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I guess the cast of Entourage isn’t laughing now. Vanquishing both Mary Poppins and Bumblebee, Aquaman has been a hero at the box office, ‘its estimated $900m tale the largest for a DC superhero since Batman!

Wan’s Aquaman more than conquered the Christmas box office swim meet. The superhero tentpole finished Sunday with a shimmery global total of $748.8 million, guaranteeing that Aquaman will fly past $900 million by the end of its run and become the biggest Warner Bros./DC title since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises earned $1.09 billion in 2012, not adjusted for inflation.

While Wonder Woman was a hit with $821.8 million worldwide in 2016, I hardly need remind you of the struggles of Man of Steel ($668 million), Justice League ($657.9 million) and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ($873.6 million). While these actual numbers aren’t that bad, the critical drubbing these movies received (not to mention Suicide Squad) negated any good feelings anyone may have had. Aquaman’s script is nothing to write home about, but the genial mix of spectacular action and humor that doesn’t mock its premise seemed to land with people. Aquaman is not dark and gritty, and people seem to like that.

The idea that Aquaman, so long a punchline, has become a feelgood hit must seem baffling to anyone not named Geoff Johns (take another victory lap), but there it is.

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How did they do it? Director James Wan had a great feel for the material and what it could be (Lord of the Rings underwater). And Jason Momoa’s innate charisma and comfort being wet won over all kinds of moviegoers. As deadline noted, WB marketing caught on early to the fact that ladies liked this movie:

Similar to how Warners infused a sense of humor into their marketing for Meg, they also had some fun with Aquaman, capitalizing on Momoa’s allure and initializing the social media trend #MOMSFORMOMOA. This was in response to Warners noticing a viral meme that grew among moms online: They yearned to take their kids –or anyone’s kids– to Aquaman as an excuse to see Momoa. As part of the stunt, mommy bloggers attended an advance screening at the Grove with a surprise appearance by Momoa, complete with t-shirts and schwag. Partners for the event included Bustle and IMomSoHard. As early as San Diego Comic-Con 2017, Warners had unofficially crowned Momoa their Robert Downey, Jr. Much like that Iron Man actor would lead the charge into Hall H for Marvel’s annual mega movie panel, Momoa, fiery hair and all, was starting the for the studio at SDCC.

While The Mary Sue rightly pointed out this approach was a bit dated, let’s not throw out the very lovable baby with the bathwater either. Ladies like Jason Momoa and that is OK! But they don’t like him in the “hot tortured” hero way. He’s friendly, a big shaggy dog that came to your house to drink your beer.

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Making a movie safe for moms is also a bit misleading. While the “bantering” romance in Aquaman was perhaps its weakest part, Nicole Kidman and Amber Heard did hold their own as characters.  The most successful modern action films treat women like characters, not accessories, shallow idiots, blow up sex dolls, raging bitches, or flowers in need of rescue. Sure Momoa is smokin’, but he also is not a raging sexist asshole.  Maybe women just want to be treated with respect. Crazy, I know.

As for Momoa, it’s interesting to note he’s flopped as a leading man before (Conan), but Aquaman seems to be a character he can fully inhabit. And his marketing has been genius, focusing on his personality and his Polynesian heritage in a completely authentic, honest way, as chronicled on Instagram.

Perhaps most lovably of all, Momoa has admitted he loves beer and hates staying in shape, and as the publicity tour continues, he’s in normal human shape, not an underwater superhero. Friendly!

I don’t have time to go over the DC movie universe’s incredibly tangled futrue plans, but as we enter 2019, we have no Batman, no Superman, and its two biggest stars are Wonder Woman and Aquaman, with Harley Quinn waiting in the wings. I don’t think anyone saw that coming!

12 COMMENTS

  1. To be fair, Momoa didn’t exactly flop as Conan. In fact, he inhabited the character as originally envisioned by Robert E. Howard quite well. He did the best he could with what he had. The problem was he was let down by a lackluster script and mediocre direction. I would actually love for Momoa to get another crack at playing Conan, in a movie with a good script and direction by someone on the same page as him.

  2. “The most successful modern action films treat women like characters, not accessories, shallow idiots, blow up sex dolls, raging bitches, or flowers in need of rescue.”

    No, they’re depicted as butt-kicking badasses (i.e., like a typical male action hero), which has become a cliche. Alison Willmore wrote a good essay about this called “Why I’ve had trouble buying Hollywood’s version of girl power.”

    I recently saw a tweet that got something right:

    “Cool job for women in movies, then: Journalist.

    “Cool job for women in movies, now: Psychotic assassin.”

    In comics, that’s the journey from Lois Lane to Elektra.

  3. And for those interested in reality…

    Aquaman is currently behind “Man of Steel,” “Batman v Superman,” Suicide Squad,” and “Wonder Woman” through their first 10 days at the U.S. box office. It’s actually $70 MILLION behind “Batman v Superman.”

