Photo: Marvel & DC
As per every superhero movie, somewhere in the dark depths of the earth, evil is always lurking. Out of the ashes of tragedy and despair, a hero must arise to fight the menacing presence. He must have strength. He must have resilience. He must have a witty catch phrase and a couple of dick jokes on hand just to be safe. I do love some wisecracking superheroes. I enjoy comic book movies indiscriminately but sometimes, we all need a break from the darkness of Wolverine or the gloominess (and crapiness) of Batman Vs. Superman. And it’s not just me, until Joker came out, Deadpool 2 was the highest grossing R-rated movie of all time. And Shazam! wasn’t too far behind grossing over $400 million box office.
I’ll be honest, I’m a bit biased here. Ryan Reynold’s Deadpool was the first comic book based movie I ever saw and it introduced me to the genre. For years, Deadpool was my go-to response when someone asked me my favorite movie. When I first saw ads for Shazam!, I was convinced that DC was just trying to make a PG-13 version of one of Marvel’s biggest successes. But then I actually saw Zachary Levi’s Shazam! and it was fantastic. It had so many elements that Deadpool lacked. We’ll get into that later.
First, some ground rules. I’ll be focusing on only the movie versions of these heroes in this article. As I have never read a comic book in my life, I feel like I couldn’t be a proper judge in that department. Second, if you agree with my final judgement, great. My word doesn’t represent the feelings of all the fans of these movies so don’t get too upset over the winner. Lastly, I’ll be focusing only on solo movies: Deadpool (2016), Deadpool 2 (2018), and Shazam! (2019). The characters portrayed as side characters such as in Wolverine: Origins as well as their depictions in video games and TV will not be factored in. Okay, now let’s take a look at our favorite comedians in capes!
Superhero Origin stories: the making of a bonafide badass
In the original Deadpool movie, we meet Wade Wilson. Wade is a mercenary who does dirty deeds for those who don’t have the stomach to do it themselves. The first time we see Wade before he is transformed into Deadpool, he helps a young woman get a stalker ex off her back. So, we know he’s a good guy. Then he falls madly in love with Vanessa, a prostitute with an unmatched sass level. Wade proposes to Vanessa only to shortly after learn that he has cancer. Desperate for a cure, he enlists in a program which claims it will cure him, behind Vanessa’s back. The program causes Wade to become so deformed that he’s afraid to let Vanessa see him ever again. However, it also gives him invincibility and a host of other, less defined powers. He vows to find the man who caused him to look like this, get him to fix his appearance, kill him, and reunite with Vanessa.
Billy Batson begins Shazam! as an average 14-year-old boy. Billy is a foster kid who has yet to find a stable home because of his tendency to run away. After defending his foster brother from bullies, he is transported to the Rock of Eternity where he meets the wizard Shazam. Shazam has been looking for a successor with a pure heart to pass on his powers to and he chooses Billy. Billy is then given a whole host of superpowers to defend the world from the forces of evil.
Deadpool’s origin story is interesting if not a bit cliché. It seems every superhero is fighting to protect or get back to the girl. The cancer is a relatable element in Deadpool’s origin. It makes him more human and gives him vulnerability which causes him to seek out the cure which will make him invulnerable. Shazam is vulnerable right from the beginning as an orphaned child. Most of the super-powered kids in superhero movies tend to be sidekicks so it’s cool to see a kid as the main hero, even if he turns into an adult when he becomes Shazam. So, with it’s much more original premise and vulnerable origins, the first point is awarded to Shazam!
Shazam 1 – Deadpool 0
Superhero’s Style of humor and does an R-rating make a difference?
When the first Deadpool came out, R-rated superhero movies were few and far between. They did exist, but they were seen as a risk because R-rated movies in general tend to draw in a smaller crowd. This is a problem if you’re making a superhero movie because they tend to cost more to make so they need to generate a higher profit. Yet Deadpool came out of the gate swinging and saying as many F-bombs as he wanted. Because of the R-rating, Deadpool is able to not only show more graphic violence but also have an edgier sense of humor. This goes a long way if you have sharp witted writers which Deadpool definitely had with Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, writers of Zombieland and creators of The Joe Schmoe Show on board. The self-awareness of the Deadpool franchise also gives it a leg up as it is able to make fun of itself as the inherent ridiculousness of a superhero movie plays out.
Shazam!’s humor is a bit more natural and realistic. Since it is rated PG-13, it’s not able to be as raunchy nor as edgy as Deadpool. This is not to say that it’s not a funny movie. Shazam! has a more naturalistic sense of humor. While in Deadpool, it seems like every character has taken at least a couple of improv classes, in Shazam! the dialogue feels like things real people who haven’t performed at Second City might say. All this to say, I laughed out loud every couple of minutes while watching Deadpool for the first time while it was only a handful of times during Shazam!. On top of that, the jokes have more of a staying power in Deadpool. I can recite TJ Millers whole “ugly avocado” monologue from heart while the only thing I can quote from Shazam! is, well, “Shazam!” I have to give this point to Deadpool.
