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The DCEU has had a rough run leading up to Aquaman, but the franchise's latest superhero feature gave me more hope things are slowly turning around. While the adventure may have stumbled a bit in some areas, there are many things I believe it does really well that Warner Bros. should certainly think about including in upcoming films. In no particular order, here are the high points of Aquaman that the DCEU should definitely incorporate into future projects.
Great Action In Enclosed Spaces
Out of all the action scenes featured in Aquaman, two of my favorite moments came from battles that took place where the ocean didn't really play a factor. Both the submarine battle and the attempted capture of Atlanna were really enjoyable to watch, mainly because of the tight corridors the characters were fighting in. It was more satisfying than the super battles in wide open areas from other movies and was much more fun to watch.
As far as why they were so enjoyable, I'm not entirely sure, but I have a theory. Those scenes are likely less CGI heavy than, for example, the Parademons fight in Justice League, and ergo feels more real. Big superhero showdowns are nice, but Warner Bros. needs to strike the balance Aquaman did with finding ways to keep the action going while altering the scale. It mixes things up and may actually make the big battle sequences feel bigger when they happen.
Aquaman deserves a lot of credit for how seamlessly it introduced Atlantis. Little by little, audiences learned about the history, landmarks, customs and its security measures from various characters, and this never felt forced. It also made sure to give audiences a full view of the majestic kingdom, which definitely made it look like the high-tech utopia it was touted to be.
The introduction was much more entertaining than Wonder Woman's introduction of Themyscira. Granted, there may not be more to it, but I certainly didn't want to see characters return to it as I did with Atlantis. I want to see more of Atlantis and those other nations, their cultures and maybe even a spinoff that follows someone in that world. It's the kind of world-building that means dollar signs for Warner Bros, so it should be a priority for future hero features.
Created A Sympathetic Villain
If there's one thing that 2018 superhero films taught us, it's that audiences like a sympathetic villain. Marvel struck on that earlier in the year with Erik Killmonger in Black Panther, and the DCEU may have created its first in David Kane. The unapologetic, cold-hearted pirate was suddenly humanized when he begged for Aquaman's help in rescuing his father and was rejected by the hero.
Aquaman doesn't make Black Manta any more likable, but it does solidify why he's hell-bent on killing Aquaman. It's actually genius to use the death of a parent as a point of sympathy, as this still allows Black Manta to be himself and not some character capable of a redemptive arc down the stretch. Without question, the DCEU needs more villains like him down the line, if only to show the world isn't as black and white as DC sometimes portrays it to be.
Used Long Takes
Cinema needs more long takes in general, but Aquaman solidified the need for more of them in superhero films. There are few things more satisfying than watching a hero engage in an all-out brawl, especially when the camera is following the action the whole way through. It's a good way to show the struggle and chaos of a superhero battle in a way that the comics could never quite do justice.
It's something that Marvel's Daredevil did very well during its run, and its long takes always showed just how exhausting taking on multiple thugs would be. Should The Batman ever get made, it'd be nice to see a stealth focused long-take or maybe even a drawn-out fight scene that drives home why the hero prefers lurking in the shadows. I'm not picky, I just want a criminally under-utilized tool in cinematography to be used in more superhero features.
Comic Accurate Costumes
There's really no other way to say it: Aquaman got the shaft when it came to designing all-new costumes for DC characters. Few would've blamed James Wan and company for trying other looks, and some may have expected it, but the team kept the costumes of all major characters relatively the same with slight redesigns. It worked really well and was leagues ahead of what the hero was wearing in Justice League.
I think what I liked most about Aquaman keeping the new costumes close to the comics was that it didn't feel like it was trying to reinvent the character. The DCEU's efforts so far seem so concerned with re-interpretation and switching up the status quo, so it's nice to see something familiar for a change. Warner Bros. doesn't need to redesign the costumes of every character, but it should look for other ways to reference the past and make it cool.
Massive Battle Portrayals
The battle at the end of Aquaman between the various underwater kingdoms is wonderful, and it really shows the scale of how big Atlantis and these other realms actually are. It looks like an actual war, which is something that must've been very difficult and costly to achieve. That's not a huge issue seeing as superhero adventures are typically big-budget, so Warner Bros. needs to keep that cash flowing so we can see more massive battles of that quality.
Not to pick on Justice League again, but the Atlantean showdown really makes the whole Parademon sequence feel like a casual affair in comparison. That's somewhat appropriate given there was only a handful of heroes against them, but it seems kind of funny to think more underwater denizens gathered to fight for their kingdoms than mindless minions did to aid Steppenwolf's cause. If a battle is big, it should feel big, and Aquaman certainly dwarfed past DCEU efforts with that scene.
Created Meaningful Moments For Side Characters
Though we only spent a short amount of time with Thomas Curry in Aquaman, the movie ends in the great payoff in him finally reuniting with his lover, Atlanna, on the dock years later. It was a moment I didn't necessarily expect to see, although in hindsight there were breadcrumbs the moment was being built towards all along. How could I have missed the clues?
The DCEU is really good at introducing side characters and then shuffling them away. Alfred could've had more to do in Batman v. Superman and Justice League, and we may as well have never even met Laurence Fishburne's Perry White in Man of Steel. Those representations perhaps conditioned me to expect Thomas Curry to quietly be forgotten, which made his appearance in the movie's final moments so surprising. Let's make Etta the next character to have something like that happen!