Directed by James Wan
Starring: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman
Throughout the two and a half hour run time of James Wan’s “Aquaman” you get the feeling you’re not watching your typical super hero flick.
I don’t mean this in the critic buzz-wordy sense of “It changes everything you know about super heroes!” but rather it’s distinctively its own thing in the tonally all over the place DC Cinematic Universe.
It’s bright, loud, cheesy and very strange but for a film that’s as long as it is there sure isn’t a dull moment within it and if this film says anything about the DCEU it has its first real pulse since “Wonder Woman.”
(My thoughts after “Dawn of Justice” and “Justice League”…)
“Aquaman” takes place sometime after the events of “Justice League” as Arthur Curry, the Aquaman, continues to reap his own vigilante justice upon the evil-doers of the seven seas. When an Atlantian named Meera warns him of an impending war that’s about to be waged on the surface from his half brother King Orm, Arthur reluctantly sets off to retrieve a legendary trident to stop him all while contemplating his complicated roots to the under water kingdom.
As mentioned, “Aquaman” is not a normal super hero flick. If anything it bares more resemblance to Indiana Jones with a splash (heh) of Lord of the Rings (not to mention some fanciful tech elements borrowed from the Kingdom of Wakanda). This isn’t a bad thing though as a character as strange and cheesy as Aquaman might not have worked with your standard super hero script of good guy donning his or her cape to combat billionaire psychopaths, mad titans, or poorly rendered CGI demigods.
“Aquaman’s” strength IS that its bonkers though. Atlantis is a strange setting, even in the world of men who dress as bats and super-powered aliens named Clark but James Wan was right to lean into this weirdness. It’s sincere and cheesy at the same time, perhaps sincerely cheesy, and unapologetic about the fact there are humans with futuristic technology living in the depths of the ocean riding sharks (that roar??) and settle disputes in Klingon-esque trial by combat. It’s a credit to the film’s script that you recognize all this weirdness and yet you buy into it anyways. It’s absurd in the best way and it’s impossible to look away while grinning (sometimes laughing) ear to ear.
(Seriously, weird shit like this actually happens in the film and no one is bothered by it.)
The action is solid with some superb fight choreography to go along with even better cinematography and editing and the variety of adversaries Arthur and Meera face throughout the film between high tech pirates, Atlantean commandos and deep sea monsters are all pure visual treats for the eye. The pacing is superb because of this and makes the film’s lengthy run-time feel like 90 minutes. It’ll be hard to feel bored watching Arthur kick ass, while Meera waterbends enemies around her and it’s a credit to James Wan’s directing that allows this to be way more fun that it deserves.
Jason Momoa does a fine job here, though, as this film’s fish man lead. Though he at times can remind you of that high school football captain who pantsed you in your teenage years with his often jocky line delivery he is nonetheless charismatic and a joy to watch as this character. Traditional Aquaman is just a little too vanilla ice cream (not to be confused with Boy Scout types like Captain America and Superman) for this era of super heroes and Momoa was the right man for this more rugged take on the character. Sure, Momoa can be a bit of a bro but he’s sincere at least and carries each scene he is in perfectly well and will likely be a treat in the sequel.
(Not to be confused with “Being a treat” not that I a straight man would ever say about such a fine hunk of meat…hey wait a minute…)
Amber Heard’s Meera plays off him well, barely tolerating Arthur’s “too cool for this shit” demeanor, but more importantly she is a rare example of a love interest who is helpful to the plot (if anything she does most of the heavy lifting of the story). It helps that Meera is a super powered character herself but too often female characters in these super hero flicks offer little beyond being a prize for the main character at the end and it’s good to see a character like her actually written to be truly strong in more ways than one for a change.
If you liked villains like Lee Pace’s Ronan from “Guardians of the Galaxy” you’ll love Patrick Wilson’s King Orm aka Ocean Master. The script doesn’t lend much depth to Orm beyond “Half brother impure! Surface bad!” but Wilson hams it up to 11 spending most of the film yelling and giving broad dictator speeches on conquest and victory. But this is fine once again cause the movie doesn’t need him to be anything beyond an adversary for Arthur. They probably could’ve played up the brother plot line a little more (somewhat like what “Black Panther” did for T’Challa and Killmonger) but the film gets all it’s points in about power, humility and love that’s it’s not 100 percent necessary.
(Black Manta is a bit wasted here though but perhaps will offer more in the sequel.)
The only real negatives I can say about the film is it could’ve expanded a bit more on the half breed plotline, where Momoa (a hapa himself) is more than capable to play up and Nicole Kidman is wasted as Arthur’s mom as she seemed have a strict line limit set in her contract. But these are pretty minor issues and again it’s impossible to not enjoy the strangeness, cheesiness and crazy shit that happens in this movie.
It’s pretty safe to say at this point that the DCEU is finally starting to find its groove as the “grittiness” and long-winded shit of the Synder-verse appears to be waaay in the rear-view mirror now. Warner Brothers is probably going to play the rest of the franchise as if everything pre-“Justice League” other than “Wonder Woman,” never happened and if this film is any indication the franchise has found its sea legs after enduring some pretty harsh waves. It still has a ways to go before it even sniffs MCU success but at the very least the future is bright.
Hopefully Warner Brothers rides this sea of good fortune and makes a splash with “Shazam” next year.
4 out of 5
So what do the dbags have to say about Rotten Tomatoes “DC bias” now? #getoverit