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Superhero sincerity and why you should be excited for Aquaman

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The rise of superhero sincerity has been a long time coming.

Like clockwork there has been a shift from dark to light-hearted depictions of superheroes in film. Until the MCU launched with Iron Man in 2008, most superhero films did well with audiences, but not with critics. Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy was an exception to this rule - Nolan proved that superhero films could be real contenders for awards, but he did this by stripping back much of the comic-book world and making the films “realistic”. They seemed like films embarrassed to be themselves. 

Then the MCU happened. Love or hate the MCU, without it, the superhero genre would have remained in flux from dark and realistic, to goofy with comic-book tones. They proved that comic-book films about super-powered individuals could be sincere in their premise and enjoy themselves, alongside being good films.

Until recently, the DCEU failed to act on this tonal shift. Zac Snyder’s vision was dark and allegorical, but it constrained the diverse characters of DC and, in some cases, resulted in huge mischaracterisation. With Justice League (2017), Warner Brothers panicked and tried to remedy this…They didn’t recognise that it's sincerity that hits the mark with audiences, and instead believed the movie had to be lighter and more quip-filled. A faintly traced over image of The Avengers (2012). Swapping in Joss Wheldon at the last minute, they ended up with a film half Synder’s and half Wheldon’s. A Frankenstein film that delighted no-one. 

Aquaman’s trailer is a relief as it, alongside Shazam's, show that DC finally understands that people want the characters to be shown in a sincere, funny, and emotional way. 

They’ve done it with a character who, until recently, was seen as pretty rubbish by the public. Due to his kitsch portrayal in the 1970s Super Friends, many people believed that Aquaman sucked. This can be seen in shows like Family Guy and The Big Bang Theory, which both mock him and state that even comic-book fans hate him. Unlike Superman, who is both seen as a sincere, complicated, beautiful character, and as a goody-two-shoes boy scout, Aquaman to the general public just wasn’t cool. 

The 90s-00s DCAU cartoons began changing this among comic-book fans by making Arthur over as a long-haired, tough, and one-armed badass. Non-comic fans still held the old views of him however. Aquaman could be acknowledged as goofy while being a good character.

It was the cartoon depictions that the DCEU took inspiration from when they cast Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry/ Aquaman. Momoa, who is part Hawaiian, comes from a culture with heritage heavily tied to seafaring and the ocean. His casting made a statement that Aquaman is not defined by being white. Also Jason, edgy rape jokes aside, is considered one of the coolest guys in Hollywood and thus best suited for making Aquaman as sincerely cool as he is elsewhere. 

In Justice League we saw him tattooed, often topless or in dark edgy armour. They were testing the waters, no pun intended… They showed that he could be seen as cool by the public. Then came step 2. They took a chance and gave a unique director a chance to make his solo film. 

James Wan is primarily a director of horror movies, so Aquaman would certainly be a tonal shift for him, alongside the challenge and pressure of a massive studio budget. The trailer suggests it’s a challenge he’s met. 

The underwater kingdom of Atlantis looks incredible. Natural yet engineered, ancient yet futuristic. Unlike in Justice League, the characters underwater look like they inhabit the environment. 

The costume designer Kym Barrett is a bloody genius. Her attention to detail and mastery of her craft is amazing. She has given Atlantean culture materiality and has combined comic-book accuracy with beautiful design. 

Plus, they're giving us the classic Aquaman costume on the big screen! Aquaman depictions have come a long way. Material from SDCC has shown him in the classic gold/orange and green ensemble as armour. He even rides a seahorse... And all of this is badass. Because the film is being sincere and having fun. Black Manta’s outfit/helmet translates well to live-action despite it's otherwordly, cartoonish look. Lastly the Trench, the bottom of the ocean which is home to Atlanteans who seem more fish than person, surely will allow Wan to work some of his horror magic. 

Like Thor in Ragnarok, we see how Arthur is going to be presented as a complicated outsider, but also a cocky, fun individual who loves an adventure. As a son of a human and an Atlantean, he is someone who is an outcast between worlds. Yet he now finds "Home is calling," as the  official poster states.

With an all-star cast, incredible set and costume design, brilliant CG, and a top director in place, I believe Aquaman is going to be a huge hit. It also shows a true superhero sincerity in the DCEU. A movie that looks like its proud to be what it is. 

Aquaman swims into UK cinemas on December 14th.

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