Can we stop pitting Aquaman against Black Panther and vice versa?


Comparing Aquaman and Black Panther against each other brings up a new but already tiring trope in film criticism, and it honestly needs to stop.

It’s clear from reviews and box office revenue that Aquaman and Black Panther are remarkable films in their own rights. However, people are still pitting these films against each other and it has to end, knowing the King of Atlantis and the King of Wakanda wouldn’t want to see this fabricated drama.

Aquaman is currently on its way to crossing the one-billion-dollar mark at box offices. Aside from the film’s growing revenue worldwide, Aquaman is a noteworthy film by how it represented people of color, particularly from Jason Momoa and Jason Wan. There is also the cultural significance behind the promotion of the film — most notably when we saw Momoa perform the Haka “Ka Mate,” a traditional Māori dance, to celebrate Māori culture.

As Entertainment Weekly notes, Aquaman is the biggest film in the DCEU’s history. However, films critics have a habit of melding discourse regarding two or more films that celebrate people of color into one homogeneous criticism soup. It’s alright to combine them in the process of praising them. However, we take issue when critics compare successful films in the MCU, like Black Panther, against successful films in the DCEU, such as Aquaman.

In an article titled “Aquaman is Black Panther, But With The RIGHT Ending,” Screen Rant recently used Aquaman as a tool to criticize Black Panther’s ending, specifically comparing the movies’ main antagonists against one another.

Comparing Aquaman and Black Panther‘s respective endings implies that they’re virtually the same productions, both in regards to the narratives and the significance behind the films, save for their ending scenes. Obviously, that isn’t the case, as both films are self-sufficient in their respective cinematic universes and in general, and they should be criticized in such a manner.

I’ll note that media publications referencing predecessor films to dissect storytelling in other films is generally fine. Last month, Screen Rant compared Mary Poppins to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. While there are plenty of reasons Mary Poppins and The Force Awakens are successful beyond just their box office revenue, comparing these two films against each other in any way doesn’t necessarily ignore the representation these films created, nor does it amalgamate the representation in either film as if they’re interchangeable.

Granted, Screen Rant isn’t the only film publication that has put Aquaman and Black Panther against one another (even if this isn’t the first or only time Screen Rant has continued Aquaman discourse at the expense of Black Panther). Various film critics and publications alike have wrongfully insinuated that Aquaman is a verbatim retelling of Black Panther, or that Aquaman is “Wakanda underwater,” according to Forbes.

Comparing the two in a negative light, which also happened with Crazy Rich Asians when it was in theaters, indirectly makes representation a monotonous concept, specifically cultural diversity in films. This is because it insinuates that it’s acceptable to compare films that promote healthy representation against similarly diverse productions. It’s a new, but already tiring trope in film criticism.

Since Black Panther’s debut, film critics and netizens alike have used the movie as a prototype for what healthy diversity should look like. In the process, critics have used these dialogues to celebrate Black Panther and how entertainment productions can implement diversity, which isn’t a malicious conversation to continue. However, using the ending of Black Panther (or other aspects) to bolster Aquaman’s ending, ignores the intent of the respective villains; even if their misguided scheme might appear similar on the surface level, their motives are ultimately different and there are differences to their characterization because of it.

Instead of using any two, obviously, successful, films that are successful by their revenue and the representation they showcase, critics can discuss the positives of Aquaman (or Black Panther) including the ending of the film, without referring to another film of significant merit.

Read. Aquaman is all sorts of wild fun and it doesn't care who knows it. light

By pitting the two films against each other to dissect any alleged flaws, one runs the risk of invalidating cinematic and representative strides both films have made.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean we can’t utter Aquaman or Black Panther in the same sentence in any situation ever, or that either film is immune to criticism. It just means that we shouldn’t compare two compelling films, which are significant for reasons beyond their storytelling and cast, if it trivializes the power behind either or both films in the process.

This recurring habit in film criticism needs to stop so we can focus on healthy criticism moving forward.