James Wan’s ‘Aquaman’ wins over Chinese moviegoers by bringing something new to superhero films

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2018/12/11 17:23:39



Promotional material for Aquaman Photo: IC


In just four days, Warner Bros' Aquaman broke the box-office record of 690 million yuan ($100 million) set by Justice League in 2017 to become the highest-earning DC superhero movie in the Chinese mainland.

Opening in the mainland two weeks ahead of North America, Aquaman earned 156 million yuan on Friday - the highest opening for any DC movie in China. However, Aquaman's significance goes beyond setting new box-office records, the film's true value lies in how it hints at the possibility of changing the gloomy image associated with DC superhero films.

Making a change

Aquaman currently holds an 8.1/10 on Chinese review sites Mtime and Douban. This is especially impressive for Douban as users on the site tend to give blockbuster films lower grades since they tend to favor artistic direction over action scenes.

"The massive amount of underwater scenes are more than you ever imagined. This is what an ocean-based superhero film should look like… The DC movie from James Wan is not dark… this is the best DC movie after The Dark Knight," netizen Yingzhi posted on Douban in a review that gave the movie four out of five stars.

So far critics seem to find the story to be the weakest part as it is typical hero fare. In fact, Chinese netizens have been joking on social media how they feel the story is similar to that of the Monkey King and another legend about a young man, the child of a human father and a immortal mother, who goes on a journey to save his mother, who was punished by Heaven for marrying a human.

However, the visually amazing underwater world, which has never been portrayed in a superhero movie so far, has reviewers more than willing to overlook any weaknesses in the story.

"The plot is old fashioned… and probably only deserves three stars. However, this movie makes you care little about the plot because the visual experience is wonderful," internet celebrity Jiangning Popo (Grandma in Jiangning) posted on Sina Weibo.

While superhero films are one of the most popular genres in China, the films from DC have lagged behind Marvel's movies when it comes to the box office. Among the nine DC superhero movies imported into the mainland since 2005, the top three box-office earnings are, excluding Aquaman, Justice League (690 million yuan), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (618 million yuan) and Wonder Woman (610 million yuan). Looking at Marvel, however, even the studio's lowest-earning film of the past three years, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, made 686 million yuan.

One main factor behind this box-office gap has been that previous DC movies have tended to be darker - when it comes to both storytelling and visuals - than Marvel films. This tendency toward a more serious tone has been a major complaint of many superhero fans in China.

Another hurdle for DC movies is that since Marvel helped pave the way for the genre in China, movies from DC fail to feel novel.

When Justice League screened in the mainland in 2017, Movie Eye, a Chinese film blogger, wrote that "many feel that Justice League is far too much like Avengers."

With Wonder Woman, the first superheroine movie, and Aquaman, the first underwater superhero story, it seems DC has finally realized that it needs to bring something new to the table.

Newspaper headline: New box-office king

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