After a so-so appearance in last year’s Justice League, the prospect of a solo Aquaman movie didn’t sound all that exciting, but yet, director James Wan has managed to pull of an epic fantasy B-movie that manages to make the character of Aquaman interesting for the film-viewing audience, and finally give Jason Momoa the chance to shine in the central role. The film may be overblown, extravagant, cheesy and formulaic as hell, and yet you can’t help but be entertained by the sheer absurdity of it all, as well by its charming protagonists. James Wan goes for the zany audacity and it just works, unafraid of its comic book roots, and is a blast from start to finish.
This is DC Films’ riskiest and most ambitious movie to date in terms of how they were going to pull off Aquaman and his world, and it’s frankly a miracle that it just about works considering how many ingredients they throw into an already brewing pot of underwater mayhem. This film is a feast for the eyes, and the world of Atlantis is realised gorgeously, brimming with colour, full of imaginative creatures, creative world-building and despite the CGI being obviously fake, it still manages to be wonderfully beautiful to look at, which is already a major step-up from the hideous CGI characters and landscapes from Justice League.
While the world is creative on a visual level, on a narrative level however, the story is clichéd and formulaic since there is nothing here that you haven’t seen before. It’s the story of the outsider or outcast who’s destined to become king and overthrow a tyrannical leader, plus there’s an on-off relationship that’s ultimately becomes romantic by the end, so it’s all the familiar tropes that we’ve seen a million times before. However, in spite of its clunky narrative, the sporadic pacing and the hilarious OTT melodrama, the film takes it in its stride and revels in its corniness. It’s like as if someone took the basic story elements of Black Panther and blended it with the camp, epic quality and gusto of Flash Gordon, and frankly, that’s not a bad thing and it makes for some entertaining results.
Momoa has finally given more emotional range here than he did in Justice League, allowing for more humanising aspects to his character, such as the budding connection he has to his dad, as well as his playful relationship with Mera. Momoa manages to easily nail the wit, physicality, and depth the character requires, while Amber Heard’s Mera proves to be a fitting romantic foil for Aquaman. Heard plays it straight compared to Momoa’s brash and fun-loving Aquabro, handling the exposition-delivering with ease, as well as the action, which all makes for a fitting and cute dynamic between the two leads, even if her wig is painfully obvious.
Nicole Kidman manages to provide awkward yet heartwarming humour as the literal fish-out-of-water mother that falls for Temerua Morrison, who gives a solid performance as Aquaman’s father, Willem Dafoe gives credible support as the Atlantean adviser/mentor to Aquaman, and Dolph Lundgren continues his impressive comeback following his turn in Creed II. As the central villain Orm the Ocean Master is quite a boring villain on paper with some of the most corny dialogue, but its credit to Patrick Wilson for breathing some life into the character that makes him at least serviceable. As for the ultimate arch-enemy in Black Manta, he’s treated as more of a side-quest villain and here’s hoping he’s allowed to make more of a impact in future films.
Whatever its faults may be (and there are many), there’s no denying that director James Wan went all-in for it, and what we have is a silly, corny, overblown extravaganza that is unashamed by being just that. It doesn’t match the heights of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, but it easily eclipses other installments in the DC Films Universe. On paper, this really shouldn’t have worked, but for some strange crazy reason it does, and that alone is good enough reason to check it out now.
Dir: James Wan
Scr: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall, James Wan, Geoff Johns
Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman
Prd: Peter Safran, James Cowan
DOP: Don Burgess
Music: Rupert Gregson-Williams
Run time: 143 mins
Aquaman is out now in cinemas.