Nearly six years into its existence began with 2013's Man of Steel, the DCEU is about to enter truly uncharted territory for the shared cinematic universe. April's Shazam! will be the first film in the DC Comics expansive franchise that will be released without any direct involvement from original architects Zack and Deborah Snyder. The duo had a hand in producing every film since Man of Steel, with even last month's Aquaman featuring both of them credited as executive producers.
As the first film within the DCEU without the Snyders' influence, there is a lot riding on Shazam!, even more so than the expectation of capitalizing on the success and momentum of Aquaman. The film began principal photography nearly a full year after the Snyders' abrupt departure from Warner Bros. due to a personal family tragedy, with fan-favorite filmmaker Joss Whedon replacing Zack Snyder during post-production on Justice League. While James Wan's Aquaman proved the DCEU can exist without the moody and dark house style that had defined it, Wonder Woman's generally upbeat tone notwithstanding, it will be Shazam! that will reveal if the franchise can flourish without the Snyders' overt influence at all.
The Snyders' influence can be felt throughout the existing films within the DCEU, including those not directed by Zack Snyder himself. The dark and gritty tone, desaturated color scheme, and CGI-heavy action sequences that began with Man of Steel and its 2016 follow-up Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice continued to permeate through David Ayers' Suicide Squad and is evident in the final act of Patty Jenkins' otherwise non-Snyder-esque Wonder Woman. Even with Joss Whedon handling extensive reshoots for Justice League, Snyder's hallmarks are seen throughout the film, particularly in the ensemble movie's climactic battle against Steppenwolf.
While James Wan's Aquaman is a clear departure from its predecessors, with its colorful and effervescent visuals and lighthearted tone, there are lingering influences from Snyder's tenure with Warner Bros., most notably in its casting. Star Jason Momoa had first been cast as Arthur Curry by Snyder for Batman v. Superman while supporting cast members Amber Heard and Willem Dafoe were both cast by the filmmaker for Justice League, though Dafoe's scenes were ultimately cut from the theatrical version of the film. Aquaman may have marked a significant shift in the DCEU, but while serving as executive producers, the Snyders viewed an early cut of the film, giving Wan their blessing.
And that leaves Shazam!. The DC Comics character's debut live-action film had been in development in some form for over a decade before finally moving forward as part of the DCEU. Given its lengthy development history, the upcoming superhero film is actually co-produced through fellow Warner Bros. subsidiary studio New Line Cinema rather than the Snyders' own production company, Cruel and Unusual Films, which had directly developed and produced all the preceding DCEU films except for Suicide Squad. While star Zachary Levi has confirmed that the film will include nods and references tying it to the rest of the DCEU, the promotional material and filmmakers have promised that the new film will be a complete tonal break from all its predecessors with a greater emphasis on comedy and family-friendly spectacle.
As a shared cinematic universe, the DCEU's biggest struggles behind-the-scenes have been establishing a clear direction and tone that connects with audiences. With the Snyders' no longer involved with the future of the DCEU, Shazam! will have to pick up the baton from Aquaman and double down on the more colorful presentation and light-hearted tone that the previous film had introduced to record-breaking box office worldwide. With potentially more connections and Easter eggs to the existing DCEU than Wonder Woman and Aquaman, Shazam! certainly takes place within the same shared universe as its predecessors. These added ties give it more of a responsibility to reconcile the original incarnation of the DCEU to its newer, lighter direction than Aquaman had, all while introducing a brand new superhero into the mix.
For five films across five years, the influence of Zack and Deborah Snyder has established the DC Extended Universe. After mixed response to several films within the cinematic universe, the DCEU is now moving into uncharted territory without the guidance of its original architects. Aquaman opened the door for a stylistic and tonal shift for the franchise while retaining a measure of the Snyders' influence. It will be Shazam! to prove if a film can succeed without the Snyders' involvement at all...and if the tonal shift was not a one-off instance with the James Wan film. There is a lot of expectation riding on the Earth's Mightiest Mortal but if anyone can thrive under immense pressure, it's Billy Batson and his magically-powered alter ego.
Arriving on April 5, 2019, director David F. Sandberg’s Shazam! stars Asher Angel as Billy Batson, Zachary Levi as Shazam, Mark Strong as Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, Djimon Hounsou as the ancient wizard Shazam, Grace Fulton as Mary Bromfield, Jack Dylan Grazer as Frederick “Freddy” Freeman, Ian Chen as Eugene Choi, Jovan Armand as Pedro Peña, Faithe Herman as Darla Dudley, Cooper Andrews as Victor Vásquez and Marta Milans as Rosa Vásquez.