Despite Aquaman’s spin-off The Trench being one of the least advertised of the upcoming DCEU films to date, it could potentially save the franchise from more of its laziest criticisms. The details currently known about the movie and its more horror-orientated tone give it the potential to allow DC to really differentiate from the MCU films it is so often compared with.
The DCEU has seen criticism for both being too jovial, perceived as toning down its many dark storylines in order to appease the same audience that would watch the MCU lineup. Almost paradoxically, some DCEU films have been criticized as too dark, as the comics do also have humor and levity amongst the grimness. It’s appeared for a while that the franchise has been stuck at either end of the cinema spectrum, either trying to be the darkest superhero film yet or the brightest popcorn cinema – and this is where The Trench could potentially bring DC’s salvation.
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Although the projected concept of a horror film in the DC world sounds dark, it also establishes this film as a different genre to what is generally expected from both the DCEU and superhero films in general. Should the DCEU allow for this genre-hopping in other films – even if they only do so in spin-offs such as this – it could set up a far more varied feeling franchise, avoiding the criticisms Chris Evans attempted to defend the Marvel movies from, which were that the public is too used to the superhero format and that it is, in turn, sabotaging cinema itself. Managing to avoid the pitfall of its more successful brethren while paving the way for a new age of superhero cinema is no easy feat, but it’s certainly one that would benefit everyone involved.
While it’s not certain that The Trench will be able to provide all this in one fell swoop, the unique atmosphere this environment gives off even in Aquaman alone does suggest that it’d be more than capable of revitalizing the DCEU, and bringing with it the potential for even more unusual movies in the near future. With superhero films being both the most popular of recent history and yet critics positing that Marvel is damaging the superhero genre, there seems little reason for DC to not use every weapon in their arsenal to try and set themselves apart – and a monster feature that takes place in the DC universe could prove to be an unexpected savior.
Does The DCEU Need To Be Different From The MCU?
The MCU’s colossal success meant it came as no surprise that in many senses the DCEU followed closely in its iconic footsteps. In actuality, though, it is to some degree unfair to say this was an outright case of replication on DC’s part, as it can be said that the way comics lay out storylines naturally meant the two would have a lot in common regardless. Either way, with the likes of Shazam! or Aquaman in particular, it’s not uncommon to hear comparisons to Marvel films, or the suggestion that the turn to a more jovial tone and brighter visuals was a reflection of DC wanting to match the MCU’s success. While it seems clear DC not copying Marvel is the key to its success, it’s entirely understandable that comparisons between the two would be hard to resist.
Ultimately, when it comes down to it, having funny, entertaining, and heartwarming films about beloved superheroes coming together to save the day is always going to draw an audience, and so it is somewhat unjust to suggest just because the MCU struck this chord first, DC has to avoid it. But where the MCU can be seen to have movies with “same tone syndrome” – as the vast majority of the franchise has very much the same tone and atmosphere as most of the others throughout, even if that tone is decidedly enjoyable – DC has the opportunity to change this by having a little more variation. Not every film has to be light, popcorn entertainment, and not every film has to forward the idea that the DCEU is the “anti-MCU”. Letting installments have their own unique identity could go a long way to separating the DCEU and MCU apart, as well as establishing that the term “superhero film” is not synonymous with one specific genre or atmosphere.
Unfortunately, the issue is that in order to have the payoff of a big crossover film, franchises do have to commit to the same tone throughout, or they risk feeling surreal when brought together. While this is ultimately limiting, it’s also hard to argue with – as the Punisher isn’t going to fit in with the likes of the MCU Avengers, and it’s not hard to see why Disney didn’t allow Deadpool into the MCU. As such, the solution for this is to make movies like The Trench, where the spin-off nature means it can differ from the “main series” without causing a juxtaposition. Indeed, The Trench reportedly isn’t even an official part of the DCEU – but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it means the constraints that would have been on the film as a DC staple likely won’t be enforced the same way.
Why The Trench Can Be So Good For The DCEU
It’s hard to watch Aquaman without having some kind of reaction to the hero first experiencing the horrors of The Trench, and that in itself goes some way in establishing why it’s such a clever idea to explore it further. Not only does it feature some undeniably breath-taking visuals, but it’s so unlike the rest of the world seen in Aquaman – and indeed the rest of the DCEU – which ensures it stands out. It’s almost like a horror scene trapped in a different film, which gave rise to the theory that the DCEU and Conjuring universe may be one and the same.
