Shazam! is only a couple weeks away from release, but the reviews have started coming in already. After last year’s Aquaman, Shazam! is getting received positively by critics and audiences alike. With a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film is proof that the folks over at Warner Bros. know how to course correct their franchise. But, with the Zachary Levy-starrer embracing a more light-hearted approach, will the rest of the DCEU do the same?
The DC Extended Universe started in 2013 with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, but the franchise didn’t become a “cinematic universe” until 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. And then, things started to take a turn for the worse. The film received negative reviews from critics who started to doubt the roadmap that Warner Bros. was laying for the franchise. The following year, we got Wonder Woman & Justice League, two films which couldn’t be further apart in terms of vision, originality and audience response. Patty Jenkin’s film on Diana Prince got rave reviews, and Snyder’s Justice League was seen as a massive failure.
This prompted Warner Bros. to take drastic actions to ensure the safety of their future offerings, and so far it seems like it paid off. 2018’s Aquaman was noted for its departure from the grim and dark tone that the previous films had. James Wan, the director, instead chose to embrace the color and camp from the comics, and now with Shazam!, it seems like David F. Sandberg (the director) has done the same.
“We all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In Billy Batson’s case, by shouting out one word—SHAZAM!—this streetwise 14-year-old foster kid can turn into the adult Super Hero Shazam… a kid at heart—inside a ripped, godlike body—Shazam revels in this adult version of himself by doing what any teen would do with superpowers: have fun with them!”
With a synopsis like that, Shazam! was bound to have a more light-hearted approach to its superhero. If the trailers are any indication, the film is chock-full of humor and heart, something that Snyder’s films only hinted at. WB seems to have taken the “character-first” approach to their stories. With these new superheroes, the studio now knows that they don’t need a movie with Batman or Superman in the title to sell it. It’s these original stories which sell the character, and consequently, the brand.
It’s perhaps why we’re getting the solo-Batman movie so late, with a new lead nevertheless. WB knows that the key to a successful franchise is to treat every film as its own. This is also why they’ve been moving away from establishing this cinematic universe, by focusing on stand-alone stories which may or may not take place in the DCEU. This results in a new hybrid universe, where the events of one movie won’t necessarily affect the others. Just take a look at the upcoming Joker movie with Joaquin Phoenix, which is set in a completely different continuity from the one with Leto.
After Shazam! the DCEU, or rather the Worlds of DC will see the release of Wonder Woman 1984 and Birds of Prey next year. Let’s hope that their winning streak continues, as better movies from both DC and Marvel will ensure a healthy competetion. The winners of this rivalry? Us, the fans.