(Originally written on January 1, 2019)
Let’s face it. Warner Bros. has their work cut out for them when it comes to building a universe with DC comic book characters. Films like ‘Man of Steel’ and ‘Batman v Superman’ didn’t connect with many moviegoers, while ‘Suicide Squad’ and ‘Justice League’ were marred by production issues. With the only surefire hit being ‘Wonder Woman’ up to this point, one has to wonder if other DC solo films have any potential of being good.
Taking a somewhat opposite approach Marvel Studios took in order to play catch up (introducing characters in a big team-up movie, with solo films to follow), Warner Bros. is relying more on talented directors to attract audiences. For this particular film they hired James Wan (who directed the first Saw and the first Conjuring) to helm the film. An interesting choice given his previous works delved more into the horror genre, but the movies Wan directed always felt well-constructed and believable. Is it the same with Aquaman?
I think it is. What this movie brings is not only the backstory of how Arthur Curry (played by a wild but charming Jason Momoa) came to be, but also the expansive underwater world we explore throughout the story. The kingdom of Atlantis is wonderfully realized here with colours that pop in the stunning city. In fact everything is extremely detailed, from city ruins down to the armor and clothes Atlanteans wear.
Couple this with real locations on the surface and you have a beautiful world that feels alive and connected. I also appreciate the effort from both crew and actors when creating and acting out scenes taking place underwater. Nothing feels forced or hokey, with all their movements looking very natural.
In terms of plot, it mainly revolves around Arthur trying to prevent a war between the underwater kingdoms and the surface world while also coming to terms with his own identity. The story may not have much depth, but that’s okay given it’s a comic book movie. I think what makes it enjoyable are the characters. While the conflict between Arthur and Orm (played by Patrick Wilson) is the main draw, it’s nice how most of the other characters weren’t completely sidelined. The relationship between Arthur’s parents (Temuera Morrison and Nicole Kidman) is touching.
This is paralleled by the chemistry between Arthur and Mera (played by Amber Heard), who shines in her own right as a woman who takes initiative. As for Orm, his perspective and actions are understandable given the circumstances. He’s not just an ‘evil’ character, but fights for a purpose. Willem Dafoe and Dolph Lundgren are also great in their respective roles, filling out the cast nicely.
For all that I liked, there are also aspects of the film I didn’t. One is how there are a few scenes (like probably only 2–3) that felt off tonally. I get the reasoning behind said moments, but it doesn’t help when the film jumps awkwardly into them. Another is how one of Aquaman’s staple villains Black Manta (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) feels like an afterthought, but maybe we’ll see more of him in a sequel. As well, some of the scenes and dialogue are incredibly cheesy. Even if this was done intentionally (being a comic book movie and all) I’m all for it, but I literally face-palmed at some of them. Perhaps you’ll have to just accept it and move on.
So is Aquaman a great movie? It’s certainly up there simply because of its world building and how fun it is. The action is worth it, the world presented here is creative and there is good character development. And for all its cheesiness, the film is still a welcome change and maybe a sign of things to come in the future (the shift toward lighter tones, not the cheesiness).
Also, there’s a mid-credit scene, but nothing after when the credits are done. Just FYI.
- A. Shin