December 21, 2018 Aquaman (Movie Review)
Aquaman has long been something of a joke in the world of comics. With his ability to talk to fish and control the seas, this hero seemed to pale in comparison to the likes of Superman or Batman. Now, though, thanks to the sultry swagger of actor Jason Momoa (Justice League 2017, Game of Thrones series), an underrated hero is finally given some ‘sea’ legs to stand on.
Directed by James Wan (Saw 2004, The Conjuring 2013) and in theaters worldwide on Friday, December 21st, through Warner Bros. Pictures, Aquaman succeeds in a way few DC Comics films have because it accepts the wackiness of its source material with open arms. Yeah, there are giant sea monsters, armies of crustaceans, and dudes riding into battle on armored sea horses. Who would not want to see that?
Aquaman is something of an origin story, describing the tale of the hero’s star crossed parents and their tragic tale. Aquaman, whose true name is Arthur, is the son of a surface-dwelling Lighthouse Keeper Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison: Green Lantern 2011, The Barefoot Bandits series) and a queen of Atlantis, Atlanna, (Nicole Kidman: The Others 2001, Cold Mountain 2003), an advanced undersea civilization that has kept itself hidden from the surface for a thousand years. Arthur must face his destiny as the true king of Atlantis, facing down his half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson: The Conjuring 2013, Insidious 2010) in a series of increasingly massive CGI battles. Simultaneously, Arthur must come to terms with the nemesis he created: Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Marteen II: The Get Down series), all while searching for a powerful trident that will unite the world. Oh, and of course young Arthur was trained in combat by Willem Dafoe (Platoon 1986, The Boondock Saints 1999) as Vulko.
Thankfully, this film does not waste too much time worrying about being an origin story. By taking a more non-linear approach, viewers are allowed to jump almost right into the action – the action being a shirtless, tattooed Momoa beating up bad guys on a submarine. Thank you, James Wan. While superhero fatigue may not have fully set in with viewers yet, origin story fatigue certainly has. Since Aquaman has already made an appearance in last year’s Justice League film, to tell too much of an origin would have felt like a step backward. Instead, viewers are given just enough glimpses into this heroes past while keeping its eyes fixed on the present. Still, the film shows how Aquaman picked up his mantle and became the orange-and-green uniformed hero readers love to hate on.
While the plot does not feel nearly as important as the underwater clashes and insane amount of special effects, this story finally allows Aquaman a moment in the spotlight. Following in the wake of uber-dark DC-inspired films like 2013’s Man of Steel, 2016’s Batman v Superman, and 2017’s Wonder Woman, it seems as though DC are finally taking a more lighthearted approach to their heroes. Aquaman has plenty of one-liners and light-hearted moments, feeling like a breath of fresh air when compared to its oppressive predecessors. Momoa plays the cheeky, badass, devil-may-care character so well, it would have been a waste not to lean into that charm.
Rather than trying to make crazy-looking villains like Manta look modern and cool, Aquaman instead chose to embrace its campiness. While Manta still resembles a Power Rangers baddie of the week, it would have been a total cop out to do anything else. With all of the gargantuan and bioluminescent setpieces, a kaiju-like creature voiced by Julie Andrews, and tightly choreographed fight scenes between super-powered characters, Wan and his team crafted a non-stop action adventure that was a thrill to watch. The city of Atlantis was a blindingly bright combination of Sci-Fi and Fantasy that was not afraid to be just that.
Even with all those high points, Aquaman did have a few moments that fell flat. The plot was oddly-paced at times, often seeming like it was trying to cram four hours worth of story into a 2 hour bag. Arthur’s forced romance with Mera (Amber Heard: The Danish Girl 2015, The Rum Diary 2011) was unnecessary and felt shoehorned in. While Mera was an ass-kicking princess who commanded all of her scenes, she and Arthur had little on screen chemistry. All of that was easily forgotten once the epic battle kicked off between all different undersea races.
By openly accepting the unique strangeness of Aquaman as a character and refusing to tone-down even its most ridiculous villains, Aquaman may have just made itself one of the best entries in the modern DC pantheon. For a zany, joyous ride from beginning to end, Crpytic Rock gives Aquaman 4 out of 5 stars.