Volume Seven, Issue Fifty-One!
“Movie Review: Aquaman”
What if I told you that one of the best movies to come out of DC and Warner Bros’ current lineup of films was one starring Arthur Curry, aka the Aquaman? You’d think I was crazy, right? Well, believe it, because James Wan’s Aquaman is one of the most entertaining superhero movies to come along from the studio, mainly because of how it embraces every aspect of the character, no matter how goofy it is. At times, the Jason Momoa-led film almost borders on sensory overload with how much is thrown on the screen, almost as if this was Warner Bros, looking at the returns for Justice League, saying “well, we don’t have anything else left to lose, we might as well put everything into this one Aquaman movie”. It’s a bombastic, over the top, incredibly goofy film, and I loved every minute of it.
As you’ve probably pieced together from the marketing machine behind this movie, Aquaman follows the adventures of Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), the “destined ruler of Atlantis” who really just wants to drink beer and hang out with his dad in Maine. Destiny as other plans for him though, as his half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) is conspiring to assemble the armies of Atlantis to wage war on the surface world, and Mera (Amber Heard) needs Arthur’s help to stop him. Arthur agrees to help after an attack nearly kills his father, and we’re whisked away to the lost city of Atlantis in all of it’s underwater dayglo glory.
You’d be hard pressed to watch Aquaman and not see it as WB and DC Films course-correcting from Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad, and it’s a much smoother transition than Justice League, where you could literally see two different movies being smashed together. This is definitely James Wan’s film however, and he fills the it with bright colors, whether it’s the insane red light district glow of Atlantis or the beautiful, pristine beaches where the young Arthur is trained by Vulko (Willem Dafoe, who’s clearly enjoying himself), you won’t find any of the signature dark blue filter that permeated Zack Snyder’s launch of this film universe. Instead, you’ll find a movie that, while making Aquaman more of a bro-ish guy who likes to play drinking games with his dad than ride seahorses, still embraces the goofy, over the top world of the character. Amazingly, it somehow finds common ground between the DC film universe that came before and the one that they are trying to become.
The look of Atlantis is stunning, a location that I never in a million years thought that I would see on the big screen, let alone done this well. A mixture of sunken ships and futuristic buildings (and sea turtles that haul cargo and A DRUMMING OCTOPUS), it’s the comic book equivalent of the cantina scene from Star Wars. There’s so much going on in the background that you’ll probably find a new weird thing each time you watch it. In that regard, James Wan has done something impossible, and made Atlantis and the world of Aquaman not only believable, but pretty damn cool as well. And while I don’t want to compare this to a Marvel Studios film, the best example I can give is when you first see Asgard in the original Thor. By all rights this should be DC’s version of that film franchise.
Of course, it helps to have a star that’s as fun to watch as Jason Momoa in your superhero film. Despite being a giant hulk of a man, Momoa makes Arthur Curry relatable as a guy who just wants to be left alone, but discovers his true destiny as the film goes on. It’s clear from interviews and red carpet appearances that Jason Momoa loves being a part of this world, and that comes through on the screen. He doesn’t look a thing like the Aquaman of the paneled page, but I can’t imagine anyone else playing him and making him this engaging.
Amber Heard’s Mera is also pretty great as well, despite having a wonky wig in some scenes. In a refreshing change of pace, at no point in the film is she captured or in need of rescuing. In fact, she saves Arthur more than she needs saving in this film. It’s honestly a star-making performance for Heard, and I’d bet good money that she’s going to be the breakout character of the movie.
On the villain side of things, Patrick Wilson’s Orm is a little one-note, but his motivations are sound. The human race has treated the oceans like our personal waste bucket for a long time, and yeah, we deserve some payback. Wilson’s a favorite of mine, and always gives it his all to the roles he’s given, so seeing him commit to something as outlandish as this is pretty fun. It’s also worth noting that we get an origin story for Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Black Manta, one of my favorite villains, and while he’s not in the film nearly as much as he should be, he’s fantastic, and the set up for the (hopefully) Aquaman II should give him plenty of things to do.
A lot of movies wear their influences on their sleeves, but there hasn’t been one that’s been so blatant about it like Aquaman. Wan essentially takes Lord of the Rings, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and even The Descent and dunks it under water, and yet it all works in a way that makes you go “how is this as good as it is”? James Wan fully embraces the comic book roots of the character in a way that I don’t think a comic book film has since Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man. Really the only negative I can think of is that this film almost tries to do TOO much, cramming in Aquaman’s origin, Black Manta’s origin, TWO undersea battles with giant sea creatures, and a search for a mythical artifact within it’s two and a half hours. It’s long, and bit exhausting at the end, but I’d bet good money that you’ve probably never seen anything like what you just saw when it’s all over.
Aquaman shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does, and yet it’s one of the most outlandishly entertaining movies I’ve seen all year. Of course, your mileage may vary on if you buy into this world, so if you’re curious about the film, but not entirely sure if you should shell out the cash to see it on the big screen, ask yourself this:
Do I want to see Willem Dafoe ride a Hammerhead Shark?
If the answer is “yes” (and really, who doesn’t?), than Aquaman is the film for you.