Aquaman is looking to continue steering Warner Bros. and the DC movie universe in the right direction, with Warner Bros. film chairman Toby Emmerich strongly vouching for the December flick.
With DC Comics films having been divisive through five releases in their current shared universe, the James Wan-directed Aquaman is aiming for more of a Wonder Woman response from critics and moviegoers than that of Justice League, which some fans will defend until their end but was widely panned by others. Part of what will make Aquaman so successful, according to Emmerich? It's entry into uncharted territory.
"I think it's hard in superhero movies to go to places you haven't seen before," Emmerich told EW. "You think of how much superhero content there is in theaters and television and [streaming], it's hard to go to someplace you haven't been before. Aquaman and the underwater world of it all is fresh and different. James Wan has done an incredible job with his team. It's taking you to a different place and imagining it in a way you haven't seen before. For a superhero movie to be in that realm is cool and badass."
Emmerich is quick to credit Wan of Saw and The Conjuring fame for Aquaman's quality. "He's a franchise maker and builder," Emmerich said. "I would give him credit for what became known as The Conjuring universe. He initiated the Saw franchise. And he initiated the Insidious franchise. And he built on the Fast and Furious franchise — his film [Furious 7] was the highest grossing one. So when you think of franchise makers and franchise builders there are not many people who have that resume. That alone makes him an inspired choice. And he's also made many movies as a director and producer for us at Warner Bros. and at New Line. So we know him really well. William Goldman wrote my favorite book on moviemaking, Adventures in the Screen Trade, and he wrote, 'make movies with people you like, because it's really hard, so it's easier if you really like them.' And we really like James. These movies are monsters. So when you have a director you really like, and who likes you as a company and a culture, it's a happier experience and, more often than not, a better movie."
Wan will inject touched of his horror background into Aquaman, however, he will also bring a sense of levity to the film in what will apparently be a welcome juxtaposition of tones.
"If you spend time with James and [Aquaman star Jason Momoa], they brought themselves to the party," Emmerich said. "They very instinctively were who they were when making this movie. And that comes through in the tone of this movie. But I don't think it was a reaction to what had come before. I think it was them being true to themselves. … I'll tell you this: I have two girls, 10 and 14, and they're so quick to tell me what movies are going to bomb — my movies, other people's movies…
"They're shockingly right more than I would have thought. Kids are closer to the zeitgeist, everything is a raw nerve ending, they pick up on so many cultural subtleties it constantly blows my mind. I showed them the Aquaman trailer and I'm enthused and excited that they're so excited for Aquaman."
In the end, Emmerich recognizes that quality is more important than quantity or brand-recognition. While Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were successes at the box office, the divisive responses and criticisms did not help bolster their journeys. The studio is committed to making high quality films.
"I think the good movies work better," Emmerich said. "Somebody once said the best business strategy in motion pictures in quality. And I think in a world of Rotten Tomatoes and social media, what's been proven the better the movie — particularly in the superhero genre — the better it performs. You can't hide the bacon anymore."
It seems like common sense but Emmerich has taken a deeper look at high quality films resulting in high quality box office runs. "The better the movie is the more advantage it is," Emmerich said. "Now when you're talking about art, I do believe that it's tough to judge art at the moment when its presented to the world. My father was very involved in the arts, he was always taking me to museums and galleries and historical buildings. He believed any kind of art — whether it's fashion or sculpture or architecture or filmmaking or music — it takes 20 years to judge the quality of something. Twenty years after Sgt. Pepper or Born to Run comes out, then you can understand what that album was. I guess when I say 'quality,' I don't want to judge anybody's movies completely at the moment of release. But I would say there are movies that are right for their time, that an audience is ready for, that's in sync with the zeitgeist, and I think you need a movie whose quality is recognized at the moment of release so it's in touch with the culture of the moment. We're at a unique moment around the planet and certain types of movies are working better than others at this moment of time. And I do think Aquaman will sync up with the global culture zeitgeist of what's happening right now. "
In the end, making a good movie is "important" and "everybody really worked very hard to make a really good movie" in Aquaman's case. "It's an expensive movie," Emmerich said. "We believe this movie can work and we're going to do everything we can as a company — distribution, marketing everything — to make sure it's successful around the world."
While Aquaman will be a standalone movie in almost every way, "there is still the connective tissue to the DC movies." Whether or not already established DC Comics heroes will appear in the film hasn't yet been revealed.
Aquaman hits theaters on December 21, 2018.