Shazam! set the DCEU on a whole different path. Starring Asher Angel and Zachary Levi, Shazam! is probably the most entertaining film in the DCEU to date. It effortlessly blends light and dark, with a coming-of-age narrative that’s sure to touch viewers’ hearts. While the movie is releasing in a year packed with superhero blockbusters – it comes shortly after Captain Marvel, and will swiftly be followed by Hellboy and Avengers: Endgame – positive word-of-mouth means box office predictions are improving. It’s not expected to reach Aquaman levels, but it certainly looks as though Shazam! is another win for Warner Bros.
For years, the DCEU struggled with a narrative that it was in a perpetual state of crisis. In part that was a result of a longstanding PR problem, with a constant stream of leaks and few proper official announcements. Directors James Wan and David F. Sandberg corrected this with Aquaman and Shazam!, carefully controlling the release of information so their films didn’t get that fatal negative buzz. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. is clearly confident in the new trajectory of the DCEU; they have a packed slate running through to 2022, with no less than seven films in various stages of development – some still gestating, others filming now or in post-production.
Related: Every DC Movie Confirmed For After Shazam
So what does Shazam! tell viewers about the future shape of the DCEU? The DCEU has changed significantly ever since the release of 2017’s Justice League, but in a good way. The shared universe, along with separate DC movies, are growing rapidly. But where does it all go from here? It’s time to explore the story beats, and see just what Shazam! sets up.
- This Page: Shazam! Introduces Magic To The DCEU
- Page 2: Shazam! And The Justice League
- Page 3: The DCEU Stories After Shazam!
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has a strong basis in science, to the extent that Marvel consulted with quantum physicists when they were planning to integrate magic in Doctor Strange. In contrast, the DCEU has no such pretensions. Previous films had already established the existence of magic and gods – the Enchantress is a mystical villain in Suicide Squad, and the gods are an important part of Wonder Woman – but Shazam! decides it’s time to give magic a proper introduction. Billy Batson is whisked away to the Rock of Eternity, an other-dimensional plane that is said to be the source of magic. By the end of Shazam!, the Rock of Eternity – with all its attendant risks and hazards – has officially become the Shazam Family’s lair.
It looks as though, in the DCEU, anyone has the potential to do magic. Doctor Sivana deduced that the Rock of Eternity could be reached through seven uses of seven symbols, although granted at great risk. These runes seem to have tremendous power, and they’re presumably only the tip of the iceberg. Meanwhile, at the end of the film, Sivana is offered further secrets of magic by Mister Mind, a mysterious yet powerful caterpillar/worm creature. “You walking, talking monkeys with your cave drawings,” Mister Mind mocked. “You assume there’s only one way to gain magic. No, no, no.” He spoke ominously of the Seven Realms – a reference to the Seven Magiclands from the comics, each of which has their own brand of magic. All of these Realms are naturally linked to the Rock of Eternity, meaning the Shazam Family will surely be at the center of Mister Mind’s plans, and magic will continue to be developed in the DCEU.
Related: Shazam’s After-Credits Scenes Explained
Early DCEU films were famed for their troubled productions, with directors reportedly in a state of constant conflict with studio execs. That came to a head in Justice League, where the studio pushed for a very different version of the film to the one Zack Snyder had planned. When Snyder departed after a family tragedy, he was replaced by Joss Whedon, and the result was something of a Frankenstein’s Monster that had barely been stitched together into a coherent story.
Warner Bros. learned from their mistakes. They’re now allowing each director to make their own kind of film, one that perfectly suits their vision of the character and their world. Aquaman was so very characteristic of Wan – the horror director’s imprint is most notable during the thrilling scene featuring the Trench – while Shazam! is exactly what Sandberg wanted it to be. It doesn’t compromise its identity in order to fit into a shared universe; it’s allowed to be its own thing. This is so much the case that Shazam! doesn’t even feature the typical DCEU intro sequence; when questioned about this on Twitter, Sandberg noted that he wanted custom logos in the movie instead, and then admitted, “Also I forgot about that one.“
Related: There Are THREE Versions Of Justice League (Including The Snyder Cut): We Explain
It’s an approach lifted straight from the comics, where the best comic books allow a creative team to do their own thing. Some comics are aimed at young adults, others deal with more mature themes; some are dark and gritty, others are light and optimistic. Just as all these different styles coexist in the same comic book world, there’s no reason they can’t coexist in the same cinematic universe as well. As Shazam! producer Peter Safran explained, “every movie… should have the right tone for that particular character.” Looking forward, that explains why Warner Bros. is building a shared universe where Shazam! is as much part of the DCEU as Cathy Yan’s low-budget, R-rated Birds of Prey.
Page 2 of 3: Shazam! and the Justice League
Meanwhile, Shazam! shows a far more fun side to the Justice League. The early DCEU lifted themes from Alan Moore’s Watchmen, imagining a world where people reacted to superhumans with hate and fear. It all culminated in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, where half the world saw the Man of Steel as a Messiah and the other half envisioned him as a dangerous power that needed to be restrained. “We got lucky with Superman,” Amanda Waller reflected in Suicide Squad. “He shared our values. The next Superman might not.” Justifying the creation of the Suicide Squad, David Harbour’s Dexter Tolliver imagined a scenario where Superman ripped the roof off the White House and grabbed the President of the United States right out of the Oval Office. “Who would’ve stopped him,” he asked.
