By JD Phillips
The DCEU thus far has been a very very mixed bag. By mixed bag I mean it started with a disjointed but watchable film, had two increasingly awful sequels, one terrible spinoff, and one spinoff so amazing that they can’t just burn it all to the ground. So my expectations for “Aquaman” were very low, even considering how naturally awesome Jason Momoa. I’m happy to report that “Aquaman” is much more “Wonder Woman” than it is “Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice”.
Like “Wonder Woman” it starts off in a very storybook way. The comparisons don’t end there as most of the film plays more like a quickly paced adaptation of a fantasy novel than it really does a superhero movie. That’s very much not a bad thing though. The DCEU films have utterly failed at the darker, more pretentious aesthetic they originally attempted and even harder at the hard right turn (in post-production) they made with “Justice League” and “Suicide Squad” to be more like Marvel films. This storybook aesthetic that worked so well for “Wonder Woman” works even better for “Aquaman” because of how hard a sell the Justice League’s most mockable member is.
There’s no mocking this Aquaman though. Jason Momoa is awesome in every single frame of the movie. I don’t know who had the brilliantly strange idea of casting Khal Drogo as the blonde haired, blue eyed Arthur Curry, but it was brilliant. He brings a completely different energy to the film than any other actor would have. There’s that same natural badass quality that Gal Gadot brings that just screams “this actor could really kick your ass”.
That is a bit of a double edged sword though. The film is so aware of how cool Momoa is that it frequently leans on his grizzled edge to mask the all too familiar toxically masculine tropes the film uses instead of fully writing out a fleshed out character. Amber Heard and Jason Momoa are great but their interactions can sometimes seem as though they are from another decade. The super-competent woman character taking care of the bull-headed but somehow special because the plot demands it man is just exhausting at this point. It becomes confusing seeing as how badass and magical Mera is why she doesn’t just take the throne herself. Why does she need Arthur?
The moments when the film drives away from these tropes are the better character moments in the film. When it focuses on Arthur’s humility and his desire to save both of his people are much better than when it just relies on one-liners and guitar riffs.
The other characters are also two parts awesome and one part cliched. Nicole Kidman is incredibly badass but ultimately serves to just be the passive Matriarch we’d expect. Patrick Wilson’s Ocean Master is played excellently but he can seem a little mustache twirly at times.
Black Manta is a stand out from his first scene but is sadly shelved for the last act of the film. (No underwater fight scene with Aquaman? Whaaaat?)
Still, none of this really takes away from the film. Also like “Wonder Woman”, the film’s style, excellent world, and even more excellent action sequences more than make up for the film’s flaws. Atlantis is just beautiful. It isn’t quite Wakanda good, but it’s still a wonder to look at. I feel like the screenplay wanted to dip a toe into the waters of the seven kingdoms (pardon the pun) instead of jump in with both feet. The film tours us around the Aquaman mythos but doesn’t flesh any part of it out as much as it could. This is probably gonna be helpful to the franchise’s future. There’s a lot of material to mine in the future.
Director James Wan took the most difficult comic property in the DCEU and gave it massive franchise potential. He’s got “Fast & Furious” and “Conjuring” franchises under his belt, but “Aquaman” might be his most impressive feat yet.
All in all, “Aquaman” is a movie that should have been an absolute disaster but the talent behind it made it into a truly seaworthy superhero franchise.