11:30am PT by Richard Newby
'Shazam!' Looks Like the Anti-Blockbuster Superhero Movie
It’s been a long wait, but Monday morning Warner Bros. released the latest trailer for David F. Sandberg’s Shazam!. The film, centering on DC Comics’ former Captain Marvel and current Shazam, saw its first trailer released last July at San Diego Comic-Con. While the previous trailer came as a surprise and highlighted the film’s lighthearted tone and sense of humor, the latest one keeps plot specifics and villainous plans close to the vest, making use of footage released in the previous trailer and TV spots. The trailer still gets the job done in terms of presenting a film that looks like a joy bomb, with jokes geared toward every age range and interest level of DC fan. But in a day and age where each trailer goes for a considerably bigger punch than the last, with no shortage of money shots, plot revelations and villain introductions, Shazam! is quite reserved. While there is so often a desire to satiate fans who want more (and then get too much and want less), the trailer for Shazam! is commendable for its efforts to truly tease.
With so many superheroes landing in our cinemas nearly every other month, it can be a marketing challenge to make each one feel different from the last. Aquaman needed big trailers, full-bodied clips of epic battles that would convince prospective audiences of the fact that Aquaman is cool and does a lot more than talk to fish. While Shazam may be just as much of an unknown to modern audiences, though lacking the negative perception that surrounded Aquaman, his film requires a different strategy. Audiences don’t need to be convinced that Shazam is cool; rather, they need to be convinced of the fact that he isn’t, at least not in the traditional sense, and that’s what makes him unique. There’s no gruff exterior, no war he finds himself caught up in, and no tragic destiny awaiting him (that is, unless Warner Bros. is teeing up Kingdom Come anytime soon). Instead, Shazam! taps into the universal childhood desire to be a superhero. While David Sandberg’s film looks to be most directly inspired by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s 2012 miniseries, it also carries the old-school earnestness and charm of Bill Parker and C.C. Beck’s original comics. The approach of Shazam! doesn’t appear to be based on making the movie fit into our modern expectations of superhero movies, but in going back to the original source material and rediscovering what made the character, once the most popular comic character of the 1940s, so appealing.
Superhero movies are often presented as event films, but that notion gets old once audiences realize that not every entry can live up to universe-shattering expectations. An alternate approach, one that strives to make audiences fall in love with character(s) and concept instead of stakes, has managed to take quite the hold in recent years. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018), and Venom (2018) all took similar approaches in distancing themselves from the big-picture promise of team-ups, and each exceeded expectations to various degrees. All three of these films built up a marketing campaign around their heroes instead of their villains, and it’s a gamble that paid off. There’s also an emphasis on pleasantness in these films. While there’s no reason to shy away from darkness in superhero movies if the vision calls for it, there is something both appealing and refreshing about superhero movies aiming to tell feel-good stories with stakes that aren’t based around world-ending consequences. It’s telling that audiences walked away from Venom more enamored with its odd rom-com elements than its horror aspects. Shazam! seems to be taking a similar feel-good approach. While there’s no doubt plenty to look forward to when it comes to Mark Strong’s portrayal of Shazam’s nemesis, Doctor Sivana, the relationship between Billy Batson, Freddy Freeman and their foster siblings looks to create a personalized journey worthy of the comic book concept of the Shazam family.
The latest trailer simply cements the direction many of us already hoped the film would take. The best part, undoubtedly, will be the film itself and our ability to experience its surprises for the first time. That’s the kind of mighty power we want films and their trailers to hold.