After 2017’s Justice League, things were not looking great for Warner Bros. and their burgeoning DC cinematic universe or DCEU. No doubt you’ll encounter some diehard fans who’ll argue that the film was great. To them I say: I’m glad you liked it because most of us didn’t. And as of now, is was even reported to be the lowest grossing film in the franchise. But then, Comic-Con rolled around and DC took the convention by storm. Making huge announcements from the return of Young Justice to a trailer for Shazam. They also made huge waves with Aquaman, showing us Jason Momoa as the heir of Atlantis challenging his warmonger brother Orm, played by Patrick Wilson. Truth be told, we thought the CGI was a little heavy-handed and we’ve yet to warm up to Momoa as Arthur Curry but we’re still excited to see what director James Wan would be bringing to the table. And now we have glowing reports from early viewers. They liked it. One of them even compared it to Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Woah, woah let’s not go crazy but it can’t be denied that most of the test screeners have a positive impression of the film. If this proves to be true and Aquaman becomes a critical and commercial success, then the DCEU as we know it might be altered forever (at least until the Warner executives forget again).
Think about it! Warner Bros. is struggling to find a sustainable model for their films. They didn’t have nearly the amount of time Disney and Marvel had when charting out their franchise. Doubling down the dark and gritty with Man of Steel and Batman V. Superman before jumping on the Deadpool wagon with Suicide Squad. They managed to score big with Wonder Woman…before shitting the bed with Justice League. This isn’t so much diversity as it is schizophrenia. You can see it in their mad scramble from the Cavill case to their odd decision to have alternate, branching Elseworlds. That all could change if Aquaman comes up on top this December and here’s why.
A Change In Tone
Before you can run Warners, you’ll need to learn to walk first. The reason why the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) can afford to experiment with wildly different properties is that they’ve established a solid foundation in terms of tone and characters. A sort of auteur signature if you will. The first phase of the MCU was marked by individual character-centred narratives before getting to the big stuff. Whether it’s Iron Man, Thor or Captain America, their journeys are all marked by them going through a transformation, growing in wisdom and strength before overcoming obstacles. They have distinct personalities but their story arcs are similar. So right from the beginning, we see how Marvel gives us the familiar with just enough unique flair to differentiate each property from another. You can call it predictable if you want but at least there’s a standard of quality we can lean on. Marvel’s thing is the “damaged hero with a heart of gold”. DC doesn’t really have one at the moment but if all goes according to plan, DC might have found its solid footing.
Wonder Woman was a unique entry into the franchise with its epic narrative and likeable protagonist’s fish-out-of-water perspective. More than that, there was a sense of wonder and enchantment that came with the premise of the film, almost as if we were seeing modern day mythology form before our very eyes. They nailed her introduction into the DCEU perfectly. So much so that its considered the highest grossing superhero origin film so far. It’s clear to see that they’re trying to do the same with Aquaman with them selling us the underwater world of Atlantis and a story centering around the power struggle for the throne. There’s sea monsters, merpeople, Greek gods and armies. That sounds absolutely amazing if its done right! Marvel might have the occasional Thor film or Guardians of the Galaxy to flex its more fantastical elements but the DCEU has the opportunity to make this the status quo. We’ve seen the hero with a heart of gold style of storytelling, we’re hungry for something new. Dazzle us with the wonders of a new world, provide us with a solid and compelling origin story before giving us a war for the fate of said world. I call it the W.O.W. model (yes, yes it sounds a little corny). This doesn’t necessarily have to be the case for all your films but right now it’s important that you focus and play to your strengths. Don’t get me wrong, if Aquaman is dead in the water then drop it and go back to the drawing board. BUT if it works, then oh boy do you have a playground to work with, Warners!
