San Diego Comic Con is the place of nerd spoilers and anticipation where news of all kind are announced, spoiled, discussed and released to the general public. Among the many highlights of that weekend, DC Comics released two trailers for the upcoming Aquaman and Shazam! films to great reaction from an audience who was starting to doubt the DC Cinematic Universe’s potential. With the exception of Wonder Woman, a majority of the recent films in the DC genre haven’t been getting the box office totals or critical reaction DC or Warner Brothers was anticipating which is a shame considering the vast universe of rich and fascinating characters within the DC Comics Universe itself. While the superhero film genre appears dominated by rival company Marvel Comics, Aquaman starring Jason Momoa reprising his role of Arthur Curry from Justice League or Shazam! with Zachary Levi starring as Billy Batson’s adult alter-ego suggest that DC Comics might have a few unexpected tricks that may shift momentum and interest back in their favor.
The Shazam! Trailer:
My first thought about this film is that the DC Universe needs this. Many of their films have opted for a gritty and consistently darker themed movie which have had a mixed reactions from fans who feel the unnecessary action scenes, inconsistent scripts and erratic portrayals of favorite characters contradict fans opinions of their beloved characters and give people unfamiliar with the comics poor introductions to the character. Shazam! also tackles magic which is something the modern superhero film genre has struggled to balance in the past. While films like Marvel’s Thor and Doctor Strange have successfully managed to introduce their characters with a good balance of magic, realism and humor there are moments that have fallen flat. The problem with magic is that once you explain a trick, it loses that wonder and appeal so thus when introducing a character who transforms by getting struck by a magic bolt of lightning, you gotta make it fun. When this film was announced, I was excited because Shazam or his previous name “Captain Marvel” was always a character that seemed eternally Silver Age in a modern world considering his back story and interactions with the DC Universe overall. A runaway is chosen by a magic Wizard to be his champion so whenever he says the magic word “ Shazam”, he transforms into an adult guardian gifted with mythological superpowers and the brain of a young adult. He protects his home in the fictional Fawcett City from a mix of mythical and science fiction foes while still dealing with the everyday struggles of life. Zachary Levi captures that childlike wonder and joy in his expression and his performance alone. Whether he’s testing his superpowers with his foster brother/best friend Freddy Freeman, a disabled young man played by Jack Dylan Grazer who could end up sharing Billy’s greatness, or realizing he has bullet immunity, I found myself laughing more than once during this trailer because it looks exciting and fun. The script is clearly taking some inspiration from the New 52 version of Shazam from the creative team of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank as seen by Billy Batson character played by Asher Angel and the appearance of Dr. Sivana played by Mark Strong. Dr. Sivana, one of Shazam’s oldest enemies, backstory has been changed from an older scientist to someone who also encountered the Wizard who gave Billy his powers but was denied the power. Dr. Sivana’s lifelong quest to achieve those powers in an effort to prove himself will bring him into collision with Shazam and possibly lead to the introduction of Black Adam in future movies to be portrayed by Dwayne Johnson. With the right mix of comedy, action, and comic book references this upcoming 2019 film could be the kind of lighthearted film to shine a light in this gloomy DC Universe.
Having met the man in real life, I have never had an issue with Jason Momoa’s performance as Aquaman and believed him to be one of the stronger characters portrayed in the Justice League. While Shazam! is a balance of comedy and action, Aquaman proves that comic book movies don’t have to be dark but that they can be serious in their direction and portrayal. Balancing solemn themes of war and responsibility with dashes of science fiction and comedy, Aquaman portrays Arthur Curry struggling to prevent a war between the surface people who threaten the ocean and the people of Atlantis who are eager to retaliate by force. Despite popularity in comics and television, some still remember the time when Aquaman and his powers were considered more comical and gimmicky instead of practical to the Justice League’s adventures. Taking inspiration from the New 52 version of the character and the “Throne of Atlantis” story-line, both products of writer Geoff Johns, we see more into Arthur’s backstory as a child of two worlds: a light keeper at Amnesty Bay and the Queen of Atlantis. We see him working together with Mera, a Xebel princess and Arthur’s loyal love interest, played by Amber Heard as he decides to accept his birthright in order to stop his half-brother Orm a.k.a Ocean Master played by Patrick Wilson from motivating the Seven Seas to war. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s portrayal of Black Manta says nothing but his appearance alone is not only accurate to the comics but adds even more anticipation to this impressive and eagerly anticipated cast. Director James Wan who did excellent work with Star Trek Beyond shows us both the beauty of Atlantis and the brutality of war as Orm and Arthur battle for the right to rule Atlantis as they see fit. While already entrenched in the DC universe, both films seem comfortable with minimal references to the current DC Cinematic Universe and that essential focus may benefit the film in the long run. Instead of a cameo from Batman or Superman, the film could focus on references or Easter eggs relevant to the character and flesh out this particular version of Aquaman, something that should have been done before the Justice League, not after. Momoa’s Arthur Curry knows when to let his actions speak for him but the script allows for some good one liners to break apart the serious moments instead of letting the high-intense action become clique or repetitive. With love, weird undersea creatures being either enemy or ally, intriguing cameos from veteran actors and the anticipated appearance of the classic orange and green Aquaman armor, this upcoming movie scheduled for December 2018 reminds us that while Aquaman does talk to fish, he is still King of the Ocean.
At this time, whenever we get excited about an upcoming DC movie we have this little voice in the back of our mind reminding us to remain objective and not to get too excited. Many have voiced criticism with the previous direction of the DC Cinematic Universe and I believe that these two forthcoming films show that DC Comics and Warner Brothers are listening and working towards a better universe that reflects the source material but isn’t afraid to take the characters in new and exciting directions. But this shouldn’t be seen as redemption, it’s not their attempt to be better than Marvel and even if it is, in the end these are just two movies that I can’t wait to sit down and enjoy with an audience of my peers. I’m excited and I want to see more and that is exactly what trailers are meant to do.