Shazam! and the State of the DC Extended Universe

The DC Extended Universe (DCEU), headed by the Warner Bros. film corporation, has always been behind their bitter rival, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), for quite some time. Since their debut movie, Man of Steel, back in 2013, they produced a number of films that have ranged from good to bad. Unfortunately, they never really found their groove, while the MCU released blockbuster after blockbuster.

Fast forward to 2019, and the lack of proper planning and rushed projects in the DCEU still persist. The MCU already seems like the clear winners in this game of catch up. But has Shazam! become a turning point for the DCEU to catch up to their greatly successful rival in the MCU?

Shazam!: The New Hero of the DC Extended Universe

Sandwiched between two colossal Marvel Films, Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame, Shazam! flew a bit under the radar. The DCEU’s current offering was tasked to emulate the same box office success as its Marvel counterpart. Shazam! was put in a tough spot. Justice League and Aquaman were met with mediocre reviews and having these precede a lesser known hero in Shazam, few would have expected it to outshine it’s big name counterparts.

Revolving around an orphan named Billy Batson, he was granted the power of Shazam without much training. A child’s mind in the body of a superhero with powers that rival Superman’s, he was tasked to protect others while fighting through his own inexperience. A new take on a superhero movie from DC, Shazam! moved away from the dark tone of Batman v Superman, showed the bright side of things that the serious Wonder Woman didn’t delve into, and utilized the well-placed humor and immaturity expected of a superhero with a mind of a child—something that Justice League and Aquaman failed to implement smoothly.

It was this breath of fresh air that garnered near perfect reviews from critics and audience alike. In Shazam!, DC is showing that they aren’t going down without a fight.

What Warner Bros. did right

As director of Shazam!, David Sandberg isn’t quite a household name, but bringing out movies like Annabelle: Creation and Lights Out shows his experience in the movie industry. His recent works have revolved around the horror and thriller genres, so moving on to directing a PG-rated superhero movie raised some eyebrows. It was a gamble, to say the least.

Hiring Sandberg, who had no previous experience in superhero film, looked like a recipe for disaster. He was handed the responsibility of not being overshadowed by the MCU, and he did so with style. Garnering more than positive reviews, David Sandberg brought about what might have been the best movie the DCEU has ever offered, matching the box office hit Wonder Woman. He was an unorthodox choice to lead the directing role for the movie, and the studio took another gamble basing a movie on a lesser known hero from the Justice League founding members. It paid off, and this method could be a way to jumpstart their push for box office success, but could it be too little, too late?

The Inevitable State of Things

Despite Shazam! garnering good feedback from audiences, its box office earnings—contrasted with Captain Marvel’s over one billion earnings—might not give that impression. At this point in time, these results are expected. The hit and miss (more of miss) nature of the DCEU created a mindset that great movies like Wonder Woman are but rare occurrences. Marvel has time and time again produced above average movies that made its most recent flop, Thor: The Dark World, seem like it happened decades ago.

This consistency is what built the highly capable repertoire that the MCU boasts. Compared to the recent Avengers: Endgame, the DCEU is still in its infancy stage—an experimental stage at that. They still have a lot to do before they stand a chance against their rival, but Shazam! could be the start of its rise in the industry. The DCEU seem to be planning a good storyline, but less than favorable initial movies provide a rather wonky foundation for them to build future movies on. The MCU has been dominant from the get-go, with 2008’s Iron Man the first of what would be a defining decade for the superhero film industry.

The mid-filming story shift of Justice League from Zack Snyder’s vision created a movie with a plot that didn’t really go anywhere. Failing to tie down stars like Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck into concrete contracts further indicated the internal havoc within the DCEU and lack of an ambitious goal that the MCU expertly planned out from the start. Shazam! may have presented them a glimmer of hope, but there seems to be no turning back in their quest to remedy the incurable situation.

Is There Still Hope?

Sometimes it is necessary to start over, and with better planning, the DCEU could climb back up. The MCU has just come off its biggest movie ever, ending its 11-year long journey in becoming the best of the best. There may not be another superhero movie to top Avengers: Endgame, so restarting the DC timeline after the MCU’s highest point could give them some breathing room without more ambitious and colossal movies breathing down their necks.
I have been reading comics from both sides my entire life, and seeing one dominate the other is not something I, as a comic book fan, want to see. DC and Marvel have been going toe to toe for decades, and seeing both succeed in the box office is the collective dream of comic book fans around the world. Shazam! has become a glimmer of hope in having DC’s films match the glory days of their comics, and they can build off that. Starting with a new, more steady foundation, I would be excited to have a calendar full of blockbuster hits from both comic book juggernauts in the future.

William Ong

By William Ong

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