Director: James Wan
Starring: Jason Momoa, Nicole Kidman, Amber Heard, Willem Defoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
Where to start with Aquaman. The character has been a bit of a joke in the comic community for years. Then Jason Momoa was cast and suddenly Aquaman was cool. Next, James Wan jumped off The Flash so he could realise his own world with Aquaman. Things were looking good for the fish talking hero. Then, Justice League happened. Jason Momoa came out unscathed from that train wreck, and even bagged some of the films best lines. The film didn’t highlight anything that made Aquaman different though, he seemed to have the same skillset as any other hero, and the scenes shot underwater were dreadful. When two sea dwelling characters have to create an air bubble to speak to each other, you know that this world hasn’t been fully thought through. Thankfully, Aquaman has been made as an almost soft reboot, and Wan has promised a new experience for cinema goers.
Aquaman, played by Jason Momoa, is Arthur Curry. The son of a lighthouse keeper and an Atlantean Queen. He is half human and half Atlantean, although he has distanced himself from the underwater world since he found out that upon learning of his existence the king of Atlantis sacrificed his mother to The Trench, a part of the ocean filled with monstrous sea creatures. He is forced to return though when Mera, played by Amber Heard calls him back to deal with his brother Orm, who plans to wage war on those who live on land.
My thoughts coming out of this film are generally positive. It completely erases any memory of Justice League, and it was great to see a film in the DCEU which felt completely stand alone. The cast all did a pretty great job, and Momoa lives up to top billing with a performance full of confidence and charisma. Patrick Wilson did feel slightly out of his depth as the main villain, but that may be due to the fact that as a villain his character is never really that interesting. James Wan obviously had a total blast with the world building, and some of it is fantastic, but there is a lot of it, sometimes too much.
Aquaman is best described as a real mixed bag. A pick’n’mix of a film. It wants and tries to do everything at once, and can become bogged down in the sheer amount of storytelling going on. There are so many worlds visit, creatures to see, plot points to tie up, and characters to introduce. It all becomes a bit too much. It should be applauded for its ambition, but maybe a more stream lined version of this film would have made for the more enjoyable experience. For me the film really finds its feet when our characters are on land. The scenes both in the desert and Sicily being two standout moments in the movie. These scenes recall classic adventure movies like Indiana Jones and Romancing The Stone, they also don’t rely as heavily on distracting CGI and the action scenes here feel more real and have more weight to them.
This might be the biggest problem with Aquaman: they still haven’t mastered the underwater world. When it works it looks fantastic. The scene where Arthur and Mera get attacked in The Trench is gorgeous to look at, combing dazzling visuals with some horrific imagery. It’s epic. Then there’s the scene where Curry fights Orm for the throne of Atlantis. It’s awful. None of it looks real, and it’s hard to invest in a fight between two cgi characters. The actors are obviously restricted by the wire work, and whilst there is no air bubbles for them to talk in this time, they’ve still made the decision to add a little reverb when they speak to give the impression of talking underwater, which is more than a little distracting.
The pick’n’mix nature of this film also refers to the tone, style and references on display. One scene is straight out of Black Panther, another from Iron Man, there’s a little bit of Jurassic Park here, a lot of Star Wars. Indeed when they first enter Atlantis it’s hard not to think of our first visit to Jar-Jar Binks’ home in The Phantom Menace. Some of them work, some of them don’t. There is also a sub-plot which involves another, more interesting villain. We get to travel to a lot of different worlds, there’s people riding sharks, octopus playing drums, there’s a lot going on. One things for sure, it’s a long film, but it’s way too interesting to be called boring.
The Aqua parts of Aquaman tend to be its weakest, but don’t let that put you off one of the most creative blockbusters this year. It is a little all over the place, but that comes from a filmmaker taking his first chance at a superhero blockbuster and wringing it for all its worth. There’s a lot here to be commended even if it’s not quite the home run that DC fans were hoping for.