It took five years since the announcement of Batman v Superman, but Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc.‚Äôs DC Films franchise finally ‚Äúwon‚ÄĚ the San Diego Comic-Con. To be fair, the WB presentation (which included trailers and footage from six major upcoming releases, only three of which were DC) would have been impressive and buzzy by any standard even if Marvel and Disney hadn‚Äôt sat out this year. And the rock-solid trailers for Godzilla: King of the Monsters (probably the best ‚Äúreleased online‚ÄĚ trailer of the weekend) and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (I continue to be shocked at how much I‚Äôm enjoying the Fantastic Beasts 2 trailers considering I didn‚Äôt like the first movie) further the important notion that WB is more than just their DC Comics movies.
Among major movie trailer drops and sizzle reels, especially among the stuff that made it online, I will argue that the biggest winner of the weekend was Shazam. We all knew that folks in Hall H on Saturday afternoon would get to see some footage from the David F. Sandberg-directed superhero movie. But we didn‚Äôt think that the footage, which was a theater-ready teaser trailer, would be online as well. Shazam didn‚Äôt have the best trailer of the weekend (Godzilla 2) or even the ‚Äúmost exciting to me‚ÄĚ trailer (M. Night Shyamalan‚Äôs Glass, which got me despite my issues with going back to the Unbreakable well). Regarding buzz and narrative, the Shazam trailer was the most valuable promoting the movie and the overall brand.
In terms of the movie itself, the extended teaser, much of which is first-act origin story material, grounds the film in the real world, but also a world very much within the established Man of Steel-to-Justice League DC Films continuity. It looks closer to the authentic Americana of Man of Steel than the stylized and overly bright Justice League. And yet the trailer focuses on human interactions (between orphans and foster families, between two young boys who end up becoming friends) over superhero tropes. The jokes are funny, the scope looks human-scaled, Zachary Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer are having plenty of fun with the ‚ÄúBig, but with superheroes‚ÄĚ premise and the marketing department mostly ignores the superhero tropes for next time. It‚Äôs an announcement teaser and a darn good one.
The first (more obvious) reason why the Shazam trailer was the weekend‚Äôs big winner is that it made the Shazam movie look pretty darn good. James Wan is a trusted big-scale director, and we all somewhat knew what to expect from Fantastic Beasts 2 and Godzilla 2. But Shazam, from the horror filmmaker who gave us Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation, was much more of a question mark. That‚Äôs not to say Sandberg is a lightweight (he‚Äôs 2/2 with New Line horror flicks), but it was an exceptionally light/breezy superhero movie courtesy of an established horror director. But Shazam, at least in what we‚Äôve seen, nails the tone and looks like good fun no matter your investment in the DC Films brand.
Since Shazam isn‚Äôt a household favorite, the movie will have to live or die on its own specific value. It‚Äôs not like this is a Wonder Woman movie or Aquaman movie, where general audiences have an awareness and interest in a given pop culture icon. Since DC Films isn‚Äôt exactly a trusted brand at the moment (‚Äúfrom the studio that brought you Suicide Squad and Justice League!‚ÄĚ), the film will have to sell itself on its own merits right between Marvel‚Äôs more zeitgeist-y Captain Marvel and Avengers 4. But, like the Super Bowl trailer for Walt Disney‚Äôs Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, this strong sell makes the case both for the movie as a stand-alone entity and an extension of a franchise.
That brings us to the other big reason why the Shazam trailer made an impact. The message is clear: This kind of movie, with a kid-friendly and gee-whiz tone, can coexist with the likes of Suicide Squad and Dawn of Justice. That is an essential sell as we move past the Zack Snyder era of DC Films. Whether you like those movies or not, the first five DC Films flicks were essentially one Superman-and-friends trilogy from a single director, an acclaimed prequel to that trilogy and an offshoot spin-off that is considered the worst movie of the brand. Aquaman, Shazam and Wonder Woman 1984 will offer the first chance at seeing three disconnected-but-in-continuity DC Films superhero flicks that aren‚Äôt essentially about setting up Justice League.
Because WB fashioned their DC Comics cinematic universe comparatively backwards (a Superman movie, a Justice League prequel, a Wonder Woman prequel and then the Justice League movie), we don‚Äôt know how stand-alone superhero flicks will co-exist. And because the prevailing wisdom (fair or not) is that the DC Films franchise has a grimdark problem, it matters that something closer in tone to Sky High than Spawn can both exist within the DC Films brand as well as within the established DC Films universe. Alongside James Wan‚Äôs Aquaman (which feels closer in tone to Raiders of the Lost Ark than Cobra) and WW1984, this weekend‚Äôs SDCC reel showed that WB didn‚Äôt need to reboot the entire universe just to go in a new direction.