Shazam 1 – Deadpool 1
Deadpool and Shazam have pretty awesome powers with one key difference: Deadpool can “L” anything.
Shazam gets his powers from a wizard who deems him worthy of having them. He is given the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Hercules. Also, I suppose it’s cool for a kid that he can buy beer once he changes into his super alter-ego. Deadpool gets his powers from a concentrate made from Wolverine’s DNA giving him similar powers to the hairiest of the X-Men.
Deadpool’s powers aren’t clearly defined but from what we see in the movie, he has superhuman strength, perfect aim, and the ability to recover from any wound. That last one is important. Deadpool is practically immortal because of his body’s ability to heal itself. We know Shazam can die because he comes very close to death several times in the movie. This leads to an interesting question: does the ability to die make a character better or worse?
Of course, the ability to die makes a character more vulnerable and more relatable. In that way, Shazam is a more human character. However, Deadpool’s inability to bite the dust adds an interesting layer to his character. In the beginning of Deadpool 2, Vanessa dies and Deadpool is sent into a deep depression. He tries to kill himself but can’t because of his powers. What’s the purpose of immortality if all the ones you love are going to die around you? This layer of complexity makes Deadpool more vulnerable and more human despite his immortality. That is so deep and depressing, I’m going to have to award this point to Deadpool.
Shazam 1 – Deadpool 2
Supporting cast: who has the more kickass superhero team
With every great Superman, there is a great Justice League behind him. Maybe that analogy doesn’t work because I’m pretty sure Superman and every member of the Justice League don’t have clones but the point still stands. A hero is only as good as his team. Shazam’s supporting team is the Marvel family, his foster siblings named Mary, Eugene, Pedro, Freddy, and Darla. They all only become superheroes in the final battle scene of the movie but they are characters in their normal human kids forms throughout the rest of the movie. Freddy is really the character that stands out because he is the only character who knows about Billy’s powers from the beginning and therefore, Freddy is able to help Billy train. The rest of the characters kind of blend in with each other. They have minor personality traits that set them apart but other than that, I couldn’t tell you how they are different as characters or the difference between each of their powers.
Deadpool’s supporting team by the end of the second movie is X-Force. X-Force in the movie is comprised of Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Cable, Colossus, Domino, Russel, and Yukio. The non-superpowered team members are Weasel, Dopinder, and Blind Al. Perhaps it’s helped by the incredibly diverse casting but it’s very easy to tell each member of this team apart. They all have very distinctive and hilarious personalities and each superpowered member has a unique power. Dopinder, for example, is lovable and sweet and also happens to want to be a contract killer. Negasonic Teenage Warhead is exactly like her name sounds, she’s a classic don’t-talk-to-me teenager who can blow herself up on command. Colossus has a strong moral compass and also is friggin huge. Sorry Shazam!, have to give this one to Deadpool.
Shazam 1 – Deadpool 3
Ajax (*cough cough* Francis) vs. Sivana- The battle of the baddies
I’m gonna leave Deadpool 2 out of this one and just focus on the original because first Cable’s the villain and then he joins Deadpool, then Russel’s the villain but he’s just a misunderstood kid… It’s easier to just focus on the original. Ajax is another super-human who got his powers from the Weapon X program. His powers are the inability to feel pain… and also the power to have an incredibly girly real name and a super alter ego name of a laundry detergent brand. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
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Ajax later is recruited by the Weapon X program and is the case manager for Wade Wilson. He’s responsible for torturing Wade until his powers are activated and causes the deformation of his face. We’re not supposed to care about his backstory, we just know he’s a mean dude and shares his namesake with a product that will make your clothes smell lemony fresh. Sivana was tested by the wizard to see if he was worthy of being the next Shazam when he was a kid and failed. He’s all butt-hurt about it so when he grows up, his only goal is to take revenge and acquire Shazam’s powers. He clearly has a much more fleshed out backstory than Ajax. Ajax’s lack of a backstory makes him seem more mysterious but unlike the Joker and his multiple-choice backstory, it doesn’t really add to his character. Point to Shazam!
Official score – Deadpool 3- Shazam 2
By Carrie Fishbane
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Carrie Fishbane is obsessed with all things comedy and loves to reflect on the impact of comedy on the world. Having spent thousands of hours studying literature, she also writes about the political impact of entertainment and the power movies and TV have to create social change. Hollywood Insider promotes ethics and substance in entertainment, which is exactly in line with Carrie’s perspective. Carrie’s favorite movies include Jojo Rabbit, Deadpool, and Inception and her favorite shows are Rick and Morty, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and The Office.