Using the Marvel Formula | Aquaman and the DCEU
If you cast your eyes back just over a decade ago, the film landscape would be a whole lot different; as an example, the Marvel Extended Universe was only just beginning with Iron Man and the DC Extended Universe was just a pipe dream years from being realized. However, there are some similarities between 2008’s Marvel Cinematic and today’s DCEU. To find them, let’s take a look what the MCU looked like in the lead up to Iron Man’s release.
In short, Marvel was in a desperate position; they were trying to get into the movie business, but their most well-known and respected superheroes had been sold off to competitors. The likes of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four had been sold to Fox years beforehand; a result of financial hardship over the few decades previous.
This was quite the blow for Marvel; after all, the Fantastic Four has always been known as their ‘first family,’ while Spider-Man has always been one of the most recognizable superheroes on the planet. Because of that, Marvel needed to figure out how they could launch a movie franchise without their most-respected characters.
Enter Iron Man and some other second- and third-tier characters. Instead of being able to use the figures above, they went for Iron Man and Thor. However, both weren’t seen as much to bank on when it came to launching a franchise; everyone thought that Iron Man was a robot and Thor had primarily been used as a running gag in almost all of his minor TV appearances before then.
However, through the use of superb marketing tactics and somewhat unique casting – who would have thought that Robert Downey Jr. would be a great superhero? – Iron Man launched what would end up becoming a multi-billion-dollar franchise. In contrast to many other American movies, it not only became huge in the United States but worldwide. The formula behind Iron Man led to Marvel being able to take more risks and build a cinematic universe that’s the envy of every studio on the planet.
Aquaman & the Future of the DCEU
And this leads us nicely back to the modern day and Aquaman. Similar to how Iron Man was viewed before his cinematic entries, Aquaman has always been seen as a running gag throughout almost all of his non-comic book entries. DC is also in somewhat of a desperate way; both of their most well-known superheroes have become somewhat of a laughing stock, and not in the right way. But that wasn’t the only problem that the DCEU had to deal with.
Man of Steel with Henry Cavill wasn’t well received, and Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice flopped worldwide. The only saving grace was Wonder Woman, although she didn’t manage to put enough people in seats to affect the box office of Justice League. With both Batman and Superman’s falls from grace, they’ve essentially become detrimental to a box office performance and a positive reception.
This then led DC to try to back-track much of the tone and aesthetic of both films in their attempts to improve Suicide Squad in post-production. This didn’t work, however, and Suicide Squad wasn’t received too well either. While Wonder Woman’s solo outing helped to bring in some major box office success, Gal Gadot’s outings as the titular character may not be enough on their own to save the DCEU. At least, they won’t be enough to save it the way Marvel was able to save the MCU before it even began. However, more problems were brewing for the DCEU.
Henry Cavill has reportedly been fired from Warner Bros., with no official word of a replacement. For months, there was speculation that Ben Affleck may be trying to get out of his role as Batman which has recently been confirmed. With that in mind, the DCEU may lose two of their three biggest names. Because of that, they’ve effectively lost their most well-known superheroes, at least for the time being.
However, this is where the MCU/DCEU similarities may also be drawn out. Despite being a second-tier superhero who many people didn’t know too much about, Iron Man launched his only trilogy, which grossed a few billion dollars at the box office. He also single-handedly launched the entirely of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which made many studio executives extremely happy, never mind wealthy.
Taking the Marvel Approach
There have been quite a few people who have said that the DCEU should take the Marvel approach with their films; Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the writers behind Avengers: Infinity War, have said that this could work wonders for the franchise. If they went that route, Aquaman may be the best of the bunch in order to do so.
With Jason Momoa taking charge of the character, this casting has been somewhat unique. After all, Aquaman was typically shown as being blonde haired, blue eyed and not very physically threatening in the world of heroes and villains. Momoa, on the other hand, is the complete opposite of this, but has managed to make the character his own.
After appearing in Justice League, the DCEU was able to test the waters with his overall characterization. Aside from Wonder Woman, Aquaman may have been the stand-out character in an otherwise mediocre film, and he’s already on the way to revitalizing the DCEU. His solo outing was so well-received that it ended up generating over a billion dollars in its opening weeks. It looks like the Marvel approach may actually be working for DC.
Even early reactions compared Aquaman to a Phase One Marvel film in the best possible sense. With this success, it looks like the character will be the Iron Man of DC and may help getting the DCEU back on track.