    Now, it’s doing better than “Justice League” in the U.S., so that’s certainly something. But this movie’s success is largely based on the same people in China who love, love, LOVE the hideous Transformers flicks.

    Aquaman isn’t nearly that bad but it really isn’t that good when compared to the average Marvel movie.

    Mike

  4. “Aquaman isn’t nearly that bad but it really isn’t that good when compared to the average Marvel movie.”

    Well, opinions (and tastes) vary. Personally, I consider “Aquaman” MILES beyond “Ant-Man”, “Iron Man 3”, “Thor” (all of which are solid examples of “Average” Marvel Movies). In fact, I’d put it up there with the best Marvel has to offer (“Winter Soldier”, “Guardians of the Galaxy”, “Black Panther”). To me, it’s an absolutely knockout adventure movie, one that had me enthralled and immersed for its entire runtime.

  5. I agree, George. It might not escape what you say, but it’s because of these types of considerations that I like the recent X-Men movies, and Mystique. It’s in large part because she’s just not defined by her love interest, and she experiences more real sexual choices. Turned down by Charles, exploratory with Hank, and unknowable the pull of Magneto. Just that does much to gift her her own agency, and then the choices she makes between the ways of Xavier and Magneto… Then, because of events, Mystique knows she’s not a hero when the world knows her as one; and the choices she then has to make within that identification…. When Apocalypse has lifted Mystique by the throat and says, ‘ah, the hero,‘ and, ‘is the best you could do Charles, to send your weaklings against me?’ you know he’s lost. By act of her hard decisions and identity, she’s the strongest one there. Her being threatened gets Magneto involved, etc, etc. The best pay-off for the internal struggle and agency developed over a trio of movies.

    How Mystique is developed is exactly why I like the X-Men movies, and Marvel has nothing close to this development. Closest I think is the Russo’s handling of Black Widow, and that goes nowhere, always more of a side character to Cap, and doomed to love Banner. So, Mystique and X-Men might or might not escape the trend that you identify, George (and I agree with it), but I think she’s my best female protagonist in comics-movie (actually, Amy Adams in BvS Ult Edition is pretty-damn well handled as the reporter that connects everything when no-one else could, IMO); big part of why I like X-Men (even Apocalypse) quite so much.

    The only other way out is to forget about looking for this style of character in a popcorn/comic book movie (i.e. identify a movie as such), and look for better development in other movies. Me, I still like Mystique (and like talking up, in related fashion, the X-Men movies). Cheers!

  6. “The idea that Aquaman, so long a punchline, has become a feelgood hit must seem baffling to anyone not named Geoff Johns (take another victory lap), but there it is.”

    I felt the same way when I heard an Ant-Man movie was being made. “Really? They expect anyone but the most hardcore comic-book geeks to see this?” Well, the audience showed up. Not in Spider-Man numbers — nobody expected that — but enough for it to be considered a hit.

    It should be remembered that Iron Man was considered a second-tier (or lower) character until the 2008 movie was released.

    BTW, only $188M of Aquaman’s gross has come from the U.S. It has made $260M in China. So Mike is right about the film’s core audience.

  7. Well, I’ll sign off with the theme from the best New Year’s Eve movie ever made, which I plan to watch in an hour or so. Happy New Year!

  8. I might be done commenting on comics movies for a while. Hard to be positive when I’m less interested in seeing the movies at the cinema, with directions taken, and if you see my tastes, you might understand why. Can’t comment on DVD release dates, so just letting negativity go a bit. More of a reader, I hope. Refrain from speculating on Johns, and wait till I see it, way down the line.

  9. Quoth Kaleb: Amy Adams in BvS Ult Edition is pretty-damn well handled as the reporter that connects everything when no-one else could, IMO

    Yeah, but that was vitiated by BvS’ overall absurdity, wherein what was obvious to Lois Lane (and the audience and anyone paying attention) was impenetrable to “the world’s greatest detective” and the all-seeing ubermensch… more Punisher vs Dr. Manhattan than the titular heroes.

  10. Have to admit that I’m currently bored with superhero movies. That’s why I haven’t seen “Aquaman” or “Spider-Verse.” Just not in the mood for another big, loud, bombastic CGI spectacle.

    However, I did see “Vice” this week. It’s great!

    I do plan to see “Captain Marvel” in March. Hopefully it will be a hit … because if it flops, it’ll probably be 10 years before Marvel risks another female-centered superhero movie. (The long-planned Black Widow movie hasn’t started shooting.)

  11. AQUAMAN’s real distinction is not that it has eye candy for women but that it actually allows some for the guys. Try to find quality eye candy in a Marvel Universe movie. Hah!

    It’s also better plotted than the majority of MU’s “holes-big-enough-to-let-through-trucks” scripts.

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