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

Shazam! Fury of the Gods Reinforces Why the DCEU Needs James Gunn

The DCU is fixing to outgun the MCU in more ways than one.

Opening March 17, 2023, Shazam! Fury of the Gods stands as a holdover from the previous DCEU creative direction and release roadmap. Already, the Batgirl movie went from limbo to altogether being cut, despite having newly minted Oscar winner Brendan Fraser slated to play the lead villain Firefly. Issues with the Batgirl film highlight persistent problems with DCEU as a whole, which will impact every movie until the new co-CEO of DC Studios James Gunn officially takes over, transitioning from the DCEU to the rebranding DCU.

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Shazam 2 can’t save or correct many of those flaws or weaknesses since its development was well before a commitment to a new vision and comprehensive direction. The end credit scene with Mister Mind from the first Shazam will have to remain a tease with no payoff, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson entering this story world isn’t happening. For that reason and more, Shazam! Fury of the Gods reinforces why the DCEU needs James Gunn.

A Unified, Long-term Vision Means Better Characters and Story

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

DCEU’s biggest mistake centers on playing catch-up with the MCU, especially without mapping out the development of characters and storylines in advance. MCU movies and television currently suffer from creative arrested development themselves; in other words, characters and their stories have nowhere to go, and now they, ironically, do impressions of characters in the universe (caricatures even of themselves).

So, what does that mean for Shazam 2? It means that the DCEU was already behind, and Shazam 2 retreads tropes already run to the ground. It might be easy to dismiss it as superhero fatigue, but, really, audiences are simply tired of the same superhero movie told and retold in the same way. After Endgame, Marvel Phase 4 moves forward without advancing — things happen but what does it mean for where it’s going? Superman and now Wonder Woman appear in Shazam continuity, which is cool to see, but it’s hard to believe story seeds are being planted and not cameos for the sake of cameos.

Henry Cavill is out, and it’s hard to say if Gal Gadot reprises her role in the Paradise Lost continuity under Gunn, but having a unified vision moving forward means cameos and Easter eggs have a purpose and payoff. Enlisting Gunn to create a comprehensive eight to ten-year roadmap for the newly dubbed DCU movies and television ensures long-term booking storylines. It just can’t follow the same plot routine. In short, this means better characters and story development to combat so-called superhero (sequel) fatigue.

Trust Creators To Be Creatively Unique and Special

When James Gunn outlined his “Gods and Monsters” Phase, he noted and stressed that directors and writers would be allowed to bring their own unique visions to their projects. That’s no surprise considering he’s a director who understands how detrimental, or just plain annoying, it is for studio executives to interfere or ruin a director’s vision.

No matter where you land on the Snyderverse debate, everyone agrees that drama was created and creatively, moving forward was anything but smooth. Allowing directors to bring their own aesthetic style yet still under the same banner gives each movie its standalone appeal; whereas, watching Shazam! Fury of the Gods action sequences looks much the same as cityscape destruction in previous DCEU movies up until now.

Each project director benefits from creative freedom, and, it’s safe to assume, each approves the script and has a significant amount of say when it comes to casting. If Gunn does allow them to control their own projects, DCU movies can move away from the generic CGI faceless hoards and giant beam finales. Also, casting gems like Michael Rooker as Yondu will be more common, as opposed to the default or uninspired casting of actors that are popular or within the Warner Bros. Studio stable.

Hopefully, the tone and aesthetic look of each franchise differs from the next. The MCU has hit a wall when it comes to this: most characters are smarty-pants that no-sell to villains, making them non-threatening and even silly. Can you imagine a teenage superhero know-it-all clowning a defenseless Thanos who can’t quip fast enough? Not to say everything needs to be Batman-level gravitas, but every hero can’t be a goof making every villain into a joke.

Establish a Solo Franchise and THEN Build to the Team-up Movie

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

By having a long-term story roadmap and directors with creative freedom, the DCU can go back to fundamentals such as writing well-rounded characters fans care about (hopefully flawed and nuanced). This problem is not exclusively DCEU because the MCU is hurting by this just as badly if not worse. The MCU has moved away from these story basics while the DCEU never exactly had it.

Tony Stark, who is billed as the smartest person in that universe, struggled movie after movie to develop the Iron Man technology and failed, making mistakes and causing conflict with others. Now, compare that to Ironheart taking up the mantle in about fifteen minutes of screen time, showing expertise-level competence just like that, no problem. A great premise for the Ironheart Disney+ series took place offscreen and then gets resolved as the D story of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. How are audiences supposed to get excited about the series after that?

Connecting this back to Shazam and the DCEU, there should have been a slow burn to finally empowering the Shazam family. It’s a great scene and action sequence in part one but should’ve been saved for the sequel. There’s nothing to anticipate. Fans already saw the family get their powers and wield them with automatic ease in the first installment, so where is the peril for part two when there is an entire family of enchanted expert superheroes?

Under James Gunn, the coming together and conflict among teammates IS the story and not just a hurried story device. Each character needs to be built up in order for the eventual team-up to mean something special. There needs to be anticipation and even doubt to make it truly effective. Otherwise, why care as much?

James Gunn: “Storytelling Is Always King”

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

This is not a knock on Shazam! Fury of the Gods itself, but it’s a prime example that reinforces why the DCEU needs James Gunn. With his MCU swan song Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 releasing a few weeks from now, DC fans have a right to be excited. This movie franchise is a postcard from the future for Gunn’s DCU: longer-term storytelling, individual character development, unique and true to its director’s vision, great casting, and flawed people fighting and growing. According to Gunn, “storytelling is always king.” The DCU is fixing to out-Gunn outgun the MCU in more ways than one.

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