Aquaman (2018) is directed by James Wan and stars Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, William Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul Mateen II and Tom Curry. This is a *spoiler free* review.
Aquaman is lame. Which, for a very long time has been the (unfair) stereotype about this DC character. His costume is dorky, his super power sucks. He can only talk to fish. Such were the complaints among pop culture patrons who hadn’t really had true exposure to the lore and character of Aquaman. In steps Zack Snyder, as he helms the forefront of the DCEU back in 2013, which feels like eons ago. Snyder’s vision has been pretty alternative, dark and controversial. Many have hailed him as a misunderstood genius, with some hit and misses in his experimental style of character portrayals. When he announced the casting of Jason Momoa, fresh off his Khal Drogo (Game of Thrones) run, I have to admit I was pretty excited. He was probably what was needed to make the character badass in public consciousness. His costume and look was pretty underwhelming from the first reveal in Batman v Superman (2016), but I was pleasantly surprised from just how much heart he had in the Justice League movie (2017). So, I was pretty curious about his solo outing.
The Aquaman movie…is pretty darn good. What we have here is something the Superhero genre had yet to diversify into: a pure, classic, adventure flick ala Raiders of The Lost Ark (1981) or Pirates of the Caribbean (2003). Come and expect 143 mins of light hearted, pop-corn fun that doesn’t take itself too seriously (yes, a DC movie).
Aquaman is lame. Which, for a very long time has been the (unfair) stereotype about this DC character. His costume is dorky, his super power sucks. He can only talk to fish. Such were the complaints among pop culture patrons who hadn’t really had true exposure to the lore and character of Aquaman.
I credit Wan for fitting in a ton of exposition (albeit sometimes awkard), action, and character building into this flick whilst also meeting the time quota and terrible editing schedule that Warner Brothers have plagued the DCEU with. The butchery of Justice League is still not forgiven. What Wan does here is create a world, which spans several oceans with a diverse culture, lifestyle and mythology to our own and makes it seem inhabitable. The underwater world of Aquaman has been the only fantasy world (besides Wakanda) that I would WISH existed. Props for that one. The costumes do not seem awkward, but very intriguing and true to the source material (especially Wilson’s Ocean Master). This film is packed with colour, from Mera’s famous radiant red hair, to the fluorescent lights of Atlantis the stereotype of a dull DC is fading away. Pun intended. The pacing at the start of the film does feel a little jarring, with myself having to strain a little to figure out at which point in the DCEU continuity this film takes place, and the motivations seem a little rushed with little room for the audience to digest the aftermath of crucial scenes. But once the plot is underway, the film is an unstoppable ride of fun. Enjoyably, the film also have fun flashback transitions that don’t seem poorly paced or edited (take notes Zack Snyder)
Momoa was pretty good as Aquaman. I wasn’t expecting any serious dramatic acting, and so serious emotion was spared on his part, which still allowed the film to be carried forward. His devil may care attitude, and confidence however certainly made his portrayal of Aquaman a memorable on, and he also certainty looks the part.
Amber Heard’s Mera certainly follows ship. There was one scene that needed serious dramatic acting but left me rolling my eyes. Other than that her character is both written and portrayal as loveable, resilient and feisty and I was entertained in seeing her dynamic with Momoa’s Aquaman. Can’t wait to see more of their adventures.
The rest of the cast is pretty serviceable too. Patrick Wilson is great as Ocean Master, but whilst DC has been known for having strong villain portrayals his character motivations seem a little flat as compared to Abdul-Mateen’s Black Manta, but more on him in a short while. William Dafoe is great as always, however this didn’t feel like a quintessential role that only Dafoe could do. I feel his performance as Vulko could have been portrayed by just about any other actor. But that doesn’t really matter.
The takeaway performance and also development in this film to me, was that of Abdul-Mateen II. A somewhat sympathetic villain akin to Micheal B Jordan’s Killmonger (Black Panther, 2018). Unfortunately he played somewhat of a secondary villain in this film, yet was still very entertaining and I looked forward to seeing him whenever he was on screen. Minorly, his voice in his costume was frankly really silly. He sounded like a Power Rangers villain and I found myself wincing at some of his delivery.
The film had some expected commentary about the environment and pollution, but it wasn’t fully explored. Like I said, this was intended to be a fun flick, and I suppose any good sequel will build on seriousness.
I can’t believe I haven’t discussed the action yet. Aquaman introduces a brand new style of underwater action! I was skeptical about it when I saw the little Justice League had to offer, but I was always curious about how the sea life would play a role in the Aquaman fights. Let me tell you, I was not disappointed. The action is new and exhilarating, with certain shots taken directly from famous comic panels. The land action scenes are just as exciting, with the chase scene in Sicily becoming one of my favourite sequences in the DCEU.
The music was great as usual. One thing DC doesn’t fail in with their movies, is deliver a great score and soundtrack. More upbeat than Batman v Superman, and more positive than Suicide Squad (2016) I found myself grinning and toe taping in more than one scene. This was a fun film indeed.
My biggest gripe about this film however, even more so than the pacing is the dialogue. Some of the lines are so corny and cliched it left me rolling my eyes. But it wasn’t anything bad enough to put me off the film entirely, and even at its worst I was still engaged in the plot and scenes with the terrible dialogue. Just don’t expect “Shakespeare on The High Seas” and you’ll be fine.
In the end Aquaman delivers a fresh wave of life to the DCEU. Neither patronisingly Shakespearean like Thor (2011) nor touching on a lot of real world issues like Black Panther this film is original, and delivers a fun, feel good adventure film. The chinks in the fish scale armour are clearly visible, but it doesn’t keep the film from succeeding. Perhaps there is still hope for the DCEU.
But what this film does, is expand and evolve the genre of the comic book film. It blends together mythology and adventure and super hero sci fi into one neat and serviceable package. It doesn’t seem like this genre is losing any steam, and is only getting more dynamic. Thank goodness. What’s more, it breaths new life into the DCEU. Perhaps we should be looking forward to future projects. I’m certainly excited for an Aquaman sequel.