With Justice League failing to hit the mark can Aquaman regain the hearts of the disillusioned fans?
Despite the overwhelming success of the Marvel cinematic universe, fans of DC Comics have a legitimate claim that their property has the better superheroes in its stable. Iconic heroes like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern and Aquaman are some of the most recognisable characters in the history of pop culture and yet their recent movies have struggled to appease the devoted fanbase.
Fans and opinions have been divided.
The elder generation are fiercely loyal to franchise originators like Michael Keaton’s incarnation of Batman, and Christopher Reeve’s iconic Superman, whereas the new generation of fans prefer their Dark Knight and Man of Steel successors. The same fans are split about the iconic soundtrack scores for these characters with younger fans preferring Hans Zimmer’s dark and broody take on the DC universe, whereas elder fans prefer the nostalgic magnificence of Danny Elfman and John Williams’ iconic scores.
Unfortunately, the disputes do not end there. The directorial style of Zack Snyder, director of Man of Steel, Batman V Superman and well over half of the Justice League movie has come under fire for his inability to translate the comic book landscape onto film. His action style has been cited for its lethargy and over reliance on computer generated effects and his influence on other projects like the Suicide Squad movie was mentioned as one of the reasons it failed to set the world alight, despite an impressive performance from Margot Robbie as fan favourite, Harley Quinn.
The only guiding light through this fog of uncertainty has been Patty Jenkins’ excellent Wonder Woman movie. Gal Gadot’s first solo outing as Diana Prince was a sheer triumph for the franchise. Instead of interweaving the story into the larger backdrop of stories permeating the DC Universe, Jenkins opted for a fresher, bolder approach which saw the character confronting the horrors of the first world war, all the while upholding her belief that humanity was worthy of her protection. It was a breath of fresh air and more than worthy of its critical and financial success.
With the fans riding high on a wave of positivity and euphoria going into the release of Justice League, we were all brought back to earth very quickly by the confused car crash of what should have been the greatest superhero team up movie since the Avengers. With Snyder having to depart the project halfway through production due to personal reasons, Joss Whedon, the creative mastermind behind the Avengers was brought in to complete the movie. What followed was a chaotic story, poorly executed and tied together with conflicting styles. The darkness of Zack Snyder’s material clashed with the lighter toned style of Joss Whedon and characters like Batman and Superman suffered a drastic transition from the dark and brooding characters we have come to expect from the current crop of DC movies back to the lighter incarnations of yesteryear.
For Superman, the alteration worked, and Henry Cavill thrived in the role once the chains of Zack Snyder’s inhibiting universe were removed and despite having very little screen time, he swiftly evolved into the Superman we know and love. For Batman however, the transformation was a disastrous. The Dark Knight’s vengeful persona, an obligation fuelled by the murder of his parents was replaced by a happy go lucky character desperate to make amends with his one-time adversary, Superman. Fans of the character know all too well that this trait is not part of the Dark Knight’s make-up as demonstrated perfectly by Bruce Timm’s stellar Justice League animated series.
Despite playing an instrumental role in the Justice League’s formation, the Dark Knight refused to join the team outright, citing his inability to work well with others but offered his assistance should the team require it. It was quintessential Batman, produced by a director that understood the character inside and out from his time crafting the critically acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series.
For the most part, Ben Affleck’s portrayal as Bruce Wayne/Batman has been a surprising positive of the Zack Snyder lacklustre universe, but his role in Justice League only served to erode his tenure as the Dark Knight. A fact that appears to have been the final nail in the coffin with news emerging of the character being recast for the upcoming standalone movie, The Batman. If that wasn’t enough, news has emerged suggesting that the entire creative team at Warner Bros has been replaced by a new story group charged with fixing the issues with the wider DC Universe.
This crisis has already produced causalities. The Gotham City Sirens movie, a spin-off featuring Harley Quinn, Catwoman, Poison Ivy and an abundance of female super-villains has been cancelled, the Flash standalone movie, aptly named Flashpoint has been the subject of drastic script changes and a standalone Joker movie featuring Jared Leto’s less than impressive incarnation of the character has been commissioned. Furthermore, a second Joker movie, expected to feature Joaquim Pheonix as the title character has been authorised and is expected to go into production in conjunction with Jared Leto’s counterpart. In view of Justice League’s astonishing failure, Joss Whedon has departed the proposed Batgirl movie, Suicide Squad 2 has struggled to get off the ground and a standalone Harley Quinn movie with Margot Robbie reprising her standout role from Suicide Squad has finally been given the go-ahead. And all this before we can even turn our attention to the upcoming Shazam movie which is currently in production as of press time.
