Shazam and the Hollywood Obsession with Backstory

So I watched the first 40 minutes of Shazam this weekend after dropping my son at another movie. My wife laughed at me. Which is fine. And I would have stayed longer, but the movie fell victim to a really annoying trend out in the Hollywood writing world: A growing obsession with backstory.

In that critical first chunk of the film, we’re subjected to multiple backstories. The primary villain. His monstrous sidekicks. A weird wizard. And, finally, the main character. His story is a good one, and it’s not delivered in a clunky fashion. It comes through in the natural flow of the main story. All those other backstories? It almost feels like the movie is telling us to wait, and be patient, it just needs to tell us one or two more things before the story can move forward. And so the story doesn’t move forward…and this fun little superhero flick feels weirdly slow.

Anyway, it’s not just Shazam. Black Panther was guilty of this at the start, but at least the filmmakers jammed their Wakandan cosmology crash course into a short timeframe. Wonder Woman had that weird, and weirdly long, bit on the gods. And Justice League treated us to a really long introduction to our primary villain that featured none of the heroes anyone went to the movie to see.

A nice counterexample is the first episode of the first season of Stranger Things. We get zero backstory. Everything just moves forward. Quickly. And yet as the story races ahead, we learn that Will’s dad, Lonnie, lives elsewhere, that Hopper lost his child, etc. Backstory emerges in the flow of the story, through natural conversations or scenes or turns in the plot. But the story is always moving.

Let’s have more of that, please.

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