Next month, the world will get to take in James Wan’s seafaring DC Comics action-adventure Aquaman. It’ll be the first film we’ve seen from DC Entertainment since last November’s Justice League. And, as is often the case when it comes to DC, some would have you think that that there’s a lot riding on the success of the film. The internet is no stranger to stories about how everything is seemingly “life or death” when it comes to DC properties on film. And make no mistake about it: There’s definitely something pretty big riding on Jason Momoa’s first solo outing as Arthur Curry, but it’s not the fate of the cinematic DC Universe (DCU).
Now, it’s no secret that the DCU (or DCEU as some continue to call it) has had a rough couple of years in terms of optics. Of the four films released since the beginning of 2016 (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, and Justice League), only one of them was considered a runaway success story- and that’s Patty Jenkin’s Wonder Woman. The rest faced critical drubbings after the studio butchered the visions of directors Zack Snyder and David Ayer and, regardless of whether or not you think their respective cuts would’ve been better than the theatrical cuts the studio released, the fact remains that DC was on pretty shaky ground coming into 2018.
This was a year that, at one point, was poised to give us two or three DC films. Instead, we’re getting one.
And yet, if you’re actually keep score at home, it’s pretty clear that Warner Bros. has quietly regrouped and is preparing a very robust slate of DC movies for years to come (CLICK HERE if you need a reminder that everything is fine). There’s new leadership calling the shots, new talent enlisting for upcoming projects, and an impressive push to take the DC brand firmly into the future- far from the drama that’s plagued it these last two years.
So what exactly is on the line when it comes to Aquaman?
While I’m sure there are some that would like to tell you that “If it bombs, they’ll pull the plug on all of DC on film and reboot everything!” because…well, that’s unfortunately become the norm for DC coverage at certain outlets…after talking to some insiders, I’m happy to report that there’s really only one thing at stake when it comes to Aquaman:
The Snyder Canon
Something I’ve covered in the past is the way the studio is still figuring out exactly what to do with the canon established by Zack Snyder- which planted the seeds for Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and The Flash- throughout the three DC films he was at the helm for. Right now, the studio has not nailed down how they’re going to handle that canon, i.e. staying tethered to it, or gently rebooting away from it.
I’ve been told that, in certain ways, Aquaman will act as the final test screening for Snyder’s canon. While the film won’t directly reference the events of BvS or Justice League, or feature any cameos from other established DC characters, it’s still an indirect follow-up to those films because of the way it retains the talents Momoa and Amber Heard, who were established as Arthur and Mera in Snyder’s movies. In that way, it’s a film that hopes to stand on its own despite being very visually linked to what’s come before it.
It’s a very unique project in that regard, as it simultaneously hopes to usher in a new wave of cinematic DC events while being comprised of elements from the brand’s polarizing past. It’s a gamble, and one that- some could argue- wouldn’t have been made at all had it not already been in production before Justice League stumbled so mightily last fall. It’s fascinating to think that had they waited to see how Justice League performed, they may not have proceeded with this movie at all, yet I- for one- am glad things worked out this way because Momoa’s Curry really intrigues me.
But this is what the movie will directly impact, folks. In the extremely unlikely event that it bombs, then you can rest assured that the studio will cut out every last remnant of the Snyder Era as it can from future DC movies. Essentially, unless your name is Gal Gadot or Margot Robbie, everything else from the Snyder Era of DC on film would be wiped out of the canon. It would also likely be the final nail in the coffins for both Ben Affleck’s Batman and Henry Cavill’s Superman (with both considered unlikely to return as things stand anyway).
In the much more likely event that the film is a success, then the studio will continue to do what it’s doing now. Which is to softly reboot the brand by keeping the elements it sees as viable and discarding the elements that led to the brand’s bruising couple of years in the court of public opinion.
It’s All Connected
This wait and see approach they’re taking with Aquaman, with regard to what stays and what goes, I’m told is why we’ve witnessed several DC films getting slight production delays as of late. If you’re a regular follower of Revenge of The Fans and its podcasts, you’ll know that The Flash has pushed back its production start, Wonder Woman 1984 is now coming out in 2020 instead of 2019, and that Matt Reeves’ The Batman is rumored not to come out until at least 2021 despite the director recently saying the movie could start filming as early as next spring.
While digging around to uncover whether or not this was all just a coincidence, I discovered that much of it has to do with how the folks behind these films are trying to figure out their relationship to what’s come before. And new DC Entertainment honcho Walter Hamada thinks Aquaman will be the real litmus test for that, so the scripts and contents of these DC tentpoles won’t be fully finalized until at least January when the studio has had time to assess James Wan’s movie.
In the case of Wonder Woman 1984, there’s less at stake because Jenkins was already given the creative freedom to tweak things- which she even did in the first film, when she retconned some of what was established about the titular heroine when she was introduced in Batman v Superman. From past remarks about the sequel, and from certain things implied when the production visited San Diego Comic-Con 2018, there’s plenty of reason to believe that Jenkin’s film will play by its own rules.
When it comes to The Batman, I recently reported that there was interest by some within the studio to include Ben Affleck’s Batman in Reeves’ movie- an idea the director ultimately declined.
Also, depending on who you ask, the studio is even open to the idea of recasting Ezra Miller for The Flash and starting fresh if Aquaman somehow goes belly-up.
And as I exclusively reported months ago, which was confirmed by THR, internally Supergirl is thought to go one of two ways. It’ll either be what sets the table for the eventual introduction of a new Superman, or it’ll find a way to link itself to Cavill’s Superman (who still has one appearance on his contract, despite all signs pointing to his time with the cape being over).
As you can see, several of these upcoming DC films seem to have a “Plan A/Plan B” approach when it comes to canon, and that’ll all finally get decided soon enough- probably in January once Aquaman can be properly assessed.
The good news is that regardless of whether or not Aquaman succeeds, Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment will continue to produce and release DC films for years to come. They know that audiences really only want great movies, so issues of canon will work themselves out one way or another.
So there’s really not that much at stake here. The film cannot “save” the DCU because, well, it doesn’t need saving. The franchise is here, and it’s not going anywhere. The only thing it’ll impact is how tied to the Snyder Era things will be, moving forward, and how much of a fresh coat of paint they think the brand needs.
What it can “save” is the Snyder Canon. If it’s a runaway smash, that bodes well for folks still hoping to see some of his threads followed-up on, and who wanted to see his iterations of these characters live on. It would mean that writers and directors who sign on for new DC projects will have the option to continue watering the seeds Snyder planted- something the studio is currently unsure about.
Thanks for reading!