jim Gordon on Gotham, so it wouldn't really add up to have him there, even if it would have been awesome.
But, hey, you take what you can get, and it was pretty cool to see Brody show up after seeing what felt like a weird flashback version of Seth and Ryan for so much of the movie. If Grazer and Angel aren't already O.C. fans, maybe Brody got them into it. They should really check out their opposites-attract BFF predecessors.