One of the biggest talking points coming out of 2018 San Diego Comic Con was the first trailer for the upcoming DC Comics’ Shazam! Movie, starring Zachary Levi as the iconic superhero. The film, which bears a heavy resemblance to 2013 comic book by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, sees teenage orphan Billy Batson infused with the powers of six immortal elders, turning him into an incredible superhero, while still maintaining the mind of a 14 year old boy.
I’ve been a big supporter of this project since the very beginning, I fell in love with the Shazam! character during Johns’ aforementioned reinvention as part of the New 52 relaunch, and felt that this was a character long overdue for a cinematic endeavour. Created in 1939 by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck for Fawcett Comics, the former Captain Marvel has been a comic book mainstay for generations (whether as the face of Fawcett Comics during the Golden Age, or a major player at DC Comics, after the company licensed the rights from Fawcett after a lengthy legal battle), and brings with him a unique sensibility: the pure-of-heart youthful optimism of Spider-Man mixed with the larger-than-life heroism of Superman, with a tinge of the beloved Tom Hanks comedy Big thrown in for good measure.
And while it’s clear that Shazam! has been a character in need of a live action feature in the DC cinematic franchise, I think that Warner Bros and DC might need Shazam! just as much, if not more. It’s hardly a groundbreaking revelation for me to say that DC’s cinematic universe is hardly in the place they expected it to be, and with the poor reception to 2017’s Justice League (a film originally devised to be the official ‘coming out party’ of this shared universe), it’s caused those behind the scenes at Warner Bros. to reevaluate and rethink their strategy.
While the success of Wonder Woman’s solo film early last year means that the character will be able to succeed on her own, without much crossover with the rest of the wider universe, the future of the former-DCEU is still unclear. The recent trailer for Aquaman shows promise, the Joaquin Phoenix-led Joker film has many people excited, and while the futures of Batman and Superman remain in doubt, we’re truly never that far away from either hero showing up on screen; but out of all of these projects, it’s Shazam! that fascinates me the most.
As I mentioned earlier, this has been a film long in development, actually predating the DCEU and 2013’s Man of Steel. WB’s subsidiary New Line Cinema had attempted to make a Shazam! movie since the mid 2000s, at one point hiring Get Smart and 50 First Dates director, Peter Segal to direct the film, from a screenplay by Charlie’s Angels screenwriter, John August, before scrapping it after the success of The Dark Knight in 2008, alongside the commercial failure of the studio’s more family-friendly Speed Racer that same year.
However, now has never been a better time for Warner Bros. to attempt this project. The identity of DC’s films is set to change in the upcoming years, in order to rectify the negative perception gained towards them after the mixed reception to the films leading up to Justice League, and Shazam, a film so far removed from the style of those movies could do a great deal to demonstrate this change.
This isn’t so much a statement on visual style either, but more so on the heart of the movie, and what the movie attempts to do. Sure, Shazam! appears to be more light-hearted and jovial than the pre-Justice League series, but tone isn’t what defines a movie. Where I think Shazam! could succeed is with its heart; the personal dynamics and relationships which can make or break a film, and make you as an audience care and relate to its character. I’d argue that DC’s problem has been more to do with the failure to define its characters in a significant way. The only franchise which appears to have garnered a genuine connection between its protagonist and the audience so far is Wonder Woman, and this is a vital element for building a successful series of films: create iterations of characters that the audience has a genuine affinity for, and build off that good will to expand further.
Additionally, the new direction of the DC film series appears to be based on telling self-contained stories, with lesser focus on interconnectivity and world-building (when not necessary for the story of that particular film). We’ll see for sure to what extent Warner Bros. stays true to this notion in Aquaman, being the first film released and set after Justice League; but regardless, Shazam! does feel like it’s outside of the entire DCEU, and it’s own project entirely. As mentioned earlier, this has the benefit of not feeling the stigma associated with the previous movies in the series, but it also enables Shazam! to set the template of what to expect from a DC film moving forward.
I have high hopes for the Shazam! film, and the future of the DC film series as a whole. While they’re yet to truly find their feet in any sustainable way, I’ve always believed that the essential pieces to a great series is there, the studio just has to learn how to properly piece it together.
Shazam! could be the key to this: it’s a new property to the big screen, and it’s bold that WB are moving ahead with films such as this and Aquaman instead of immediately returning to the well of Batman and Superman projects, and if it manages to hit the markers I determined at the start of the video (the relatability of Spider-Man, the heroism of Superman, with the endearing charm of Big), it could make for an extremely special movie, one which could start to change the perception of a DC film, and be the unlikely hero this franchise needs going forwards.
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