The Potential of SHAZAM! for DC on Film Moving Forward by Trey Jackson


EDITOR’S NOTE: Opinions expressed by BATMAN ON FILM guest contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the site or the editor-in-chief…unless they do.

Imagine it’s early next year — winter leading into early spring of 2019 — and that the following things are true:

AQUAMAN was a hit with audiences and critics, an engaging story and a visual spectacle, and the character has shed his previously goofy image and cemented himself in the cultural consciousness.

Henry Cavill is locked in to a MAN OF STEEL sequel with a director (perhaps Chris McQuarrie?) and a script they believe in, and WB is fast-tracking it for release in late 2019 or early 2020.

Thanks to a teaser trailer attached to AQUAMAN and early buzz from insiders, the hype for WONDER WOMAN 1984 is ready to break out of fandom and into the mainstream, gearing up for a summer and fall of Wonder Woman not unlike Batmania.

And finally, Matt Reeves is ready to start talking a little bit more about what he has planned for Batman, including key casting decisions and what audiences can expect from the story.
Imagine all those things are true, and DC is on the cusp of turning the corner from JUSTICE LEAGUE-recovery mode to full steam ahead with a parade of hit solo movies. They’re ready drive the train forward, and they’re just trying to coax audiences to get on board with both feet.

And here comes SHAZAM! (or, to those who know him best, Captain Marvel).

Here comes a movie that features the following: two adolescent male characters, one of which is absolutely in love with this specific version of each of these heroes. And the other? A cynical, orphaned young man who doesn’t quite trust what’s being offered to him because of what he’s been through. He needs to be convinced.

RELATED: Yes, SHAZAM! is Part of the DC on Film Universe (and Makes it Less Special) by Bill “Jett” Ramey

Does this remind you of any real-world circumstances you might be living through? Are you starting to see what kind of opportunity WB has come April 2019?

Warner Bros. and DC get to present a movie that reminds fans what they love about these heroes, and fans get to experience it through the story of a new (to them) hero that is easily the most relatable one they’ve met in this universe. Imagine how much can that do to get audiences caring about them again, to get them looking forward to the future of these characters instead of dwelling on what hasn’t worked so far.

Jett and others here have advocated an “Amnesia-it” (or FRAISER-it, depending on your TV habits) approach, wherein DC movies forget about what’s happened and where they were headed before, and forge ahead with what’s worked and a new approach towards a better future.

ALSO READ: Trade Reports DC on Film Future at Warner Bros.

I think, in Freddy Freeman, we see the kind of love of heroes that DC movies should be cultivating. Unapologetic, enthusiastic, earnest, and sincere. Maybe, in Billy Batson, we see where DC fans are now with these movies, fans that have been burned and need help trusting what they’re being offered. Maybe, just as Freddy does for Billy, fans can learn to trust again, “Amnesia” what’s gone wrong before, and be reminded of why they love these heroes.

One point has already been raised that gives us pause, however. Jett’s concern about SHAZAM! not being quite as special due to its continuity with other DC movies is legitimate. And I agree, there is a qualitative difference. It’s a difference we all knew as kids, the one between dreaming about being a professional athlete and dreaming about flying up into the clouds. One is a rare feat that a few special people actually accomplish, the other is literally impossible. So the worry is worth considering: is getting a very rare wish fulfilled less special than getting an impossible one? And does the story suffer as a result of that difference? To that I can only defer to the creative team, and their decision to embrace the shared continuity. My hope is that they believe in the decisions they’ve made. And from the looks of the movie so far, I ‘m ready to believe in them too.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that SHAZAM! doesn’t exist just as PR for the future of DC on film. Even though it can excite audiences for the future, it will do so only because people can love Billy and Freddy and see themselves in them.

Captain Marvel has a long and storied history that absolutely deserved to be honored, regardless of how it might affect other properties. If the creative team for SHAZAM! can’t do the character justice without using the shared universe as a crutch to try and trick audiences into caring, then scrap the whole thing and get a new creative team that can.

Fortunately for everyone, we don’t have any reason to suspect that’s true. Making Freddy (and eventually Billy) huge fans of these heroes that exist in their world looks to be a deliberate story choice on the part of David F. Sandberg and crew. If they believe that this universe is a background that will enrich their story, kudos to them for sticking to their vision.

Bring on the collectibles, newspapers, t-shirts, and all the other elements of superhero fandom (even… dare I say… cameos? only if it serves the needs of this movie and this creative team wants to use them). We can be confident that none of that has to be forced or shoehorned, because the love of these heroes is authentic for Billy and Freddie. It’s who they are. And it’s a great way for Warner Bros. and DC to invite audiences to see these heroes the way they should be seen. – Trey Jackson