If anyone had told me, when the DC Extended Universe first launched with 2013’s Man of Steel, that the franchise’s most critically successful films would end up being Wonder Woman, Aquaman and now Shazam!, I would have probably laughed at them. And yet, here we are, with Shazam! having proved that what people want the most of out of their superhero stories is a good time, a rollicking adventure tale, and a lot of heart. Shazam! has all three in spades.
Now, I’m not suggesting that every DCEU film needs to be as lighthearted and comedic as Shazam! is. That’s obviously not going to work for Matt Reeves’ The Batman, and not even really for Superman, should he ever get the next chapter he deserves. But having a lighthearted element within the framework of a superhero movie almost always makes it better.
A perfect example is Marvel Studios’ Captain America: Civil War; it’s a movie about two good friends nearly killing one another over ideological and personal differences. Subject-matter-wise, it’s as heavy as Batman V Superman. But the inclusions of Spider-Man and Ant-Man remind you that no matter what, this is still a superhero movie and therefore needs to be fun to watch. Shazam! could and should provide that example for the DCEU going forward.
Shazam! has moments that elicit real emotional reactions, along with scary moments that will traumatize younger kids (in a good way!) as their first “horror movie experience.” But no matter how intense things get, director David F. Sandberg injects enough humor at most times to keep the entire thing fun. The tone of Shazam! is perfect for a potential Flash movie, despite rumors that Ezra Miller wants to go in a darker direction. The potential Green Lantern Corps movie should perhaps not be as jokey as Shazam!, but we need to see a Green Lantern who has fun with the ring. (Just because the Ryan Reynolds version didn’t work doesn’t mean we need to go ultra-serious with that property either.)
And eventually, the Justice League will get another chance at bat. It’s simply too valuable a property to not get another shot. If Suicide Squad is getting rebooted as THE Suicide Squad with James Gunn at the helm, then Justice League deserves the same fate. But seeing how the end of Shazam! essentially had a team of superheroes taking on the bad guys in a fun and satisfying way, this is exactly how any future Justice League movie should play out. (With, perhaps, a somewhat bigger budget.) In fact, if DC wants to place David F. Sandberg at the helm of a “The Justice League,” or whatever they call it, sign me up.
And I am going to go on record as saying Zachary Levi’s Shazam should be font and center of the group this time. He should be awkwardly flirting with Wonder Woman, who has zero time for it (“So the Z in my name stands for Zeus. That’s your dad, right? We have so much in common.” Diana’s eye rolls should be massive.) He should annoy the piss out of the gruff Batman, much as the character did in the old Justice League International comics.
He should be insecure and competitive with the arguably faster and stronger Flash and Superman. And yet, as the “kid” on the team, he should be the beating heart at the center of it all, having a wide-eyed wonder at being included among the world’s greatest heroes. In any case, either by looking to the film for lessons on tone, or by actually using the character himself, Shazam! has provided a “how-to” book on where the DCEU should be headed in the next few years. Maybe all it took to “fix” the DCEU was one magic word.
Images: Warner Bros./New Line Cinema