Aquaman looks to be fixing the biggest problem with the DC Extended Universe. Of course, the DCEU has many issues - erratic direction, a reactionary post-production approach, a constantly changing set of executives - but the most damaging of all is its image: marketing, PR and perception. Thankfully, it looks like the next film may be fixing that, taking the narrative back and allowing the filmmakers to focus on the movies themselves.
Right now, Aquaman undergoing reshoots. You'd be forgiven for not knowing that, however, because rather than coming from a splashy expose in the trades, it was announced almost in passing as "pickups" by James Wan, the film's director, who focused more on his excitement about the casting of Randall Park. Typically, a DC movie adding a whole new character in reshoots would set the internet alight, but in a single tweet Wan pre-emptively curbed any concerns.
Update: James Wan has clarified that Park was cast originally, but the director has only got around to shooting his scenes. While this means Aquaman isn't undergoing traditional reshoots, it does further show the manner by which Wan is successfully controlling the movie's narrative.
It's worth noting that reshoots aren't inherently a bad thing - they're done to fix a movie, not ruin it - but that it's remarkably different is a big deal. Indeed, this is the latest step in a stormy but well-managed journey for Aquaman, one that suggests that - finally - the DCEU is lining up its sights correctly.
The DCEU's PR Problem
DC Films has been bad at communication. The popularity of the movies - or lack thereof - is unimportant, really, when the narrative is so stacked against them. Even if Justice League hadn't released as a two-director Frankenstein monster of a film, it would have still been lumbered with two years of negative buzz and extreme, semi-substantiated reports. Sure, part of the problem is that the creative choices are, plainly, brash - both Suicide Squad and Justice League had late-in-the-day reshoots and re-edits aiming to fundamentally alter the project - but they really didn't try too hard to change that narrative along with the movies.
All knowledge of what's gone on behind-the-scenes on those movies has come from press reports that the studio has no control over, and there's rarely effort put into addressing them until it's already stuck. This allows extreme versions of whatever the truth is to propagate and hurts the brand. Contrast to similarly production-problem-prone Lucasfilm. Rogue One's troubles are so hush-hush that we've only just had vague comments from the pickups' ghost director, while as public as Solo's directorial changeover may feel, the studio has been working flat out to present an "everything's fine" aura around Ron Howard.
Even post-Justice League, things are murky for DC. Only three upcoming DCEU movies are confirmed - Aquaman, Shazam, and Wonder Woman 2 - yet the dozens of in-development projects get equal standing in many eyes despite only being glancingly mentioned by Warners if at all. For example, even though there's never been any official announcement of the Joaquin Phoenix-starring Joker origin movie, with all information coming from scattered reports, it's treatment almost the same as Wonder Woman 2 because there's no base level set by the studio. Here the comparison point is Marvel, who have much better stuck to their 2014 slate announcement than the competition, and have announced changes carefully to make sure even casual audiences know broadly what's going on.
Read More: The DC Extended Universe Has a PR Problem
Aquaman's A Problem By Himself
Enter this setup with a movie like Aquaman and things could easily get messy. The character is the joke member of the Justice League thanks to the works of Seths MacFarlane and Green, while the Jason Momoa version of Arthur Curry has been semi-controversial since the first look presented an Aqua-bro twist. Add in a poor Quicktime tease in Batman v Superman and a neutered debut in Justice League - for all the swagger, he felt compromised, likely due to many of his key scenes (specifically his meeting with Bruce Wayne, the Atlantis action sequence, and his profession of love for Diana) being reshots - and you've got a risky proposition.
Coming after a year off following Justice League, Aquaman is the DCEU's shot at redemption, but under the current setup is prone to misinformation bolstered by so many confusing elements. Indeed, we've already had multiple test screening reports of wildly varying quality levels.
And yet, we're now seeing a shift. Something is changing in the DCEU, and it's all thanks to James Wan.
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020
- Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019