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Saturday August 24th 2019

Shazam! | 2019

Shazam filming location: Danforth Collegiate and Technical Institute, Greenwood Avenue, East Toronto
Shazam location: Billy Batson attends 'Fawcett Central': Danforth Collegiate and Technical Institute, Greenwood Avenue, East Toronto | Photograph: Wikimedia / SimonP

A winner for the DC Universe (even if Marvel ended up with the copyright to Captain Marvel – hence the Captain Sparklefingers jokes) poised somewhere between Superman and Big.

The original comic book was set in Fawcett City, but the film’s setting is clearly Philadelphia (complete with Rocky jokes) though, apart from a few establishing shots, it was filmed around Toronto, Ontario.

The opening montage takes in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with its famous flight of steps (which in truth does appear later in the film), and the statue of William Penn atop City Hall (which also, kind of, makes an appearance).

14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel), unhappily in and out of foster homes, is on a quest to find his birth mother, calling at a house on ‘Hoffman Street’, only to be disappointed again. The house is 21 Lyall Avenue at Water Street, Upper Beaches in East Toronto.

Billy’s school faithfully remains as ‘Fawcett Central’ when he eventually finds a home with a quirkily mixed group of step-siblings. The school is Danforth Collegiate and Technical Institute, 800 Greenwood Avenue, also East Toronto.

Defending his new brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), Billy gets chased into what appears to be the ‘Market-Frankford’ line of the Philadelphia SEPTA metro system, but which is Greenwood Station, a block east of the school on Strathmore Boulevard at Linnsmore Crescent.

Leaping onto a train, an unorthodox journey takes Billy to the palace of an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou) (the Toronto subway is apt to do that at times) who, desperate for help, offers Billy his powers to combat the Seven Deadly Sins which have been released into the world by the resentful Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).

The magic word (which I obviously cannot reveal) turns Billy into a rather uncomfortable caped hero (Zachary Levi) with mysterious but as yet undetermined powers.

The subway train safely returns him to ‘30th Street Station’ – though no longer as a boy. The subway interior is the currently disused Lower Bay Station.

Below the main platform of Toronto's Bay Station is an abandoned platform, Lower Bay, and the tracks leading to it, which are now used to allow filming in the subway without disrupting public service.

The station has been modified several times to make it look like a typical North American subway station. In fact, the TTC once had an elaborate pre-built set for converting it to a 'New York' station but this was torn down due to safety concerns. Other movies shot at Lower Bay include Suicide Squad, Guillermo Del Toro's Mimic, Johnny Mnemonic with Keanu Reeves, The Recruit, Bulletproof Monk and the 2012 remake of Total Recall.

Comic-geek Freddy is persuaded that the weird guy who turns up is Billy and together, they investigate whatever new powers he’s inherited in a vacant lot on O’Hara Place, off O'Hara Avenue in Parkdale, in front of that striking Bike Pirates mural, which doesn't mark the territory of a scary biker gang, but is the rear of bicycle repair shop Bike Pirates at 1416 Queen Street West.

One of the ‘superpowers’ they’re keen to exploit is that of an average adult to buy beer without ID. The grocery store, where Billy discovers he’s bullet-proof, and more importantly that beer tastes like vomit, is Busy Bee Food Mart, 524 Barton Street East, Hamilton, a few miles southwest of Toronto.

Perplexed, Superhero Billy and Freddy sit atop the ‘Rocky’ steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art looking down Benjamin Franklin Parkway toward Logan Square, wondering what their next move should be.

Fortunately, Billy discovers by chance that the word ‘Shazam’, which turned him into a hero, also returns him to his former state.

A major priority is to determine precisely what superpowers Billy has acquired. The deserted red-brick factory, where Freddy scrupulously records the results of Billy’s experiments, is the Hearn Generating Station, 440 Unwin Avenue in the Port Lands industrial area, southeast of downtown Toronto.

The gigantic, decommissioned electricity generating station has recently been used mainly as a location for TV shows and feature films, including Pacific Rim, the 2014 remake of Robocop, Red, and Resident Evil: Retribution.

Shazam filming location: Dynamic Funds Tower, Adelaide Street East, Toronto
Shazam location: Billy doesn't quite clear the building in a single bound: Dynamic Funds Tower, Adelaide Street East, Toronto | Photograph: Google Maps

More publicly, Billy is naturally tempted to leap a building in a single bound, but doesn’t quite make it over the Dynamic Funds Tower, 1 Adelaide Street East in the heart of Toronto.

Back in the real Philadelphia, while performing supertricks for petty cash atop the Museum of Art steps, a stray bolt of lightning sends a bus careering to the edge of an elevated freeway, where it dangles precariously, while Billy has to work out a rescue strategy.

Shazam filming location: Gardiner Expressway, Toronto
Shazam location: Rescuing the bus from the elevated freeway: Gardiner Expressway, Toronto| Photograph: Google Maps

The roadway is Gardiner Expressway alongside Fort York Boulevard, just to the south of Fort York National Historic Site, west of downtown Toronto. The curved glass frontage being passed off as the ‘Natural History Museum’ is the huge office block at 231 Fort York Boulevard.

The display of heroics attracts the attention of Sivana who realises he needs to destroy this threat to his power. The airborne battle between Billy and Sivana continues into the Woodbine Mall, 500 Rexdale Boulevard in Rexdale, which is about ten miles to the northwest, where the terrified Billy reverts to his younger self and disappears into the crowd.

Back in 1990, when this was the humble Woodbine Centre, it became the ‘New York’ shopping mall in Andrew Bergman’s mob comedy The Freshman, with Matthew Broderick and Marlon Brando (gamely sending up his Don Corleone character), which was also mostly filmed in Toronto.

Lessons learned, there’s a lump-in-the-throat moment as Billy and his siblings join forces to see off Sivana and his pesky Sins at ‘Chilladelphia’, the winter funfair. Sorry to disappoint. There is no such festival (what’s the betting there now will be?). The carnival was constructed from scratch – with functioning rides – on ground at the Fort York site.