Okay, okay - the last time I wrote several reasons about being psyched for an upcoming DC Films movie, it didn't turn out so well. Justice League seemed promising from a distance, but up close, it was clear that the creative wrangling behind the scenes had left us with a hollow, weird, not-very-entertaining movie - and I probably should have seen that coming from several miles away.
But Aquaman is different (I hope). From the looks of things, Aquaman could be the film (not including Wonder Woman) that helps redeem the DCU...
If James Wan goes on to become THE NAME everyone associates with fun-filled, inventive, action blockbusters over the next few years, no one will be less surprised than me. The man has always been about making things work, despite all the odds put against him - he launched the "torture-porn" subgenre with Saw (a film that had basically no budget, and went on to become absolutely iconic - and make a bunch of money), evolved his horror bonafides with the UNBELIEVABLY EXCELLENT Insidious and Conjuring films (the man knows how to use Patrick Wilson effectively), and pulled off the greatest directorial feat of the century with Fast & Furious 7 (which had to contend with the death of the co-lead, and wound up being the series' BEST AND MOST EMOTIONAL ENTRY). Honestly the way he saved FF7, a film that SHOULD HAVE FALLEN APART MID-PRODUCTION, earns him SO MUCH CRED in my book.
Aquaman is Wan's first real shot at the big leagues WITHOUT any wild curveballs being thrown his way. He knew he was walking into a film universe in total disarray, and would have lots of expectations to deal with (both internally and externally). The fact that James Wan took this gig says a lot - if he can save the F&F franchise from Paul Walker's death, I think he can save the DCU from Zack Snyder's legacy.
Wan brought his frequent collaborator Patrick Wilson with him for a reason - to play Orm (aka Ocean Master), Arthur Curry's half-brother, the current king of Atlantis, and the main antagonist of the movie.
And he's an antagonist with a damn good motivation.
One of the largest issues I've had with the DCU thus far has been its incredibly lackluster villains, whose motivations were as follows:
If you honestly think you can find one relatable, understandable villain motivation in ANY of the other DCU films, I would be genuinely shocked. But Orm is different - he wants to attack the surface world for their constant abuse, neglect, and total disdain for ocean life. Which is...extremely real. Like, we are IRL fucking over the ocean so hard, 24/7, it's really kind of insane. If there were a society of humanoid beings with any level of intelligence living under water, they would be MORE than justified in making war with our entire civilization.
It's kind of a reverse Black Panther plotline - an outsider (with ties to the foreign unknown world) arrives in the foreign civilization to challenge the current king....but in order to STOP the king from declaring war on the entirety of the outside world. Will Orm be DC's Killmonger? We can only hope, although Patrick Wilson is nowhere NEAR as jacked as Michael B. Jordan.
Holy. Shit. Black Manta looks GOOD.
I still don't know if I'm entirely sold on the look of Atlantis - there is a lot of spotty CGI, the underwater sequences don't really feel underwater (if that makes sense), and some of the visuals we've seen feel a little weightless. But then, there's Black Manta.
And HOLY SHIT BLACK MANTA LOOKS GOOD. It is genuinely impossible to gauge how effective he will be as a character or antagonist, how well a secondary villain will be integrated into the story, or anything like that. All we know is this weird bug-eyed helmet that looks like it was pulled straight out of the comics looks good as hell, and that's something.
Let's talk about the guy at the center of this film, Arthur Curry himself, aka "AquaBro"....Jason Momoa. Primarily known to most of the world as grunty-bae Khal Drogo, Momoa made his actual debut of the character in 2017's Justice League (not including his .mp4 footage in Batman v. Superman)...and was actually pretty great. That bit where he was unwittingly sitting on the Lasso of Truth? "My man!"? All pretty great, fun bits of levity in a universe that had previously been filled with cynicism, grimdarkness to the extreme, and Jimmy Olsen being shot in the forehead as "fun."
The dude has charisma out the wazoo, looks insanely badass, and seems like one of the most charming individuals both onscreen and off. And he really had his work cut out for him in taking on this role - Aquaman has long been generally perceived as a joke of a character, a straight-laced weenie in a doofy costume who rides on seahorses, talks to fish, and isn't too helpful when the battle moves to land. The casting of Momoa did a lot to immediately dispell that (since - again - the dude just LOOKS REAL COOL), but that really will only get you so far - you need someone who can handle the physicality of the role AND give us a fun, likeable character who we can root for. And I believe Jason Momoa is precisely the guy you want for that job.
The fact that his two most noteworthy performances are as Aquaman and Khal Drogo says something - I'm not sure I can imagine two less similar characters off the top of my head. One was a battle-minded warrior-king who sought to wed a woman from a foreign culture, and the other...oh okay crap they are TECHNICALLY similar roles, but one's a goofy enthusiastic dudebro and the other is essentially a Klingon with less vocabulary. And the thing is, Momoa has killed it in both instances - because he really brings with him a magnetic aura on top of having solid acting chops, and the end result is engrossing. How he turned Khal Drogo - a guttural rapist who was more of a plot point than a fully-developed character - into one of the most compelling and interesting components of Game of Thrones (first season, at least) should give us a lot of faith.
I'm sure everyone involved in Aquaman knew from the outset that they would have an uphill battle, but likely had no clue exactly HOW MUCH WEIGHT would rest on this film's shoulders. See, this is DC Films' first outing since the disastrous performance of Justice League, which was both a critical AND financial disappointment (say what you will about BvS and Suicide Squad, both at least made a pretty good amount of money). And how well (or poorly) Aquaman does could inform the entire rest of DCEU. After all, if they still can't make things work in this post-Snyder era, maybe the foundation is too compromised to continue.
It's important to note that there are literally ZERO DC films currently in production outside of Wonder Woman 1984. Honestly, to some degree, Wonder Woman's success (both critically and financially) present something of a problem to DC - it's their ONE bonafide hit, and OBVIOUSLY needs to get some sequels. But because of that, they can't totally wipe the slate clean and start anew without discarding the legit cultural icon they've created in Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman. So, those films will continue no matter what - but what ELSE happens to DC could entirely hinge on how much Aquaman works.
But the fact this is coming in post-Zack Snyder is meaningful - after the mess of a production that was Justice League, hopefully WB understood the errors they'd made along the way and empowered producers and directors to make good, solid films...with proper amounts of pre-production (unlike Suicide Squad), spending time on a story and tone that an audience might actually enjoy (unlike BvS), and not making the absolute worst possible decisions on villains ever (unlike....uhhh pretty much all DC Films so far!). Aquaman will be the real test to see if WB learned their lessons - and could change the course of their future in time.
And if not, well, at least Shazam! looks pretty fun.