The DC Extended Universe has had a rough go of things. Where their Marvel counterparts seem to be constantly met with high box office and critical praise, the DC universe movies have been consistently mocked. From complaints about how long time characters were not written correctly to confusion from the studio itself about what is and is not cannon, DC films have fought an uphill battle. Shazam! seems to be a different direction for the DCEU, but is that a good thing?
The first thing audiences will notice about Shazam! is the tone and atmosphere. DC movies have tended to be dark depressing affairs. This has lead to confusion from audiences. It has also been the source of much criticism. Characters are seen as too brooding while dialogue can be silly. Shazam! has a much more laid back feeling that fits the movie perfectly. Gone are the edgy lines that filled previous DECU efforts. Instead, there is a sense of wonder and fun.
Shazam! does away with a darkened settings. Gone are the muted colors of the Superman and Justice League films. (Batman is known for his gothic setting and gets a pass.) It is not a coincidence that the best received the DC universe film is the well lit Wonder Woman. This is not to say that lighting makes or breaks a film, however bad lighting in a movie that already has problems does not help anything.
This does not mean Shazam! is filled with sunlight and bright colors. There are plenty of grey skies and darker settings. The difference is the lighting works with the tone of the story. This is not a film that is dark for the sake of being dark. Shazam himself may have a brightly colored costume, but when the action moves to a cave the scene is appropriately darker.
Performances are very important in a superhero movie. They do not necessarily have to be award worthy, but they do have to engage the audience. The actor on the screen has to convincingly get across they are a hero. Zachary Levi is great in his performance as the titular hero. Levi is charming, funny, and brave. He is one of the easiest heroes to get behind in recent memory.
The rest of the cast also do well. Mark Strong is amazing as the villainous Thaddeus Sivana. He is menacing without a hint of sympathy. He is the perfect comic book villain. The supporting cast also add to the film. This is most obvious in the film’s many comedic scenes. As a rule, superheroes say corny things. In Shazam! the jokes are delivered perfectly. The movie borrows from the Marvel Cinematic Universe formula while putting its own spin on things and does a great job.
Special effects have become increasingly important in superhero films. The MCU has set the bar with some incredible releases. They have also shown while it is not necessary to outdo every movie, it is important to live up to that standard. The special effects in Shazam! will not blow anyone way, but what it has looks great. There are also some creature designs that would make some horror movies blush.
What does this mean for the DC Extended Universe? It is hard to say since you never seem to know what is and is not cannon. It is certainly a great template for future movies. It will also leave the audiences wanting more Shazam! movies. Time will tell whether the DECU will be able to live up to the challenge, but Shazam! has left its mark.