If there’s one thought that wouldn’t leave my mind as I watched the trailer for “Aquaman”, it was the sensation that I’ve seen Atlantis somewhere before.
A DC superhero swooshing through a beautiful CGI city of twinkly lights and colorful characters? That feels familiar.
Is this just “Green Lantern” again?
It would make sense. “Green Lantern” came at the dying end of the colorful ‘00s comic book movie wave. By this point, people were tired of this kind of CGI cartoonishness, and instead wanted all movies to be like “The Dark Knight”.
DC successfully drove this aesthetic into the ground, and now movies like “Thor Ragnarok” have brought color back into vogue.
Hence, to glimpse at it, Atlantis looks an awful lot like the Green Lantern homeworld. It’s a collection of pretty lights that’s been built in CGI, but is only ever viewed from afar.
In fairness, there are other CGI comic book movie cities that feel similarly weightless. In the original “Thor”, which came out at around the same time as “Green Lantern”, audiences are treated to a version of Asgard that seemed wholly impractical to actually live in.
The outside of the city looks impressive, but there are no stores, or homes, or transport solutions. Heck, there aren’t even any chairs in any of the sets constructed for this first movie, apart from a grand throne. How does this civilization function?
Future “Thor” movies flesh things out a bit, before “Ragnarok” does away with the entire setting and instead takes the action to Sakaar.
This civilization feels far more authentic. We’re treated to scenes of our heroes stumbling through local bazaars and clustered homes. The city feels like a real place, rather than a computer generated series of spires and towers.
Bringing CGI Back
While “Aquaman” brings back color and variety to the DCEU, I can’t help but worry that the movie world still feels impractical and weightless.
The thing that Marvel has always done better than DC is making the universe feel tangible. Superheroes fight in New York rather than a fictional city. They struggle from relatable character flaws, and their stories are driven by interpersonal relationships.
Even when a big CGI villain shows up to destroy half the universe in a Marvel movie, time is given to explaining why he is the way he is. Even if this backstory makes no sense and forces us to sit through several scenes of a crying raisin trying to justify why he’s such a bad dad.
I have high hopes for “Aquaman”. I enjoy Jason Momoa in this role, and I want the movie to do well.
No doubt some people reading this article will suspect that I’m a Marvel fanboy, and yes, that’s true. I won’t deny it. I prefer the MCU over the DCEU because only one of these movie universes is actually, consistently enjoyable.
I’m hoping that the brief glimpse of Atlantis that we get in the “Aquaman” trailer isn’t all that we’ll see of the city. I hope that enough work has gone into worldbuilding to make this place feel real and believable.
Otherwise, I suspect that this might end up being no better than “Green Lantern”. If that’s the case, I suspect DC will yet again swing back to making all their movies dark and grumpy, which isn’t what anybody wants at this point.