The new Aquaman film by James Wan accomplishes many things in this debut film.
First, it creates a truly rich world with leaving plenty to other depths (I’m going to load this thing up with fish and ocean references) to explore. This film could or could not be a part of the larger DCEU and I wouldn’t care. Seriously.
Second, it adds some much-needed color and humor to the sepia world developed by Zack Synder. Given this film takes place at the bottom of the ocean they could have gone as dark as possible, but through a great MacGuffin in the film, they allow the color of the ocean depths – and palette of a comic book- to be appreciated.
Third, Aquaman has some of the cheesiest costumes in comics AND THEY MANAGED TO NOT MAKE THEM LOOK COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS. Or the names – I had some concerns about how they were going to say the name “Ocean Master” and pull off his hideous costume from the comics but they accomplished both. In fact, the characterization of King Orem in his quest to become “The Ocean Master” was compelling and set for a complex relationship between Arthur (Aquaman – and frankly if I have to tell you that while you’re reading this, just close out this page and never come back…) when they meet again in the sequel.
So, a couple of things to think about:
Does this movie work as a movie?
Yes! If you didn’t know anything about these characters or the rest of DC cinematic universe, I think this all basically holds together. They establish pretty early on who this guy is and what he’s about. The filmmakers work the flashbacks of his growing up in pretty seamlessly throughout, so the action doesn’t get bogged down with backstory right off. Temuera Morrison and Nicole Kidman (as Arthur’s parents) have an easy chemistry. It didn’t feel like a chore to watch their little story play out. The relationship between Aquaman and his father was great. It’s nice to see a superhero just gets along with his dad and isn’t terribly tortured about it.
The effects are gorgeous. They set up the whole world of Atlantis and the mythology involved without beating you over the head with it. The action setpieces all work. They manage to successfully introduce two different villains and their origins, again, without making the whole thing feel overstuffed.
The plot doesn’t deliver any great surprises, it plays out exactly how you think it’s going to, but as a light fantasy romp, it’s all a lot of fun
Does this work as an Aquaman movie?
I think it does. What do we even like about Aquaman? How would you describe him without just listing his powers? What makes him more than just “Superman but underwater”
Probably the most interesting modern take on Aquaman actually comes from Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon series, where Aquaman is an adventurous, fun, bombastic presence. In that series, he’s a contrast to Batman’s serious brooding. I think this movie captures this. Jason Momoa seems to be having a good time throughout. Even when the stakes are high, he’s fearlessly pushing forward.
One thing that sets Aquaman apart from almost every other hero is that he is usually married. Mera got introduced way back in Aquaman #11 in 1963 and in modern stories, she’s typically portrayed as an equal partner to Arthur.
Amber Heard gets a lot to do in this movie, even if she occasionally forgets what her own powers are. For the most part, the film avoids any damsel in distress stuff. Arthur and Mera’s transition from heroic partners to romantic couple feels a little forced, but hey, it’s a movie.
Anyway, let’s hope Mera comes along for the ride next time the whole Justice League gets together on screen.
Finally, Aquaman has a great villain in Black Manta. He’s got a creepy design in the comics and it’s executed brilliantly here. His origin sets him up as kind of an evil Batman and I’m excited to see if we get more of him in the future.
Orm, I’m less sold on. Patrick Wilson’s performance is fine. His motivation is less clear than Manta’s. While Manta causes Arthur to reflect on his actions and hopefully become a better hero, Orm mostly exists in the story as an obstacle to be overcome.
Given the track record of the DC Universe on film in recent years, I’m excited about the new course this film could nudge future films. Could this mean a light-hearted, optimistic Superman flick in the future? A detective tale of Batman? Who knows, but Aquaman has given me renewed hope that Warner Bros is doing a course correction for their films in the future.
Anyway, go see this movie.