With all this chaos and controversy oozing from the offices at Warner Bros, one can be forgiven for overlooking the next would be blockbuster tasked with placating the disillusioned fan base and restore our faith in the faltering DC Universe.
Making his motion picture debut in Justice League, Aquaman (portrayed by Jason Momoa) took on the evil Steppenwolf and his hordes of Parademons in a battle to save the earth. The heir to the throne of the undersea kingdom of Atlantis was the most reluctant member of the team, but once fully invested in the crisis facing the world, he rose to the occasion. Despite putting in a robust performance as Aquaman, Momoa was far from a hit with the fans. His incarnation of the character was cited for his unsavoury cantankerousness and unwillingness to play a role in the worlds’ salvation.
To his credit, even Momoa himself sympathized with the fans, and agonised that his performance in the movie would tarnish his standing going into his solo outing and sadly, his concerns are well founded. Shamefully, in Justice League his incarnation of Aquaman was stripped of the fundamental aspects of his character that made him unique. His telepathic ability to communicate with the underwater ecosystem was omitted and turned into the punchline of several jokes, his mastery and command over the world’s oceans was seriously underutilised, and the dialect of his speech was turned into that of a free-spirited surfer and far from the regal king of Atlantis. Instead, the Justice League Aquaman was portrayed as another run of the mill meta-human blessed with a token great strength, the ability to breath underwater and leap into the air with the fabled trident of Poseidon which was used solely as a makeshift spear.
Of all the characters making their theatrical debut in Justice League, Aquaman fared the worst. It was nothing short of a character assassination and the fans of the original comics and animated television series had nothing tangible to forge a connection to their former favourite character. It was by far the biggest disappointment in what should have been his crowning achievement. His cinematic debut – an event the fans had been longing for.
This character assassination would be an instrumental basis for our concerns leading up to the Aquaman solo outing, however, the recent release of a multitude of new images has reinvigorated the fans and heightened our anticipation of what appears to be an exciting adventure.
These vivid images depicting Atlantean warriors riding on the back of Great White Sharks, Sea Horses and even an enormous saltwater Crocodile are more enough to tantalise even the most detached of DC fans, and that feeling will only be reinforced by the disclosure of our first look at Black Manta’s iconic helmet. The supervillain will be making his cinematic debut against his long-time adversary when the movie arrives on cinema screens this coming December. But, can the Aquaman movie truly win over the disillusioned fans of the DC universe?!
For me personally, Aquaman will need to go the extra mile and produce something truly outstanding to restore my faith in the DC Universe. With James Wan at the helm, a director of genuine experience gained from his time working on the Fast and the Furious franchise, I have high hopes that he will deliver a truly wonderful movie. If he somehow manages to break free from the curse of Zack Snyder’s influence and follows the path paved by Patty Jenkins’ superb effort on Wonder Woman, then Aquaman has every chance of success. If by some small miracle he succeeds in reversing the character assassination of the Justice League and resurrects the Aquaman we know and love, we could be in for a special theatrical event. One that could rival Wonder Woman.
Visually, Aquaman looks stunning. The conceptualisation of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis in an achievement on par with Marvel Studios’ success with Black Panther’s mythological kingdom of Wakanda. If treated like a cultural icon with its heritage upheld like its Marvel doppelganger, Atlantis has the potential to emerge from the shadows cast by Snyder’s vision of Superman’s homeworld, Krypton and pave the way for future adventures where members of the Justice League frequent the underwater kingdom. And that is a tantalising prospect. With Wonder Woman’s Rupert Gregson-Williams on hand to produce the score soundtrack and boasting the acting talents of Jason Momoa as the title character and Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Temuera Morrison, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Patrick Wilson and Nicole Kidman in supporting roles, the movie has everything going for it.
