Starring: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
Director: James Wan
Writers: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall, Geoff Johns
Producer: Peter Safran, Rob Cowan,
Review by Greg Brothers
After the mess that was the Justice League movie, the question going into the movie was if you screamed underwater could anyone hear it. Thankfully from the opening scene, it became obvious that the entire tenor of Aquaman was going to be different from its overly dark predecessors. Make no doubt about it at no point will this movie be considered for an Oscar. What it will do is leave you walking out with a general feeling of satisfaction and the hope that maybe the DC Universe may have found the proper theme.
Aquaman begins with a flashback as we are introduced the Arthurs land-dwelling father and Atlantean royal on the run mother. After the explanation of where Arthur’s mother has been, we jump forward to shortly after the end of the events in Justice League. The rumors of an Atlantean living among the land-dwellers have all but been confirmed as Arthur refuses pleas for him to return to Atlantis to reclaim the crowd that is his and help save the planet. After his refusal to intervene leads to the destruction of his hometown, Arthur agrees to come to Atlantis and defeat his power-hungry brother while still insisting he would never become King.
Where Wan succeeds that other directors in the DCEU have failed is his ability to embrace the comicbookiness of the story. Once underwater we are introduced to the city of Atlantis, which consists of a combination of the fallen ancient city, and a new technological wonderland. Arthur often has the same reaction that the audience does as you take in the sights of the city for the first time. The blues and whites shine and provide a colorful background for which Wan to play. While the leaders of Atlantis visit several other deep-sea kingdoms, Wan makes the choice to show very little of their lands. As the movie is already stretched to its limits as far as length and exposition, the choice is one that helps make the introduction of these different kingdoms bearable.
The other part that makes Aquaman enjoyable is the growth of Arthur himself. The “My Man” yelling Bro from Justice League is still front and center, but there is actual growth seen in the character. The introduction of his father helps to establish a softer and more accessible side of Arthur. Early in the movie, a choice that Arthur makes creates an enemy for him that could have been avoided. Later Wan allows the character to build on that mistake as he chooses a different path when presented with a similar choice. It is subtle but also helps to drive home the overarching theme of forgiveness that we see throughout.
Despite the overall positive vibe given off by Aquaman, it is not without some major flaws. The trope of secret meeting being interrupted by an exploding wall and invading enemies is used no less than four times. While it can be expected the first time, by the fourth time you begin to wonder who is supposed to be running surveillance on these meet-ups. In the same vein, the awe of first seeing Atlantis is understandable. It helps the audience to take in the beauty of the area. The use of the panning throughout the becomes redundant at some point.
While there is nothing specifically wrong with his character of Vulko, the entire movie I was waiting for William Dafoe to whip out some sort evil plan and dawn menacing mask. The other flaws focus around the big bads of Aquaman. When he was first revealed in the trailer, the interwebs went gaga over Black Manta. That being said, the introduction of the character is done beautifully. When he shows up again the beef, he has with Aquaman is understandable and justified. And with all the work and building that went into the character, it felt as if Black Manta was widely wasted in this movie. I believe he would have been better off being seen in his first defeat and then off screen getting the Atlantean technology only to show up as the main villain in the sequel.
Sliding back to the plot and pacing of the movie is where some of the other concerns come into play. At times the transitions from one point to the other is clunky and awkward. At no point is there even an attempt to explain how Mera can easily change outfits. Or how Arthurs pants seem to dry within seconds. Arthur and Mera’s above ground adventure were much too long and with a few well-done edits could have cut the movie by 20 minutes.
Verdict: Check it out!
Yes, Aquaman has some major flaws to it. It is long, at times unorganized, and beyond cheesy. But it is that acceptance of the cheese that makes this a movie that you really should see. The fun that the cast had acting in Wan’s world is palpable, and you cannot help but find yourself smiling even as the most bro lines flow from Momoa’s mouth. It will be unlike anything that you have seen in the DCEU, and that is for the better.