Review - 'Aquaman'
The DC Extended Universe has had a pretty rough go of things ever since the beginning with the release of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. Wonder Woman finally gave them their first solid win and then Justice League brought it all crashing back down. Now, with James Wan’s Aquaman finally released, the question on everyone’s minds was whether Wonder Woman was a fluke.
Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) knew from an early age that he had powers over the sea and its many inhabitants, but he refused to take his rightful place on the throne of Atlantis. When his brother, King Orm (Patrick Wilson), threatens the lives of his loved ones and the rest of humanity, Curry and Mera (Amber Heard) set out on a quest to recover a legendary trident and confront King Orm.
Looking back on my impressions of previous DCEU films, I realized that I haven’t actually been all that negative towards them. I found Man of Steel to be a decent Superman film with some rousing moments, but one-too-many action sequences and a finale that fumbles on many levels. Batman V. Superman was unnecessarily convoluted and dark, but had admirable ambition and a pretty great showdown between Batman and Superman. Suicide Squad I found to be an over-edited mess, but one that I was never bored by. Wonder Woman was an empowering epic and the overall crowd-pleaser that I hoped it would be. Finally, Justice League was really the only film that I was more negative on than positive, and that negativity stemmed from its lack of an identity, muddled plot and shockingly obvious CGI fakery on constant display. So, really, their batting average hasn’t been all that terrible for me. Which brings me to Aquaman, which of all the films DC has attempted thus far, probably had the biggest chance of falling flat on its face. Well, Aquaman isn’t as good as Wonder Woman, but it is better than all of the other DCEU films to date.
Though Aquaman is far from being a perfect film, it makes up for its flaws by being refreshingly original and consistently imaginative, which is probably the direct result of hiring on James Wan for the job. Wan gleefully takes the best and sometimes the worst aspects of Saturday morning cartoons (but mostly the best) and projects them, warts-and-all, on the screen for all to see. There’s an octopus playing drums, sharks with laser guns, people riding giant sea-horses and a dude with a bulbous helmet that shoots massive red, destructive beams from his huge red bug-eyes. This movie is nuts.
Unfortunately, the story in Aquaman is pretty straightforward and can easily be boiled down to a lengthy globe-trotting fetch-quest for a mythical trident, which just so happens to be the only weapon strong enough to take down the big bad guy. The adventure is also intended to be a voyage of self-discovery for Arthur Curry/Aquaman, but the film fails somewhat on that front. I never felt like I truly got to know Curry. Hes good at grunting, making funny comments and hitting people really hard, but his transition to Aquaman doesn’t quite feel earned, and that’s because Momoa never shows much vulnerability or weakness that is generally essential in shaping a relate-able hero.
Though the character development isn’t particularly strong, the cast all seem to know the type of movie they’re starring in. Jason Momoa is lacking in the aforementioned vulnerability category, but at least he has the boozy superhero swagger and comedic timing down-pat, so much so that I still found myself rooting for him by the end. Amber Heard is pitch-perfect as Mera, though some of her lines, especially the ones revolving around her budding romance with Momoa, fall pretty flat. Frequent James Wan collaborator, Patrick WIlson, strikes a pretty convincing figure as the lead villain, King Orm, and is made more interesting due to his motives actually having genuine merit. There were some cases where I even found myself siding with him. Willem Dafoe also shows up as Vulko, a mentor character to Aquaman. He’s fine, but this role is nothing beyond anything he has done in the past, he’s simply playing fast and loose and having fun. Same goes for Nicole Kidman, who never disappoints, but isn’t trying anything outside of her wheelhouse, save for being a part of an extremely well-choreographed fight scene in the opening minutes of the film.
Another saving grace for Aquaman are its visuals. Yes, the film is very CGI-heavy, but it looks like a complete vision. Atlantis is brought to life with vibrant colors and all of the sea people and creatures that inhabit the ocean are well-conceived and interesting to look at. The action sequences are also the most inventive I’ve seen yet in the DCEU. Wan has such a great eye for choreography and knows just where to put the camera to get the maximum reaction from the audience. The final sequence becomes a bit mired in CGI murkiness, but that creative touch is never lost throughout it all.
Aquaman will likely turn off viewers expecting a serious take on the character, but let’s face it, there is no scenario where a superhero with as ridiculous a skill-set as Aquaman’s gets a serious movie that people can take, well, seriously. What we get is an earnest take on the character that embraces the ludicrousness of it all and just has fun with it. The story might not be great and the characters aren’t particularly well-developed, but a film about a man with a trident who swims real fast, punches things real hard, has friends who ride sharks, and who himself can talk to fish, now exists, and if that sounds fun to you (which it should), then maybe check this one out.