Aquaman: 5 things I want to see from the new DCEU film

Commentary: Something different from all previous movies in the DC Extended Universe, please.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
4 min read

The Aquaman film looks surprisingly good. Will this turn the DCEU around?

Warner Bros. Pictures

I'm genuinely excited about Aquaman. And I'm as surprised as anyone about that opinion.

If you'd asked me even a year ago about the latest film in the DC Extended Universe, I would've shook my head or offered a little chuckle. How could the punchline character of Superfriends ever serve as the centerpiece of a good film?

Yet early social media reactions from the first screenings were overwhelmingly positive (I know, they almost always are), our CNET reviewer Rich Trenholm called it thoroughly entertaining and I find myself looking forward to seeing this one on the big screen. You get the vibe that this film is different from past DCEU movies.

That can only be a good thing.

DC and Warner Bros. could use a win. With the exception of Wonder Woman, the DCEU has been a disaster. From the dour Man of Steel to the hacked-together mess that was Justice League, it's been a rough time for DC fans (my favorite superhero growing up was Superman).

If Aquaman actually sticks the landing, it would be the unlikeliest of victories. But here we are, with Jason Momoa offering a new, more likeable (if bro-ish) take on the submarine savior, and Aquaman as one of the most anticipated films of the holiday season.

Here are five things that could truly make it epic.

Make it self-contained

I could repeat this advice to the makers of virtually any blockbuster movie these days: STOP laying the groundwork for future films.

It was cute when films offered a little tease here and there, but it's turned into an epidemic where each movie is essentially a commercial for half a dozen future movies. Just focus on making one solid film -- the DCEU has shown it's struggled to do even that.

And yes, that means no cameos for Wonder Woman or Flash, or some random tease for a Wayne Industries truck. If Aquaman is worth watching, we won't need a last-minute tease in a post-credits scene.

Also, don't worry about the legacy movies. I don't want to have to watch the last several DCEU films to understand Aquaman. Yes, I watched them, but I also want to forget about them.

Consistent tone

Aquaman could be epic or just hokey. I'm hoping for the former.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Justice League was clearly the product of directors with competing visions, with Zack Snyder wanting to go one way and Joss Whedon offering a different direction. The result was a hodgepodge movie that felt like it was partially directed by a series of notes from studio executives.

Aquaman's trailers promise an epic story on the scale of Game of Thrones, in which political intrigue mixes with massive undersea battles as multiple characters vie for the throne of Atlantis.

Hopefully we're not getting a bait-and-switch on the level of Suicide Squad, which in its commercials seemed to offer an offbeat, humorous take, only to end up as a film that took itself too seriously. Let's actually see a little humor and levity in this film -- hopefully the dead-serious Snyder motif is over.

And please, no more climaxes with a giant beam shining down from the sky. It's been done. To. Death.

Characters I care about

Momoa's Aquaman in Justice League showed a little charisma, even if it was one-note. There's potential for a lot of depth -- here's a character who's the product of two worlds yet can't fit into either. I want to see his struggles, even if that means getting away from the splashy battles, with their computer-generated effects, and spending time on developing his character arc.

Beyond Momoa, Aquaman has a stacked cast. Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe and Patrick Wilson have the potential to add more texture to the film, and Nicole Kidman, recently off of Emmy and Golden Globe wins for Big Little Lies, has the potential to offer a little class as Arthur Curry's mother.

Show of force

Momoa offers a physically intimidating presence, but let's face it, what did he do in Justice League? (No, seriously, can you tell me? I slept through a big chunk of it.) He seemingly just punched and stabbed people. Oh, and stood there as waves crashed over him.

I have to admit, this looks pretty badass.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Aquaman can talk to sea creatures, and he boasts super strength and the ability to control waves. But we've never really seen a great demonstration of these powers. Why is Aquaman so badass? This film is the perfect opportunity to answer that question.

In the eternal debate between Batman and Superman, almost no one will volunteer Aquaman as an alternative. Hopefully, that changes after Aquaman hits theaters.

A distinct villain who's not CG


Patrick Wilson plays the villain Ocean Master.

Warner Bros. Pictures

OK, I get that this is a knock on virtually every comic book film. I'd love to see a worthy villain who has a well-developed character with a relatable motive.

It's not impossible. Black Panther pulled it off with Erik Killmonger, and so did Avengers: Infinity War, with Thanos.

And though Marvel had a surprisingly effective computer-generated character in Thanos, I wouldn't recommend DC go that route. Between Justice League's Steppenwolf and Wonder Woman's Ares, I'd rather the ending of Aquaman not feel like a terrible video game cut scene.

That's it. If Aquaman can nail these five elements, there may be hope for the DCEU yet.

Aquaman hit theaters in the UK and other non-US markets on Dec. 14, and opens in the US on Dec. 21.

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