WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for director James Wan's Aquaman, in theaters now.
It's no secret that the DC Extended Universe has faced its fair share of problems since Zack Snyder's Man of Steel in 2014. That's why, to this day, we're not sure if characters like The Flash and Cyborg will get solo movies, despite being announced over three years ago, and why the futures of Ben Affleck's Batman and Henry Cavill's Superman are up in the air.
Warner Bros.' DC filmverse is always in a state of flux, with talks of reboots and Elseworlds stories also popping up frequently. However, with James Wan's Aquaman, there's an air of optimism abound because the solo adventures of Jason Momoa's Arthur Curry certainly show the studio has learned from the mistakes of old.
THE ESSENCE OF A TRUE SUPERHERO
Snyder's movies, like Man of Steel, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and even parts of Justice League, lacked the inspirational superhero feel that Marvel Studios perfected. It's mostly been dark, bleak stories, although Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman rectified that somewhat.
The course correction comes full circle with Aquaman, as this essence carries throughout the entire movie. Basically, Wan perfects the vibe director Patty Jenkins started with her take on Diana of Themyscira with Aquaman smiling, laughing and making jokes, even in the heat of battle. Momoa encapsulates true heroism, so much so that he quickly regrets leaving Black Manta's father to die for his war crimes, expressing remorse for it and vowing to not do it again -- ergo why he spares his brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson). This arc of redemption isn't spread over two or three movies, as Arthur strives to be something more than a king.
THE VILLAINS RESONATE DEEPLY
Apart from Michael Shannon's Zod wanting to recreate Krypton on Earth, the DCEU villains haven't really been impressive in terms of their motives and how they stack up against the heroes we've seen so far. There's been no real emotional connection or depth to the villains, such as Wonder Woman's Ares, Justice League's Steppenwolf and even Lex Luthor from Batman v Superman. They simply come off as villains in a typical popcorn flick who want to bring about the apocalypse in some predictable, bland scheme.
Aquaman bucks this trend, though, by making its villains sympathetic; folks you might even root for on a different day. Arthur leaving Black Manta's father to die really set him on his warpath against Atlantis, as he begged the Atlantean for forgiveness and mercy, only to be shown none. Then there's Orm, who rightfully chides the surface world for its pollution and war-hungry ways. He believes it's the ocean's job to purge and cleanse up top, while allowing him to protect his own people. This substance over style approach makes these villains' vendettas something we can empathize with.