Can ‘Aquaman’ Reinvigorate DCEU’s Tarnished Brand?

There’s a lot of hype for James Wan’s origin story of the half-Atlantean, half-surface dweller, Arthur Curry, or, as we fondly call him: ‘Aquaman.’

Having just hit the local screens, the movie has already generated a lot of buzz mainly due to the recent visit of its stars Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, and director Wan. And while early reviews have been mixed, opinions about DC’s latest superhero film are generally favorable.

Could this be a sign of hope for the DCEU? Can Aquaman rise from the seas and save the franchise?

Marvel generally gets more positive response from viewers and critics

DC has been playing catch up with Marvel for the past few years and even with five movies, it still trails behind Stan Lee’s behemoth both in terms of box-office and critical success. Well, you have to put into consideration that Marvel has more movies under its wing, which makes it more top of mind to audiences.

Marvel has produced 48 movies and grossed $11.8 billion in North America while DC only has 29 movies, which earned them a total of $6.7 billion (data from Indiewire). Critical responses have also been a little tough for DC. Marvel’s ‘Thor: Ragnarok’–which for me is one of the weakest Marvel films–has a 73% rating on Metacritic while ‘Justice League’ only has 47%.

The former also generates more positive responses from audiences. Their string of hits from ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ to this year’s hit ‘Black Panther’ proves that they have found the perfect formula. DC, on the other hand, only has one movie, so far, that sat well with the box-office and critics: Petty Jenkin’s ‘Wonder Woman.’

‘Justice League’ bombed, grossing only $547, 924,295 globally. It’s significantly lower than Zack Snyder’s ‘Man of Steel’ ($668,045,518) which is already considered disappointing.

Some say that DC’s answer to the Avengers came too early; or that people were not that invested yet with the characters (only Superman and Batman had films previously) and if they produced the origin stories first, then maybe the audience would have some sort of relationship with each of the heroes to make them rave about it when it screened.

(Related: Why Marvel could be losing to DC in terms of comic book sales.)

The rise of Arthur Curry

Aquaman

But what’s done is done.

If any, the takeaway here, for DC, is that they know which mountain to scale. You can only learn from your missteps, right?

Maybe they’ve learned their lessons. Maybe not. But one thing’s sure with James Wan’s contribution to the DCEU franchise: it is hot right now.

It’s broken box-office sales in China, making $189.2 million in its first ten days of release, beating ‘Captain America: Civil War’ which earned $155.8 million in its first ten days in 2016. At the rate it’s going, it might overtake ‘Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice’ in terms of sales.

Here in the Philippines, the hype is real. The movie has already made P230.4 million in its opening weekend. While reviews are mixed, the general consensus is that it’s an entertaining movie. And rightly so.

King of the Seven Seas and savior of the DCEU?

Aquaman

‘Aquaman’ has a lot going on for it. It’s right in all the right places. While it isn’t impeccable, its individual aspects are so on point that when put together, they make up for a really good movie.

Origin stories haven’t been exactly DC’s strength. Snyder’s darker and more intrinsic take on ‘Man of Steel’ didn’t sit well with viewers and critics. ‘Green Lantern’ was, well, there’s a reason Ryan Reynolds was more successful in ‘Deadpool’ but DC somehow hit gold with the Gal Gadot-starrer ‘Wonder Woman.’

‘Aquaman’ veered away from the Snyder-like approach and didn’t delve too deeply into the psyche of Arthur Curry. It wasn’t too goofy either. It floated in the middle, which irked some people. Thanks mainly to Momoa’s charm, he was able to give the character just the right depth and comic relief that made for a pleasurable watch. The same can be said about the other characters; they’re not exaclty fleshed out too well, but it doesn’t really matter. We know enough about them to move along the plot without much questions.

The visuals was also commendable. While not as stunning as other movies, it’s interesting enough to give you a concrete sense of how it might feel like at Atlantis. To be perfectly honest, it isn’t the best animation but it did what it was supposed to do.

The movie is effective because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Others have criticized it for being ambiguous but I think it is where its appeal rests. It knows itself enough to focus on its strengths. It was able to deliver high entertainment value and for many viewers, that’s all that matters.

And it’s done well so far. Based on reactions in social media and, of course, the box-office, ‘Aquaman’ will be anything but a dead fish in the sea.

Where its magic lies

‘Aquaman’ sure knows its strengths. It magic lies in its charm. It grows on you. It is right in all the right places and satisfies the cravings of any movie audience.

I guess its Wan’s unique vision for the film. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is not pretentious nor does it attempt to be forcefully funny like “Thor: Ragnarok.”

It’s simply what it is: an unassuming superhero flick that’s so entertaining it could end up giving the DCEU the jolt it needs.

Special thanks to PMCM Management and Resorts World Manila for the screening!

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