DC and Warner Bros. went the horror movie route again when they nabbed Lights Out director David Sandberg for the seventh DCEU film, Shazam. Like his mentor, James Wan (who is currently directing Aquaman), Sandberg is making the jump from supernatural to superhero with hopes of giving DCEU fans something not so status quo. According to the Toronto Sun, the Annabelle: Creation director is looking to make Shazam a lot more lighthearted.
"In terms of what people can expect, I think this will be one of the more fun or lighthearted movies so far in the DC universe. It certainly will be a departure.”
Sanberg's words of a more lighthearted film falls directly in line with the direction #DC Comics and WB wanted to take with their films. In fact, his words echoed those of DC Extended Universe executive Geoff Johns who, along with producer Jon Berg, expressed the urgency to change everything about the gritty nature of the #DCEU. Johns expressed the need for change to The Wall Street Journal back in 2016:
“In the past, I think the studio has said, ‘Oh, DC films are gritty and dark and that’s what makes them different.’ That couldn’t be more wrong.. It’s a hopeful and optimistic view of life."
Wrong. The gritty nature of the DCEU films are not problematic. In fact, there are other comic adaptations that were "gritty" and well received: Deadpool and Logan. Arguably the greatest comic book movie trilogy was also dark and gritty: Chris Nolan's Dark Knight. The only optimism that came from those films were the inevitable outcome of Batman saving the day (or night). Nolan's villain-centric films exuded grittiness, and in some ways had a touch of horror. While Sandberg's willingness to bring a more lighthearted film to the DCEU is admirable, maybe he shouldn't be too quick to shy away from what he does so well. #Shazam is a story that needs dark and gritty, and Sandberg can provide.
There's Nothing Lighthearted About Billy Blatson's Childhood
Sandberg's ability to tell a tragic backstory dealing with children can be seen in Lights Out. Martin (Gabriel Bateman) and Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) are siblings who must deal with the terrors from a paranormal killer that plagues their family. While there's more magic than paranormal in Billy Batson's (Shazam) story, like many heroes (and Sandberg's Lights Out characters), Billy also has a tragic story.
Billy was left home because of his bad grades while his parents took the rest of the family on an archaeological trip to Abu Simbel, Egypt. Their dig partner, Theo Adam, murders his parents, stole a scarab necklace from Ramses II and kidnapped Billy's sister. Billy was forced to live with his uncle Ebenezer, who didn't waste any time stealing Billy's inheritance and kicking out the orphaned child, rendering him homeless.
In order to survive Billy worked as a paperboy. Even as Shazam Billy still works to survive. He's a radio host and reporter for Fawcett City's local radio station, WHIZ, in addition to the day-to-day issue of keeping up with grades while also balancing the life of a hero.
In Jerry Odway's 1994 graphic novel, The Power of SHAZAM!, we get a chance to explore the very beginnings of what brought the world's most powerful mortal to Fawcett City. Before we even see Billy Batson there's an entirely different story being told. There's greed, magic, a little paranormal and a lot of murder in Shazam's origin. Shazam isn't a farm boy raised by great people unable to recall his biological parents who died before he was born. No, this story is sad and tragic. So, Sandberg's lighter version shouldn't get away from what makes this story compelling.
There's Always Room For Optimism
The need to be more light and optimistic isn't bad, and it's something DC has been moving towards. The turning point for the DCEU in some ways started with Wonder Woman, but it's the Justice League that supposed to really reboot things. With a character like Ezra Miller's Flash, fans can definitely expect a more warm, comedic feel for the film.
Like Barry Allen, Bill Batson had to be more optimistic. After all, he an underprivileged, smart-mouthed kid who is suddenly gifted with superpowers and a chance to avenge his parents. As a matter of fact, Sandberg cited Billy's relatability as part of the reason he took on the project.
"The big attraction for me with that character is the fact that every kid dreams of being Superman, right? I mean I certainly did, and Billy Batson is a kid that gets that chance."
Ultimately, there has to be a balance between light and dark; there's a way to bring optimism to a film about a comic book that, admittedly, is "different" and "lighter" in nature. With the retro look and bright-eyed determined teen looking to save the word, there's definitely light at the end of the tunnel.
Unfortunately we have a couple of years before we get to see what David Sandberg's Shazam will look like. Until then, you can check out his latest project, Annabelle: Creation on August 11, 2017
What do you think of Shazam's lighthearted direction?