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Last week, rumors surfaced that test screenings were held in Los Angeles for Warner Bros.' only DCEU film in 2018, Aquaman. Although they were positive overall, the reactions were not effusive with praise, tempering expectations for the superhero film. If we take those reactions at face value and they prove to be in congruence with the wider reception of the film when it's released, that means that James Wan's Aquaman will be a good movie, but not a great one. This might seem like a major letdown for those of us hoping for Aquaman to blow us out of the water. However living up to lofty expectations is not the only measure of success, and the truth is that it's okay if Aquaman is just okay.
Coming off of the disappointment of Justice League, hopes are high that with James Wan in the director's chair for this one, Aquaman can deliver something that is an unqualified success like Wonder Woman. Individual opinions will vary widely but the fact is that Warner Bros.' DCEU films have been hugely divisive and almost all critical duds other than Wonder Woman. So there are a lot of losses on the DCEU's record and it would be easy to think that from here on out, all DC movies need to be home runs just to play catch up and redeem the universe in the eyes of audiences and critics. But the reality is that anything that skews positively critically is a good thing. Simply put, the DCEU just needs to put points on the board. Not every film needs to be a knockout, there just can't be any more bombs. Okay is good enough for now.
If Aquaman winds up being just okay, as the early reactions have indicated, it is still an enjoyable experience and would probably land in the upper echelon of DCEU films, critically. Not every movie has to be -- or will be -- amazing. Aquaman doesn't need to be competing for Best Picture alongside Black Panther at the Oscars to be successful; it just needs to send audiences home entertained. By doing that, Aquaman can get things rolling for the DCEU and build momentum for next year's Shazam! and Wonder Woman 1984. If those films all range from okay to great, then DCEU has three critical successes in a row and some real momentum behind it. That will help perceptions start to shift and DCEU films to be viewed with less skepticism and more excitement.
Some of the reactions out of that rumored early screening have compared Aquaman to a Phase 1 MCU film and that should not be viewed as an insult. The reasons that the DCEU has been so troubled to this point are myriad, but one of the big ones is that WB seemingly didn't want to put in the legwork of building a universe and audience investment in the characters with solo films, it just wanted to jump ahead to the $1+ billion box offices of team up films. The thing is though, it's not like the Phase 1 MCU solo films were failures financially. In fact they were huge successes that acted as investments that paid off with massive jackpots down the line. An Aquaman that feels like a Phase 1 MCU film may be exactly what the DCEU needs right now.
Not all of the Phase 1 MCU films were perfect, some of them were just okay, but they were good enough and successful enough to allow for the universe to continue and grow. Those Phase 1 films, which ranged from okay to great, gave way to even better solo films and amazing team ups. The first Thor was just good, not great, but without that film succeeding first, we wouldn't have Thor: Ragnarok, which was great. A just-okay film is not a death sentence.
Aquaman has a lot of work to do introducing a ton of mythology and new characters and the entire underwater world. This could be said of any movie but origin stories are tough and often not the best outings for cinematic superheroes. But that doesn't mean that the best is not yet to come. A first solo film like this is all about laying down a solid foundation and building audience investment in Jason Momoa's character and as long as Aquaman is okay, the sailing will be much smoother for future installments.
If you even subscribe to the notion that the DCEU needs saving, it isn't one hero or film that is going to do it. Redemption will only come with time and continual proof that this ship is on the right path. Neither the future of this character nor this cinematic universe hinges on just one film. Sure, if Aquaman is just okay it might be a little disappointing. We all want James Wan to deliver an incredible experience that transports us to an underwater world we can't wait to revisit. We all want Aquaman to singlehandedly set the DCEU on a path to incredible success in the future. We all want Aquaman to be great, but it's okay if Aquaman is just okay.