Last weekend, San Diego hosted Comic-Con and the world braced itself for the juiciest little entertainment morsels that were about to spread rapidly across social media. From new comic book storylines, to television reboots, to blockbuster film trailers, there was plenty of buzz at the event – but it was one company that finally stole the show and really flexed its clout. For almost a decade, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been the talk of Comic-Con, unleashing mega-trailer after mega-trailer and dominating news from the event, but not this year. No, this year DC Comics unveiled the next step in its cinematic universe, a process that’s still not completely visible and constantly scrutinized by fans, but with just two new trailers, it’s apparent that the dawn of the DCEU is approaching.
In a post Justice League landscape, DC has the opportunity to forget various recent box office disappointments and instead focus on a clean slate, one that could potentially lay the groundwork for an unbelievable universe. While last year’s group film provided a fun development of the company’s classic icons, it introduced two new characters to the newfound universe, popular ones that will prove vital in the next step – Aquaman and the Flash. Both characters have standalone films in the works, on the heels of the abundant success of Wonder Woman, and Saturday fans were given their first glimpse of Aquaman, set to be released this December. Within just minutes, the trailer had thousands upon thousands of shares on social media, with an overwhelmingly positive response to the direction of the character – as well as the film’s villain.
Black Manta, perhaps Aquaman’s most well-known foe, appears in the trailer and in just a few seconds proves he’s a total badass, thanks to the character’s look and laser-shooting ability. A lot of that might be attributed to director James Wan. The Australian native, who has directed summer blockbusters such as Saw and Furious 7, has a background in horror films, developing various villainous characters, which means there’s a good chance the villain won’t get shortchanged here – and with up-and-coming actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II at the helm, it could be a dose of something fresh. Add in other Hollywood notables like Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, Djimon Hounsou and Dolph Lundgren and the recipe is there for potentially the DCEU’s best film since The Dark Knight.
It’s definitely evident from the trailer just how visually stunning Aquaman could be, with impressive underwater scenes that provide an immersive feel that does the original comic book subject matter justice. And do we really need to mention the film’s star, Jason Momoa, who did a bang-up job as Aquaman in his introductory role last year? He embodied a serious, but fun, portrayal of the character. And fun seemed to be the underlying theme at Comic-Con, as DC clearly turned down the serious tone audiences have become accustomed to seeing in recent films and turned up the fun. That was no more evident than what fans were treated to for the Shazam trailer.
To the surprise of many, the trailer for Shazam hit an absolute home run at Comic-Con and proved to be the biggest news over the course of the weekend – a little odd for a lesser-known comic book character. There were no imminent Earth-threatening dangers, no billionaires forced to save an entire city, just a teenager trapped in the body of a superhero – think Tom Hanks’ character in Big. Of course, Shazam – better known originally as Captain Marvel, prior to a lawsuit – is one of the most powerful characters throughout DC Comics but it’s clear that the character needs to figure all of that out. The trailer is just over two and a half minutes long but has several laughs built in, making it abundantly clear that, at least with this specific character, the DCEU is distancing itself from the Martha drama of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and focusing on the fun of Billy Batson’s freak experience that drives the character.
This departure, which is somewhat reminiscent to Ant-Man, could go a long way in providing audiences with something DC has used scarcely in its movies – comedy and amusement. Let’s not forget, these are comic books characters, meant to intrigue, entertain and escape. It doesn’t always have to be doom and gloom. That might just be why Zachary Levi could be the perfect choice to play the title character. With fans forthright about the skepticism of Levi – we certainly were – portraying Shazam after released set photos and interviews, that now seems to have subsided, at least until the film’s April 2019 release. The actor, best known for smaller roles like the title character in Chuck and Fandral in Thor: The Dark World, Levi has proven he can both act dramatically and be funny. Just from the trailer, it seems like he’s nailed the ability to act like a teenager while in the body of an almost 40-looking man.
The cast doesn’t exactly pop off of the IMDB page, however, which means Levi will have to carry the story, something that isn’t always easy in an origin film. Add in the fact that director David F. Sandberg has a limited resume and there are some potential reasons for worry – but, for some reason, we’re not. That could stem back to last year’s Wonder Woman and how it became clear that DC has the ability DC to make an engaging, fun and visually beautiful film when it comes to its marquee properties. Previously, it didn’t feel like the company was building towards anything or a major storyline – but that’s quickly beginning to change. And with a Wonder Woman sequel set to be released in late 2019 and both a Flash and Cyborg standalone project announced for 2020, the company seems to be planting its roots in a cinematic universe, rather than rushing one-off films just to have something hits theaters and compete with Marvel. What’s ahead, on the surface, appears to be on the right direction to success.
The underlying problem from the audience’s standpoint is that DC’s films have burned them in the past, making it difficult to spend hard earned cash to see these upcoming blockbusters in the theater. But from a glance, these films already look different – made with passion, patience and a formulaic undertone. The problem is that audiences see what the MCU is doing and compare everything DC does to it, despite the fact that the MCU is being executed with an almost flawless ability – an anomaly for a film franchise or group of franchises. (We’re guilty of it as well, as evidenced earlier in this feature.) DC has produced entertaining films that have been fairly rough around the edges and rather than take it on face value, the bulk of audiences would rather just complain about how it’s not Marvel. Let’s not forget, Marvel has faced the same kind of trial and error growing pains DC is currently experiencing following the success of The Dark Knight and Watchmen. Just look at the Ghost Rider franchises, Ang Lee’s vision of The Hulk, the X-Men Origins: Wolverine debacle, the Punisher: War Zone miss and the Fantastic Four films – some of which came in the time leading up to Iron Man in 2008, which was the start of MCU and the formation of the Avengers. Of course, not all of these were solely the brainchild of Marvel, with other studios owning much of the rights to the characters, but still, those films wound up falling flat.
History is meant to serve as a lesson and if what DC showed at Comic-Con this past weekend is any indication, there’s something brewing that will prove successful with audiences. The characters are in place, and seemed to be well received, but can the storylines – a flaw in several previous efforts – create the foundation for a powerhouse DCEU? We will soon find out.