Published on December 21st, 2018 | by Dan Nicholls0
It’s doing insane business overseas, but is Aquaman a cure for what ails the DC film universe? Dan says it’s swimming in the right direction.
Long considered the laughing stock of the DC Universe’s stable of comic book heroes, Aquaman is no longer an ugly duckling. He proves he’s got what it takes to fight alongside the big boys in his self-titled solo movie debut and Jason Momoa could be the mightiest hero left standing this holiday season. The movie Aquaman itself proves to be a formidable contemporary to its box office brethren; it’s a spray of fresh water in your face that serves as an exciting wake up call for the course correction of the DCECU.
Arthur Curry, a.k.a. Aquaman, was born to a human lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) who washes up on dry land after fleeing her underwater kingdom of Atlantis. Raised above the sea and trained by the queen’s loyal aide Vulko (Willem Dafoe), Arthur goes on to live his life doing good deeds and punching bad guys. He can swim at super speed, talk with fish, and is apparently bulletproof too. He’s a badass and the king of his own little domain until Atlantis comes calling to bring him home.
Mera (Amber Heard) appeals to Arthur to leave his home and fight for the right to the throne currently occupied by his evil half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson). Orm has his sights set on conquering the seven underwater realms and rising to power as the “Ocean Master” who will start a war on the land dwellers for being polluting assholes. You could argue that Orm earns something of his own “Killmonger was right” movement.
Aquaman is very much an adventure film first and foremost. In the search for the trident that will give him ultra-strength, Arthur takes Mera on a trek to the Sahara, Italy, and eventually to the darkest trenches of the oceans. It’s under the sea where the fantasy genre elements really amp up, giving the battle sequences a sort of Lord of the Rings vibe.
The DC Extended Cinematic Universe has been plagued by doom and gloom since its inception but Aquaman wisely ignores the other characters and events we’ve previously been introduced to. It’s a standalone adventure accessible to most anyone regardless of their level of superhero movie fandom. Like Wonder Woman before it, Aquaman is going to reach audiences that probably wouldn’t have considered checking out another Batman v Superman debacle.
Director James Wan has an energetic eye and likes to keep his camera spinning. He also makes sure we are never bored, keeping things moving at a steady pace without once slowing. The impressive cast that’s been assembled is certainly down to clown with this sea oddity; Dafoe, Kidman, and Wilson chew up the scenery enough to let you know they’re really having fun with it all.
Momoa is one hulking hunk of a man and he’s got a sense of humor to match his physicality. He’s effortlessly charming in this role and you’ll pretty much equate the actor with the part moving forward – he is Aquaman. It would be nice if in future adventures he was given dialogue that was a bit snappier and played more strongly to his comic sensibilities. He’s humorous but never witty enough to garner an actual LOL here.
Standard-issue comic book movie complaints apply in spots, with plot holes and garbage dialogue aplenty. Yet it’s able to overcome those trappings thanks in part to the impressive scope and sense of fun to it all. This is world-building of the highest order and a whole series set below surface level now sounds more enticing than groan-worthy.
Aquaman is rich in camp, cheese, and earnestness. It’s also weird as hell and that’s not a bad thing. This is one of the most impressive VFX spectacles of the year and it takes us to a place we haven’t exactly been before. There’s simply too much going on to ask “why”, you just gotta say “wow.” Aquaman is an unexpected delight. You’ll be glad you took the dive.