The DC Films shared universe has been in a state of flux for some time now. While we’ve seen installments from both Patty Jenkins and David Ayer, much of the aesthetic has been set by Zack Snyder’s movies, particularly all the costumes, designed by longtime Snyder collaborator, Michael Wilkinson. And while Wilkinson didn’t work directly on Wonder Woman or Suicide Squad, both movies featured designs from characters he initially designed the suits for, which doubtless influenced the rest of the costume designs.
Now that Snyder’s involvement in the franchise is likely completed, and DC films has seen more change in leadership, there’s a lot of speculation about the direction of future films. Obviously, upcoming movies like Aquaman and Wonder Woman 2 will still bear the marks of the characters’ introductions, both of which were more grounded and functional Michael Wilkinson designs, but Shazam! is the start of a new era of DC films, as it’s one of the first movies to come out bearing few fingerprints of previous administrations and suffering the least from any tonal shifts in the franchise, leaving many to question just what kind of tone the movie will strike.
Director David F. Sandberg has previously teased that the movie will be the funniest DCEU movie yet, an immediate hint that things are different, but with rumors of Henry Cavill’s Superman playing a role in the film, just how much of the Man of Steel aesthetic will the movie take? Well, thanks to the new suit reveal, we have a good idea, as it’s a markedly different design than the suits we’re familiar with, harkening back to a spandex look that might remind fans of Batman ’66 or Superman The Movie, although the actor underneath, Zackary Levi, clearly has a much more modern comic-book physique, and it shows.
There was an immediate online backlash from fans looking for a suit more in line with the one worn by Henry Cavill’s Superman, but what these complaints are missing as that this style of suit isn’t merely an aesthetic or tonal choice, but it’s one representing the character of Shazam, or, more specifically, Billy Batson.
It’s important to look at all of this in context. Batman’s DCEU costume is designed by a grizzled billionaire vigilante who’s spent years fighting crime and optimized his suit to serve his needs of fear, protection, and utility; Superman’s suit is legitimate Kryptonian garb, designed to represent the House of El; Wonder Woman’s costume is Amazon armor, bearing marks of decades of combat; Cyborg’s appearance is similar to parademons, since he was born of a Mother Box; Aquaman’s armor is Atlantean armor, actually used for combat; and The Flash designed his own suit out of special material to withstand high levels of friction due to his speed. Every character’s costume is a representation of who they are and where they’ve come from – which is why Shazam’s costume is something else altogether.
Billy Batson has no experience fighting crime and isn’t familiar with weapons or armor. He’s a child who gains magical powers that enable him to become his version of a hero, so it makes sense that his costume, at least initially, is going to look like it was designed by a child. Many have criticized it for looking like a Halloween costume, and, while set photos are never a truly accurate depiction of a superhero suit’s final cinematic appearance, this is a suit that would bear an understandable resemblance to a Halloween costume for the very reasons just mentioned. The suit belongs to a Superhero that is a representation of a child’s wish fulfillment, it doesn’t belong to an actual superhero. Yet.
If we accept the fact that Shazam the hero is just a projection of what Billy Batson thinks a hero should look like, then it also stands to reason that the appearance could evolve as Batson’s own understanding of heroism matures. Since the movie is about a child gaining the powers of a hero, there will probably be a strong theme of “what it means to be a hero,” and Batson’s approach to heroism will likely mature when he realizes it’s not all fun and games, a story that has been told about the character before in Justice League Unlimited when he fights Superman.
In a similar fashion, if Henry Cavill’s Superman legitimately appears in this movie, as rumored, then it’s highly possible he will serve as an influence for Batson, possibly even leading to a change in Shazam’s appearance to look a little more like his new role model.
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