However, despite the simmering excitement festering within me there is a feeling of dread swelling in the pit of my stomach, a concern which is fuelled by revelations from Warner Bros. chairman Toby Emmerich. During a candid interview with Entertainment Weekly, Emmerich was quoted as saying he just hopes that the movie is ready on time. The overwhelming amount of computer generated digital effects are proving to be more than the studio bargained for and they are hurrying to ensure they meet their deadline. Furthermore, the chairman also confirmed that the slated December 21st release date was not their first choice for a release of this magnitude and would rather distribute the movie as soon as possible. And yet, Aquaman is caught in a race against time to be ready in time for Christmas.
It is here where the concerns of the fans are vindicated.
In the studios’ eagerness to catch up with Marvel, Warner Bros have rushed through the creative processes and thrust a plethora of movies our way, all of which have all failed to hit the mark and deliver a legitimate adventure of true quality. The exception being Wonder Woman. The over reliance on Zack Snyder’s problematic style has and will continue to haunt the studio until his influence is expunged from the DC Universe and a clearer vision of the future is installed by a creative visionary familiar with every aspect of the property.
However, despite changing the creative forces behind these failings, lessons still aren’t being learned and the studio is in a state of chaos, desperately clinging on to Marvel’s coattails in the faint hope they can challenge their long-term rivals. Unfortunately for Warner Bros, Marvel Studios and parent company Disney have employed a twenty-year franchise strategy, a formula that has proven incredibly successful since the launch of the original Iron Man way back in 2008. The recent release of Avengers: Infinity War capped off a highly lucrative decade for Marvel Studios and has gone on to become one of the most successful motion picture events of all time; whereas Justice League has eventually gone on to burden Warner Bros with almost $60 million dollars in lost profits.
For Warner Bros, it’s a case of back to the drawing board. In a perfect world, Toby Emmerich and his team behind the next wave of DC movies would scrap every project beyond the upcoming sequel, Wonder Woman 1984 in favour of a clear and concise action plan designed to win back the hearts of their fans. Until this clean slate is implemented, and an achievable release schedule is employed these issues will continue to hamper the DC Cinematic Universe, a franchise that boasts many of the greatest superheroes ever conceived.
In a perfect world, Emmerich would look to bring together some of the DC Universe’s greatest talents who are routinely producing exceptional material under the Warner Bros Animation banner year after year. Visionaries like Batman: The Animated Series showrunner Bruce Timm and award-winning screenwriters Paul Dini and Alan Burnett, director Rick Morales (Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders) and director Sam Liu (Gotham by Gaslight), would be the ideal candidates, all of whom have made noteworthy contributions to the legacy of the greater DC Universe. With these creative visionaries behind the conception of a legitimate DCEU, a visually stunning sandbox of opportunity overflowing with genuine stories authentic to the essence of the characters they represent and boasting a clear and unified direction, we could have a comic book franchise worthy of toppling the mighty Marvel.
Then, and only then will Warner Bros grasp the reigns of the greatest comic book characters of all time and stand any chance of usurping Marvel Studios’ domination at the box office. Instead of churning out a series of sub-par movies that fall well below the expectations of a devoted and loyal fanbase, the studio has the burden of responsibility to reset the balance and restore these characters to glory.
Should Aquaman succeed and become a spring board that catapults the DCEU back to greatness, we may perhaps be in for a roller-coaster ride of cinematic, comic book brilliance moving forward. On the other hand, if the errors of the past are not corrected and the legacy of Zack Snyder persists then the DC Universe will almost certainly fade away into the ether, resigned to returning to its origins on the printed page and the animated television screen. The prestige of the DC Universe is far too grand to be restricted to those fine established mediums, and the idea of a cinema experience without Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Cyborg, Martian Manhunter, Supergirl and Green Arrow is an outcome detrimental for us all.
Until December arrives, my hopes and dreams rest upon the shoulders on James Wan and Toby Emmerich. They carry with them our collective hopes that Aquaman will restore the heart and soul back into the DCEU and become what Black Panther was for Marvel. A cultural masterpiece worthy of true admiration, not for its comic book action and elaborate set pieces, but for its accurate presentation of both a character and a mythological sovereignty instrumental to the brands illustrious history.
With their prestigious history, Aquaman and the lost city of Atlantis deserve an everlasting legacy and I truly hope James Wan can deliver one!
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