Ultimately, it was smart that the scenes featuring The Trench didn’t extend longer than the relatively brief time they were on screen as it would have taken the spotlight off Aquaman struggling against the inhabitants of the Trench, and placed the focus more on the location itself. In all fairness, it’d be decidedly difficult to have had more of the film feature this unique area and its occupants without it leaning perhaps too heavily into horror for an otherwise comparatively light superhero adventure. Cinematic audiences had their affinity with the water tempered by fear of what lurks in it well before the days of Jaws and all it got wrong about sharks, and even a toned-down version would have no doubt evoked fear in the hearts of many. As such, playing into that instinctive horror of something concealed in deep, dark bodies of water has a far bigger impact than would be expected from a collection of monsters that are at most minor villains in the overall film, especially for those who already had a profound fear of the ocean’s more unconventional inhabitants.
That said, calling them monsters may actually be a misleading description, as one of the most potentially interesting things about The Trench and the terrifying inhabitants therein who possess the same name is that they were not always mindless bloodthirsty menaces. As is mentioned surprisingly briefly in the original Aquaman, the true horror of The Trench is that they started out as Atlanteans much the same as the rest of the underwater kingdoms, but evolved differently to the rest as, after Atlantis was sunk, they found themselves in far more unforgiving territory than their brethren. Should the film cover this backstory, it may be able to blend showing The Trench at their most terrifying, whilst also allowing viewers to develop sympathy for these beings and their tragic plight.
The Importance of World-Building in The Superhero Genre
One thing that isn’t built upon as much as it perhaps should be in the superhero genre is setting, though there is, of course, magnificent scenery in both DCEU and MCU, such as the luscious landscapes in the likes of Black Panther. However, too often the narrative provides only as much about these environments as is needed for the plot, which is often relatively little if anything at all. This isn’t to suggest that The Trench should feel like a nightmarish version of National Geographic, but rather that not all DC or Marvel films should have to be one hundred percent character-driven, even if instances like the character-driven action scenes of Wonder Woman enhanced the overall film. The worlds seen in the comics are so rich with history and intrigue precisely because of decades of development and they deserve to shine in their own right, and features that revolve around this history do a vital job in building these places up in the film universe.
Given the boundless potential of the comic industry in terms of creating new and imaginative lands – and the boundless talent of film producers in making such places a reality – opening up these worlds would benefit the DCEU film universe well. Ultimately, this is what made Black Panther so wonderful, with its focus on the history of Wakanda and how it fit into the MCU, and any film that serves to also flesh out the greater universe of the DCEU by exploring another fictional place in such loving detail is sure to succeed for the same reasons.
The Trench Can Set A New DCEU Precedent
The superhero movie genre has had several vital developments as it grew so monumentally over the past decade or so. Most vitally, films went from having to feature big-name superheroes – like Batman or Spider-Man – to them being able to star just about any hero and still do well. If it had been said that the Guardians of the Galaxy was going to do well before the MCU kicked off, it would have been regarded as a bold lie, and yet years later, the upcoming third instalment in that sub-series is one of the MCU’s most exciting future projects.
The same can be said of the DCEU-adjacent Joker. Although Joker received backlash, it was largely regarded favorably by various different types of audiences. The chances of a comic book film that appealed to film critics, artists, and regular moviegoers seemed particularly unlikely – especially given the unlikely appeal of an origin story dedicated to one of the most consciously enigmatic characters in comic book history – and yet Joker proved that it was possible. That is the foundation that The Trench could build upon – establishing that “superhero films” can feature neither superhero nor conventional superhero tone, and still succeed and further the larger franchise. It’s now well-proven that superhero films work in almost any scenario – barring some disaster – and it’s well worth the DCEU seeking to build on the trust in the genre the public has built up in order to break the conventions fans has gotten so used to. And if that equates to The Trench unleashing a “superhero film” about murderous Jaws-like fish creatures on the world, then it’s definitely something to be encouraged.
Next: DCEU: Every Confirmed (& Rumored) Upcoming DC Movie Villain
Key Release Dates
- The Batman (2022)Release date: Mar 04, 2022
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)Release date: Dec 25, 2020
- Aquaman 2 (2022)Release date: Dec 16, 2022
- The Suicide Squad (2021)Release date: Aug 06, 2021
- Shazam 2 (2023)Release date: Jun 02, 2023
- DC Super Pets (2022)Release date: May 20, 2022
- The Flash (2022)Release date: Nov 04, 2022
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