Cinematic Releases: A PepsiCo Product in a Coca-Cola World: Aquaman (2018) Reviewed

Aquaman is a Pepsi product in a Coca-Cola world. Yes, Aquaman does have the requisite elements for a smash hit superhero movie, a mythical origin story, cool special effects, and room for sequels, but it comes off as a relatively derivative exercise in storytelling in a genre that’s derivative already.

We find out, like many heroes, that Aquaman has a miraculous birth: a lighthouse keeper rescues an underwater princess named Atlanna, who together create a prince-to-be that becomes a man of the earth and a king of the sea. In an allusion to Arthurian legend, Aquaman’s name is, well, Arthur. Instead of pulling a sword from a stone, he has to pull a trident from the sea. Like Pepsi, in the war against Coke, Aquaman tastes good, but something has been there before, and feels more authentic.

The mixed parentage of Aquaman feels reminiscent of Superman’s earthly and otherworldly set of parents. The quest for the trident, and his name of Arthur is too much on-the-nose. Additionally, Aquaman’s ties to the mythical Atlantis seem weak. Aquaman even has references to Poseidon, the ancient Greek god of the Sea, but it’s too auxiliary for it to have narrative chutzpah. Even The Lion King has Aquaman beat - in its usage of the “take your place” motif.

Much of Aquaman spends its time telling a story about a superhuman man child, a product of star-crossed lovers (see: Romeo & Juliet), who’s trying to find his place between two worlds. When Aquaman finally recognizes his responsibility, namely his unique ability to solve a global crisis, he takes up the mantle to save the day.

While it may be too much to ask for a story, especially a superhero story, to not use archetypes, stories should try to use them in a new way. While Pepsi can coexist with Coke, with the help of differentiated marketing, its existence is second class, much in the way Aquaman will exist in relation to Batman and Superman, the more prominent superheroes on the DC slate, or even more damning, the way DC relates to Marvel.

While DC might be financially justified in emulating Marvel’s Avengers formula, so that they can coherently dump a cadre of interwoven comic book movies onto the screen, the strategy is transparent. Inasmuch, their approach requires strong storytelling to overcome the lack of novelty; Aquaman may not be that hero to help supplement an already crowded marketplace.

Blake Pynnonen