New Worlds And New Gods
As of now, there are two major films projects in the works that have the potential to propel the DCEU if Aquaman does well. A Green Lantern Corp and a New Gods film in development film would be those candidates. For over a decade, comic book writer Geoff Johns has significantly expanded the Green Lantern mythos. Turning the stories of these space beat cops into something truly magnificent. There is so much awesome to work with here! From the Sinestro Corps Wars arc to the Rage of the Red Lanterns to the mindblowing Blackest Night finale. I don’t want to geek out too bad but here’s just a quick explanation of the Green Lantern universe and how it works. Since the beginning of time, there’s existed the emotional spectrum, raw emotions that all living things can tap into to use for power. Green is for willpower, yellow is for fear, red is for rage. You get the gist. So the Guardians (of the universe, not galaxy) harnessed the power of willpower to build an army of ring bearers tasked with protecting the universe. The MCU doesn’t really have too much of a fleshed out cosmic landscape besides the Guardians of the Galaxy and Thanos. We didn’t get much of a chance to take a look at Xandar, the Nova Corp or the Kree Empire. It mostly felt kinda touch-and-go. Their lack could be DC’s opportunity to create a rich and fascinating space epic. Speaking of epics…
There’s also news of a New Gods film in production. Who are the New Gods, you may be asking? They just might be DC’s secret weapon in conquering the comic book film landscape. The New Gods are basically divine beings that exist outside of the multiverse. Multiverse meaning multiple versions of the DC world. There’s one where the Justice League are Nazis, one with Batman being a vampire and probably one where Batman V. Superman doesn’t suck. Anyway, there are two factions of these New Gods. The ones from the paradise planet of New Genesis are the good ones ruled by the wise, almighty Highfather. Then, there’s the rotten bunch from the fiery hellhole of Apokolips ruled by the cruel and evil Darkseid. The two were at war for aeons until they came to a truce in which Highfather and Darkseid exchanged sons. They both swore that they would not go to war with one another and that the multiverse is off limits. Judging by the presence of Steppenwolf, one of Darkseid’s lieutenant, in Justice League something tells me that we’ll be seeing these two pantheons of good and evil clash on the big screen.
Beyond these two films, there are plenty of other mystical properties they can work with. We’ll be seeing the world of magic with Shazam come next year and perhaps even a Constantine film with him contending with the powers of Hell somewhere down the road. All this is reliant on the notion that there’s enough faith on the studio’s part to commit to building the DCEU and that there is a market for it with Aquaman. Because if Aquaman works out and we get a New Gods film, the DCEU could have a chance to not only build for a better future for itself but to fix its past sins as well. They could experience a rebirth.
Rebirth And Reboot
If Warner Bros. ever wishes to undo their mistakes without having to scorch the earth and launch a hard reboot, a New Gods film would provide the avenue for an in-universe retcon. This strategy was used by 20th Century Fox with Days of Future Past. They managed to wipe away X3: The Last Stand and the heinous X-Men Origins: Wolverine while still keeping their main cast. And while it did mildly screw with the timeline, they freed themselves from the confines of the previous continuity. Imagine it, years after the DCEU finds its footing with Aquaman and can finally begin properly laying out their groundwork ala Disney’s MCU phases, they can finally launch Infinity War scale event of their own. A final war between the heroes of earth alongside the gods of New Genesis against Darkseid and other notable villains. A cataclysm so great, it could span worlds and introduce multiple versions of our favourite heroes. From there, Warner Bros. can pick and choose what stays in continuity and what becomes written out of the new timeline. This happens almost every five years in the world of comic books. The Final Crisis run by Grant Morrison would probably be the best template to use, seeing that it entails the New Gods, heroes and has Darkseid as the main antagonist. Omitting, the weird and frankly unnecessary plot with the Monitors.
Beyond merely making a new start, having a Final Crisis-esque event also allows for the DCEU to do elseworld stories, like the ones going in the Arrowverse. Different directors and creatives can take a crack at crafting unique, strange and fascinating narratives using iconic characters without having to worry about canon. I imagine they’re already trying this out with their own outrageous self-contained Joker film with Joaquin Phoenix. This could be the thing that reinvigorates the DCEU, injecting some colour, life and innovation into the franchise. More importantly, this is something that the MCU hasn’t done yet. For as large and commercially successful as the MCU is, they’re still restricted creatively by Disney. No matter how out there and far out their films are, they still have to fit into the larger scheme. But with the introduction of a multiverse, this frees Warner Bros. up to pursue multiple projects without, stressing out about how it all fits. They can do their bread-and-butter Justice League films with individual films branching out of it, running parallel to the elseworld ones. If all this is done right, it could the MCU look like a cute little fishbowl next to the OCEAN that is the DCEU’s multiverse.
I know what you’re thinking. Even if Aquaman’s great, maybe Snyder might still find it a way to screw it up. Maybe the execs won’t take a hint and go back to doing the dark and gritty crap. Which is why come December, it’s important that we the audience generate enough positive buzz for Aquaman if it really is as good as early reactions say. I’m not telling you to be a DC fanboi, we’ll call it out and be fair if it’s crap. I am however telling you to vote with your wallet and opinions for a better quality of films coming out of the DCEU. And Warner Bros., if you’re somehow reading this, I urge you to seriously take these suggestions into consideration. We understand you need to meet targets and make a buck but know that we’re just as invested as you are for the future of your franchise. Nobody wants shitty movies, and I’m sure you don’t either. Come December, we’ll have high hopes for your film on high seas.
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