Shazam! Fury of the Gods reiterates why the DCEU needs James Gunn

Opening March 17, 2023, Shazam! Fury of the Gods is a holdover from DCEU’s previous creative direction and release roadmap. The Batgirl movie was already in limbo and was cut altogether, although newly-crowned Oscar winner Brendan Fraser was set to play the main villain, Firefly. Issues with the Batgirl film highlight ongoing issues with the DCEU as a whole that will impact every film until new DC Studios co-CEO James Gunn officially takes over and transitions from the DCEU to the rebranded DCU.

Shazam 2 cannot salvage or correct many of these flaws or weaknesses, as its development came long before a commitment to a new vision and overall direction. The end credit scene with Mister Mind from the first Shazam has to remain a non-paying tease, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson entering that story world doesn’t happen. For this reason and more Shazam! Fury of the Gods reiterates why the DCEU needs James Gunn.

A unified, long-term vision means better characters and stories

Zachary Levi as Shazam
Image Credit: DC Studios and DC Comics

DCEU’s biggest mistake is catching up with the MCU, especially without planning character development and storylines in advance. MCU movies and TV are currently suffering from creative development lag of their own; In other words, characters and their stories have nowhere to go, and now, ironically, they’re making impressions of characters in the universe (caricatures even of themselves).

What does this mean for Shazam 2? That means the DCEU was already behind and Shazam 2’s retreaded tropes were already falling. It might be easy to dismiss it as superhero fatigue, but audiences are just fed up with the same superhero movie being told and retold in the same way. Post-Endgame, Marvel Phase 4 is moving forward without advancing – things are happening, but what does that mean for the direction it’s going? Superman and now Wonder Woman appear in Shazam continuity, which is cool to see, but it’s hard to believe that story seeds are being planted and not cameos for cameos’ sake.

Henry Cavill is out, and it’s hard to tell if Gal Gadot will reprise her role in the Paradise Lost continuity under Gunn, but a unified vision for the future means cameos and Easter eggs have purpose and payoff. Hiring Gunn to create a comprehensive eight to ten year roadmap for the re-dubbed DCU films and television shows ensures long term booking actions. It just can’t follow the same plot routine. In short, this means better character and story development to combat so-called superhero (sequel) fatigue.

Trust creators to be creatively unique and special

In outlining his Gods and Monsters phase, James Gunn noted and emphasized that directors and writers are allowed to bring their own unique visions to their projects. That’s no surprise considering he’s a director who understands how damaging, or just plain annoying, it is for studio executives to disrupt or ruin a director’s vision.

No matter where you land in the Snyderverse debate, everyone agrees that drama has been created, and creatively, moving forward has been far from smooth. Allowing the directors to bring their own aesthetic style while staying under the same banner gives each film its own unique appeal; whereas watching Shazam! The action sequences of Fury of the Gods look very similar to the city destruction seen in previous DCEU films so far.

Each project lead benefits from creative freedom, and it is expected that each will approve the script and have a significant say in the casting. If Gunn allows them to control their own projects, DCU films can move away from the generic faceless CGI hoards and giant beam finales. Also, it will be more common to cast Gems like Michael Rooker than Yondu, as opposed to the standard or uninspired cast of actors who are popular or hailed from the Warner Bros. Studio stable.

Hopefully the tone and aesthetic of each franchise will differ from the next. The MCU has hit a wall in this regard: Most of the characters are smartasses who don’t sell anything to villains that makes them non-threatening and even goofy. Can you picture a know-it-all teenage superhero dumbing down a defenseless Thanos who can’t joke fast enough? Not to say everything has to be engraved at Batman level, but every hero can’t be a fool making a joke out of every villain.

Start a solo franchise and THEN Build to the team-up movie

Zachary Levi as Shazam with Shazam Family
Image Credit: DC Studios and DC Comics

A long-term story roadmap and directors with creative freedom allows the DCU to get back to basics, like writing well-rounded characters that fans care about (hopefully flawed and nuanced). This issue isn’t exclusive to DCEU, as the MCU is being affected just as badly, if not worse. The MCU has strayed from those story basics, while the DCEU has never exactly had it.

Dubbed the smartest person in this universe, Tony Stark fought film after film to develop the Iron Man technology and failed, made mistakes and caused conflicts with others. Now compare that to Ironheart taking over the mantle in about fifteen minutes of screen time and just like that showing expert-level competence, no problem. A great premise for the Ironheart Disney+ series took place off-screen and then resolves as the D-Story of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. How are viewers supposed to get excited about the series afterwards?

Bringing this back to Shazam and the DCEU should have been a slow burn to finally strengthen the Shazam family. It’s a great scene and action sequence in part one but should have been saved for the sequel. There is nothing to expect. Fans have already seen the family gain their powers and wield them with automatic ease in the first installment. So where’s the danger for part two when there’s a whole family of enchanted expert superheroes?

Under James Gunn, the coming together and conflict between teammates IS the story and not just a rushed story device. Each character needs to be built so that the eventual team-up means something special. There has to be anticipation and even doubt to make it truly effective. Why else care so much?

James Gunn: “Storytelling is always king”

James Gunn at Comic-Con International 2022: San Diego
Image Credit: Daniel Knighton/Getty Images

This isn’t a knock on Shazam! Fury of the Gods itself, but it’s a prime example of why the DCEU needs James Gunn. With his MCU swan song Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 releasing in a couple of weeks, DC fans can look forward to it. This film franchise is a postcard from the future for Gunn’s DCU: longer-term storytelling, individual character development unique and true to the director’s vision, great casting and flawed people struggling and growing. According to Gunn, “storytelling is always king”. The DCU fixes on out gunn Outperform the MCU in more ways than one. Shazam! Fury of the Gods reiterates why the DCEU needs James Gunn

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