The DCEU came to San Diego Comic Con armed with new trailers, but the one that really stands out is Warner Bros. and New Line’s upcoming Shazam! movie. The reason is simple: DC has finally made a comic book movie for kids, starring kids. This shouldn’t be a revolutionary concept, as comic books were invented as a product for children, but in today’s pop cultural landscape it’s a breath of fresh air from the gloom and doom we’ve come to associate with DCEU films.
The trailer introduces us to Billy Batson, a foster kid trying to find his place with his new foster family and new school. After defending his foster brother from bullies, he is imbued with the power of Shazam, and upon saying the magic word, he turns into a grown up superhero, played by an endearingly goofy Zachary Levi (Chuck). The film, directed by David F. Sandberg (Annabelle: Creation), has elements of Raimi’s Spiderman mashed up with Big, and that’s a pretty charming combo. Also, jokes. A DCEU movie with jokes, finally!
With the tenth anniversary of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, many critics have delved into the massive influence that Dark Knight trilogy had on popular culture and comic book cinema. Our own Princess Weekes discussed the anniversary, calling the film “the best and worst thing to happen to superhero movies.” While Nolan’s trilogy was both critically and financially successful, it defined the DCEU’s tone and palette with diminishing returns.
When Warner Bros. sought to create their own franchise in the vein of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they took inspiration straight from the Nolan playbook. With Zack Snyder as the creative leader, they churned out Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Justice League. While the films shared the gritty reality and desaturated color of Nolan’s trilogy, they lacked the thematic resonance and political allegory that made the series iconic. Dark and gritty doesn’t automatically grant a movie depth and complexity.
Furthermore, by taking this strictly “adult” tone, the DCEU alienated a major share of their audience: children and families. The reason that so-called tentpole movies work is that they appeal to all four quadrants of movie-goers. Only Wonder Woman, with its upbeat messaging and family-friendly heroics, managed to break out of Snyder’s mold, achieving massive success.
Shazam! finally gives us a DCEU movie that kids and their parents can enjoy. More importantly, Billy Batson is a kid himself, giving young audiences a hero to identify with and root for. Here’s hoping that Shazam! delivers on the upbeat promise of its delightful trailer.
(via The Verge, image: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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