It’s safe to say Marvel Studios has racked up some truly impressive achievements over the past decade. And when asked to name Marvel’s most impressive accomplishment to date, most people might point to the staggering success of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ – starring a CGI raccoon and his best friend the talking tree – or the fact that ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ worked at all given the sheer volume of creative choices that had to go right for that to happen. Or they might point to the combined grosses of the studio’s twenty films, which is currently in the range of $7 billion. Billion. With a “B.”
But those are, honestly, the obvious answers, and some folks are inclined to stray from the beaten trail. One of those people is horror auteur James Wan, who helmed ‘Aquaman’, the first post-‘Justice League’ installment of rival Warner’s DC film franchise. As the director explained to Entertainment Weekly:
“I actually think the most incredible thing [Marvel] did is making Captain America and Thor accessible to the mainstream – especially outside of the United States. The moment you can make a character called “Captain America” work in Russia and China, then anything is possible.”
The subject of unexpected accomplishments in superhero films is one that Wan is particularly conscious of. As I mentioned, his next theatrical release will be ‘Aquaman‘, which is currently in post-production. Even setting aside the chaotic state the DC film slate finds itself in right now, ‘Aquaman’ was always going to be seen as a potential stumbling block. Put another way, Marvel had been churning out hits for six years by the time ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ came along, and there was a great deal of speculation that this oddball film might be the one that finally saw their reach exceed their grasp. Aquaman, as a character, occupies a similar place, and would even if ‘Batman v Superman’ and all the rest had been critically acclaimed, universally beloved hits. Put simply, Aquaman has been the butt of the joke in pop culture for so long – “Heh, he talks to fish!” – that of all the DC films, ‘Aquaman’ would be the one that even under the best of circumstances would have something to prove.
With DC’s plans so uncertain at the moment, it’s not entirely clear what’s riding on ‘Aquaman’. Save, perhaps, answering the question of whether or not audiences will show up after the tepid response to ‘Justice League’. No pressure. But who knows? Maybe Wan has a ‘Guardians’ – or ‘Captain America’ – level surprise in him after all. We’ll all find out in December.