When Warner Bros. and DC Comics announced Man of Steel it not only signaled another reboot for DC’s biggest superhero, but a restart on the entire universe. Emulating the cultural phenomenon Disney and Marvel has accomplished with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Warner Bros. sought to create their own crude, microwavable shared universe, putting faith in its two biggest names: Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne.
But after two lukewarm entries (the Zach Snyder-directed MOS and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice) and a critical failure in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, the DC Extended Universe came out of the gates on shaky legs. Despite the success of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, by the time Justice League arrived, the glow of Zack Snyder’s charm had worn off, replaced with a altered and overt Joss Whedon script, essentially marking the end of Snyder’s creative involvement over DC’s projects.
Just over five years after MOS debuted with lofty goals strapped on its back, the sixth installment in the DCEU - the James Wan-directed Aquaman - may have finally lit the flame on the rocket DC hoped to fire half a decade ago.
Aquaman may not be a great film, but it’s delightfullly-average, elevated by a fun script, truly spectacular visuals & an adrenaline-pumping third act. The film does suffer from cringe-worthy dialogue, a bloated run time and some plot points that at times feel convoluted, and at others feel so simple many of its key moments are telegraphed. It may not be better than Wonder Woman, but it’s a step in the right direction for the DCEU.
Aquaman may lay claim to a more important attribute: succeeding where the past failed while finding a way to stand on its own. As one of two films (along with SS) bearing no link to Snyder, it carried the distinct vision of its creative team (even WW’s aesthetic closely resembled MOS and BVS). Where Snyder’s films opted for half-baked, philosophical ruminations with the seriousness of a barium enema, James Wan went for an old-school, Sword-in-the-Stone tale of kings and heroes, approached with the light-hearted touch you need from Atlantis. Wan embraced the outlandish subject matter; instead of grounding it in gritty realism, he used what was at his disposal to take you to the furthest depths of the ocean. Ignoring the DCEU became Aquaman’s biggest strength.
The DCEU was in jeopardy just a year ago, with personnel and studio changes abound, but Aquaman has been the pivot DC desperately needs. It may not be one of the best movies of the last year, and it’s still unknown whether the universe will be scrapped completely or not, but Aquaman is a serviceable restart. After being lost in a mire for years, it’s more than DC could’ve hoped for.