Haters Gonna Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate, Hate…
Aquaman torpedoed past its big-name competition to claim this weekend’s title of global box office champion. The DCEU’s underwater adventure earned $72,700,000 domestically; eclipsing the runners-up, Bumblebee ($52,710,000) and Mary Poppins’ ($51,349,671) global box office tallies. Aquaman already sits at 12th place on the list of 2018’s best-performing films with $483.4 million at the worldwide box office.
Though it’s not on pace to dethrone Avengers: Infinity War ($2,048.2 billion), Black Panther ($1,346.9 billion), or even Suicide Squad ($746.8 million) Aquaman may be the DCEU’s most important film. Aquaman is the sixth DCEU film since 2013, but it’s the first one that feels like it “gets it.” Aquaman is a comic book movie through and through, and it embraces the genre’s fantastic roots. The DCEU’s latest picture is a better film for it, but there is a vocal contingent of critics who completely wrote this flamboyant film off as though it’s devoid of merit.
Unlike Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder, director James Wan doesn’t approach the material with any pretensions. This film is about a man who speaks to fish, and he treats the character and his world accordingly. Wan doesn’t besmirch Arthur Curry’s comic book origins by applying dull colour palettes or real-world physics – and often logic. Nolan and Snyder’s comic book movies are high-powered sports cars with dull matte finishes, locked on cruise control. Whereas Aquaman is a Ferrari with a red leather interior and glossy rainbow coloured paint job, leaving scorched treadmarks on the pavement. Aquaman is colourful, imaginative, and most importantly, fun. And fun is what the DCEU films have lacked since they began.
Love it or hate it, Aquaman is a major pivot from the DCEU’s house style. It’s one of the most comic book-y superhero films period; a movie that embraces its pulpy source material with more conviction than the first wave of MCU titles. Could you imagine 2008 Tony Stark existing in a world where underwater kings ride sharks like they’re horses? The problem, though, is that Aquaman arrives bearing the baggage of the previous five DCEU films. Critics, more so than moviegoers, are dismissing it, not because Aquaman is the worst movie ever, but because they have superhero fatigue. Had Warner Bros. released this exact film several years earlier, it would sit on a few best-of-year lists. Now, comic book movies are an oversaturated genre that many critics can live without. More than a few critics I spoke to were frustrated they had to attend the film’s raucous premiere.
Pop culture is loaded with beloved films that bombed with critics and audiences upon release. Have you ever wondered what people were thinking to sit out Blade Runner, The Thing, and Fight Club’s theatrical runs? All three aren’t just classics, they’re genre-defining pictures that inspired countless filmmakers. Blame stiff box office competition, bad press, or being ahead of their time, either way, these great films didn’t resonate with viewers. In 2018, between superhero fatigue and the DCEU leaving such a bitter taste in critic’s mouths, Aquaman faces a stacked deck I’ll put myself out there and say, this film deserves better than its 95 rotten reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Aquaman is a victim of circumstance.
Am I calling Aquaman a great film? Not even close. It’s fun and entertaining, but what impresses me most is Wan’s ambition. Look no further than the film’s splashy trailer. Some movies pack their trailers with the best bits, hoping to make their picture look more impressive than it is. Aquaman’s trailer offers a small glimpse of its fully realized fantasy world, and that’s underselling it. It’s like watching the fourth of July through a keyhole. This movie is epic on a scale that few pictures match. Is this flick ruff around the edges? Sure. But it’s also a playful popcorn flick that offers loads of fun for open-minded moviegoers to enjoy. Where else will you find militarized seahorses, an octopus playing taiko drums, and Julie Andrews voicing a sea beast?
Imagine how pop culture would receive Aquaman if it launched the DCEU. The exact same picture would be lauded for its stunning visual effects, amusing lead, and whiz-bang action sequences. People would be optimistic about what came next. But critics are approaching this movie through haggard eyes. Rotten Tomatoes assigns Aquaman a 63% fresh rating. On the other hand, Rotten Tomatoes says audiences give it an 84% audience score, and it has an A- Cinemascore. That’s a large discrepancy.
That disparity will change in time. As years pass by and we move further away from the superhero genre backlash, viewers (and future critics) will discover the movie and appreciate it on its own terms; a joyful comic book flick that serves up thrilling action, eye-popping visuals, and a fun time. This picture doesn’t achieve greatness, and its style isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but you can do a lot worse at the movies than (sea)shelling out $15 for Aquaman.