The DC live-action universe has had a rocky life in theaters, full of very high highs and disastrous lows. Luckily for Warner Bros., things seem to be on the upswing after the poor critical and box office performance of Justice League. DC is still surfing on the high of Aquaman's success, and anticipation is at a fever pitch for David F. Sandberg's upcoming blockbuster Shazam!
Shazam! will hit theaters in a matter of days, bringing the dual-personal title character into live-action for the first time. The movie's tone is in stark juxtaposition to Zack Snyder's bleak dramas that started the universe. But according to Shazam! producer Peter Safran, that doesn't mean that the DCEU won't have dark and gritty installments. As he tells it:
I think that DC has the same idea we do now, which is every movie that they make should have the right tone for that particular character. Shazam is such a fun character. He is all about wish fulfillment. He is fun and funny, and that is the tone that you should have for the film. Aquaman has got a tone, fantastical element. Shazam! is fun and funny. Wonder Woman’s got her thing. I think they realize each tone has to be specific for each movie.
Rather than trying to make one uniform movie, it looks like the DC universe will continue giving more power to the directors. As such, a dark movie will happen as soon as the story and characters call for it.
Peter Safran's comments IGN are sure to be a relief to DC fans who enjoy all the darkness its stories have to offer. While Shazam! is light hearted, there's been tragic stories for many of the characters on the page. Especially Batman, whose origin in based in trauma and childhood loss. The Dark Knight and others simply need to be dark, and have a ton unlike the two most recent releases.
In the same interview from Shazam!'s red carpet, Peter Safrin directly addressed Batman and Todd Phillips' Joker, which is expected to be a dark drama focused on a mentally ill villain. Safrin expanded his thoughts, saying:
Listen, there are certain characters like Batman, like the Joker, that dark tone is perfect for them. It’s what you really want to see.
So while Billy Batson and Freddy may have their childhood games in Shazam!, we shouldn't expect the entire DC Universe to go family friendly. There are projects coming down the pipeline which should have their share of dark material, so the studio is going to have to flip between vastly different projects. In addition to Joker and The Batman, Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn) should utilize a mixture of drama and comedy. There's also Wonder Woman 1984 to look forward to, although that Patty Jenkins has up her sleeve for the sequel is anyone's guess.
Shazam! will bring something unique to not only the DC universe, but the superhero genre as a whole. Still functioning as an origin story, the blockbuster will follow 14 year-old Billy Batson as he's given amazing powers from a magical wizard. By saying the word "Shazam", Billy transforms into an adult sized superhero, capable of flight, super strength, and electricity manipulation. But since Billy doesn't know much about superheroes, his foster brother Freddy will step in to guide him toward his destiny.
This marks the first time that a modern superhero focus on the perspective of kids. In cinematic universes, there are tons of us regular folks who are living in a superheroic world. Children have a specific experience; for instance, Billy's friend Freddy is a superfan. Freddy has been following the events of movies like Batman v Superman and Justice League, so he'll be able to help Billy become Shazam.
Shazam! look it's going to be a super fun big screen adventure, and it's early reception has been positive. But moviegoers are still going to want dark and gritty installments later in the DC universe. Aquaman might have focused on family drama and a Game of Thrones-esque struggle for underwater power, but James Wan's blockbuster wasn't especially dark.
Darker subject material and tone will no doubt accompany Todd Phillips' Joker, which isn't going to be connected to the rest of the DC universe. Phillips will give the iconic Batman villain an origin story, and explain how a clown became Gotham's biggest threat. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, the project is expected to be decidedly darker than the most recent installments in the shared universe.
On the same page, Matt Reeves' The Batman should have some darkness to it. Gotham's Protector is usually surrounded by loss and murder, and the developing blockbuster will reportedly include a few members of Batman's rogue gallery. The project will follow a younger version of Bruce Wayne, and focus on Batman's top notch detective skills. This is a new approach to the character onscreen, so let's also hope there's the proper amount of darkness in the movie.
Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) should be an interesting movie, as it'll walk the line between serious mob drama and quirky action romp. Cathy Yan's upcoming blockbuster will once again focus on the denizens of Gotham City, including the villainous Black Mask and Bat-family member Huntress. The movie is also a spinoff for Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn, who debuted in Suicide Squad. Harley's inclusion obviously means there will be plenty of comedic beats in Birds of Prey, but the characters that make up the ensemble have tragic and violent pasts. Plus, Black Mask is known as a ruthless mob boss in Gotham.
There will be plenty of room for darkness in the future of the DC live-action universe in the future. For now, fans can celebrate that the studio seems to have finally found its footing, and is producing a variety of exciting projects. And with Shazam! flying into theaters in just days, we may have another DC success story on our hands. And that's in no small part due to its unique tone.
Shazam! will arrive in theaters on April 5th. In the meantime, check out our 2019 release list to plan your next trip to the movies.