While these reactions are probably more realistic, they make for a world that’s frankly a lot darker and potentially a lot less fun. Shazam! marks the point where the DCEU has finally put that behind them; in Shazam!, superheroes are celebrities. Freddy dreams of being special and combs over superhero news clippings like a fan poring over the comics; he buys commemorative bullets that have bounced off Superman’s chest with a certificate of authenticity, just like a real-world fan managing to procure a rare piece of superhero memorabilia; and superhero merchandise is seen throughout the film. In one brilliant scene, Billy rushes through a toy shop, and tosses a Batman at Doctor Sivana. In the post-credits scene, Freddy points at his Aquaman T-shirt as evidence that talking to fish can be a useful superpower. To Freddy’s delight, when Billy joins him at school lunch “in costume,” he brings a friend with him – Superman.
Related: Shazam: Superman’s Cameo Explained
The world has embraced the Justice League, reacting to the superheroes in pretty much the same way we do in the real world. As Sandberg has previously said, the people in Shazam! (and the DCEU in general) have toys because that’s what real people do in the real world. It would only make sense to put that in Shazam! as well. In an amusingly meta touch, all the merchandise shown in the toy shop really exists; Warner Bros. put in tremendous effort to make sure they only showed action figures of characters already confirmed to be part of the DCEU.
On the subject of Superman, Shazam! uses the Man of Steel in a very different way – one that means his presence continually informs the film. Superman is essentially viewed as the ultimate superhero, an ideal for Billy to strive towards. Tellingly, when Freddy puts Billy through his paces in order to identify his powers, he first tries out all the abilities traditionally associated with Superman (even if he does substitute laser eyes for heat vision). There’s a sense of irony to this, of course; in the real world, superhero comics really began in 1938, when Superman appeared in Action Comics #1. Shazam! was originally created by DC’s rival Fawcett Comics as a sort of knock-off version of Superman; circulation editor Roscoe K. Fawcett famously commissioned his staff to”give me a Superman, only have his other identity be a 10-or 12-year-old boy rather than a man.” So it’s quite fitting for Billy to aspire to be like him.
For the DCEU, this is a brand new way in which to use the Man of Steel, and yet it seems so very appropriate. Superman barely needs to appear in a film in order to be important to it, simply because every other superhero is aware of him and vaguely wants to be him. It’s a combination of the nobility of his character, the extremity of his powers, and of course the fact that in the DCEU superheroes are now celebrities. The great thing is, in the short term, the DCEU can continue using Superman even if they don’t get Henry Cavill back; they just have to keep using that logo. It’s not a long-term solution, but it will work for now.
Page 3 of 3: The DCEU’s Future Stories After Shazam!
Shazam! isn’t expected to gross anywhere near Aquaman‘s $1 billion – it faces far too much competition for that – but frankly it doesn’t need to do so, given the film had a budget of just $90 million. That means Warner Bros. will almost certainly sign up to a sequel, and the villain has already been set up: Mister Mind. A mysterious, ruthlessly intelligent being who’s variously described as a caterpillar or a worm, Mister Mind has the power to manipulate others telepathically. He’s been described as having the body of a lowly worm, the conscience of a Hitler, and the brain of a genius. Because he’s hardly a physical powerhouse, Mister Mind prefers to find others to do his will, and is particularly associated with the Monster Society of Evil.
In a plot lifted straight from the New 52 Shazam! run in the comics, Mister Mind was introduced in Shazam!‘s opening sequence, which showed a brief glimpse of a worm-like creature in a glass jar. The jar was broken open when Sivana broke into the Rock of Eternity and freed the Seven Sins, and the creature within was finally seen approaching the defeated Sivana in his cell. Mister Mind clearly intends to use Sivana as his pawn in the sequel.
Related: Everything We Know About Shazam 2
Mister Mind also dropped a reference to the Seven Realms. In the comics, these are the Seven Magiclands, all of which are accessible through the Rock of Eternity. Interestingly, one of these Magiclands is the Wildlands, a realm inhabited by sentient creatures; recent comics have hinted that Mister Mind himself originates from the Wildlands, rather than Venus as suggested by previous comics.
Meanwhile, it has to be noted that DC has stopped killing off their villains. Traditionally, superhero films have tended to end with the villains dying; sometimes because the hero chose to kill them, sometimes due to their own mistakes, and sometimes because the hero simply didn’t choose to save them. But, while that approach works for standalone movies, it doesn’t really help establish a firm foundation for a shared universe. The best villains leave a good impression, but then are gone for good, never to be used again. Recent DCEU movies have stopped doing that, though, and a growing number of key supervillains are now at large in the DCEU; Lex Luthor, the Joker, Black Manta, Orm, and now Sivana.
Warner Bros. had originally planned to build towards a Legion of Doom plot, with various villains teaming together in order to take down the heroes. When Walter Hamada was placed in charge of the DCEU last year, there were reports that these plans had been pushed back; Hamada is focused on making each movie/franchise successful and will then start to think about a crossover once that happens. But that means the Legion of Doom is potentially only delayed, rather than cancelled altogether. Keeping key villains alive is a key step towards making that Legion a reality in a potential Justice League 2, several years down the line.
On the subject of villains, Shazam! explicitly references Black Adam, the historic Champion who went bad. Dwayne Johnson has long been signed up to play Black Adam in a future DC movie, although there’s been no news about this project for over a year. Hopefully Shazam! will perform well enough for Warner Bros. to green-light a spinoff as well as a sequel.
More: Shazam! Every Easter Egg & Secret DC Reference