It remains to be seen whether the studio will commit to a sequel to Justice League. On paper, it seems like a bad idea: The 2017 film was a commercial disappointment, especially at the domestic box office, and reviews were tepid; the change-over of directors, from Zack Snyder to Joss Whedon, remains a topic of contention; and hunger for the much gossiped about “Snyder Cut” of the film remains high in fandom circles. Casting woes haven’t helped, with Henry Cavill rumored to be out as Superman (something Jason Momoa has denied), Ben Affleck’s future as Batman unclear, and even Amy Adams having said unlikely to return as Lois Lane. Nobody would blame Warner Bros. if it chose to start the DCEU from scratch, but just before this year comes to an end, the studio has been given an incentive to stay on track.
Related: Read Screen Rant's Review of Aquaman
Aquaman opened to much stronger reviews than anticipated (the film currently has a 73% rating on Rotten Tomatoes), with critics noting the appeal of its ludicrous spectacle and director James Wan’s emphasis on providing old school popcorn fun in a unique setting. Those reviews alone would be encouragement enough for the studio, but the real success lies elsewhere. The film has already opened in China, two weeks before its domestic release, where it made a gargantuan $93.6 million in its opening weekend. As noted by Box Office Mojo, that’s the largest opening weekend Warner Bros. has had in the country, and Aquaman has grossed around $152 million so far, before it even reaches U.S. theaters. While competition may be tough for Aquaman (it faces the might of Disney with Mary Poppins Returns and the Transformers prequel Bumblebee), the film’s success seems safer now than even a few weeks ago.
The DCEU didn’t do much for its two defining heroes, Batman and Superman, but solo movies for other Justice League team members have fared much better. On top of being a bona fide cultural phenomenon, 2017’s Wonder Woman made just under $822 million worldwide, making it one of the biggest films of the year. Time will tell how well Aquaman does domestically and worldwide once it is released in further markets, but so far it’s already outperforming expectations. On top of that, it’s proven that there is organic audience excitement for a character that has nowhere near the cultural footprint of DC Comics contemporaries like Batman and Wonder Woman. People are excited to see an Aquaman movie, just as they were enthused for Wonder Woman’s solo adventures. With that in mind, it feels like reuniting them for a Justice League sequel wouldn’t be the worst idea for Warner Bros.
Making a Justice League film so quickly in the narrative of the DCEU was immensely misguided. Audiences didn’t have any emotional attachment to Aquaman, the Flash or Cyborg, but were suddenly thrown into a story that required all of that on top of investment in the central team dynamic. It didn’t work, and only further confused a film that was in desperate need of a rewrite and refined direction. Now, however, there’s something to build on. There are new worlds established, centered on heroes we actually care about.
The tone of more recent solo movies is also more lively. Wonder Woman was a historical action drama with an optimistic outlook while Aquaman is giddily invested in its own silliness. One of the major problems with the DCEU has been its bleak tone and audiences’ rejection of it, but now there’s excitement for DC films that take a more colorful route. There are characters and worlds people care about, a tone that rejects the grimness of earlier films, and real opportunities to create a franchise that fully differentiates itself from its competition in the best way possible.
Justice League 2 can happen, but it shouldn’t be rushed. Warner Bros. should develop the team-up movie but keep it release date free until the foundations are fully built. Let the rest of the DCEU get on with the business of telling their stories before bringing everyone together for the satisfying climax. With the right director – and if Aquaman is anything to go by, James Wan should be the top contender for the job – Warner Bros. could rise from the ashes of Justice League with a sequel that does everything the first film hoped to do.