Aquaman has never been the strongest or well-received superhero in DC comics. I mean, come on; a guy who can swim and talk to sea animals? He has always been seen as a second-tier superhero in comparison to the likes of the DC Trinity. With an entertaining but ludicrous story and good old fashioned fun, Aquaman has the DC Extended Universe continuing on the right course it started with Wonder Woman.
(This review is spoiler-free)
Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) was never meant to be born. The son of a human lighthouse keeper and the princess of the underwater nation of Atlantis, he’s an outcast of both worlds. The heir of Atlantis must step forward to lead his people against his half-brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson), who seeks to unite the seven underwater kingdoms against the surface world.
The beginning follows a successful time-tested formula in the hero genre of telling their origin. Considering how Aquaman was introduced in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, we needed this story to be told. It was a good introduction to the love story behind Arthur’s parents, which was well-acted and fully believable. You are rooting for this couple from the start. Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) and Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison) acting is great in this introduction that you feel for them when Atlanna is forced to leave her love and her son.
One year after the events of Justice League, Arthur hasn’t left the hero business behind as we get introduced to him, torpedoing himself into a sub that’s been hijacked by hi-tech pirates. The shirtless superhero has arrived to dispense his signature brand of fishy whoop-ass on these pirates and he does. After that save, you can tell that he wants nothing to do with the rewards of heroic decisions or his Atlantian side of his life. When Mera (Amber Heard) visits him on the land to ask for help against his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson, whose platinum blond hair is annoying to see) from waging war on the surface world. Arthur reluctantly accepts to help the world he doesn’t know to save the one he’s always loved.
Jason Momoa looks born for this role as the aquatic hero. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh at him during the saving of the sub as he whipped his long hair like he’s shooting an Axe Body Spray commercial, pulling off his best Dwayne Johnson-like smirk and cockily slinging out the one-liner: “Permission to come aboard.” There as always been an absurdity about Aquaman but the writers and director banked on Momoa’s badass swagger from Justice League to make you curious about how he would fare in his first-feature solo adventure. Despite the fact that the dialogue doesn’t always work in his favor, Momoa is fully committed to this role to justify Aquaman as a top-tier superhero.
The solid performances also continue with Amber Heard as love interest, Mera. She’s more than that as the film unfolds. She’s a princess and a capable warrior, able to take care of herself. Daughter of King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren, whose stiff grin, blindly faith in Orm, and floating red hair I could have done without), Mera is a strong female character with her own underwater abilities that she just came off the screen for me.
The other breakout character is Black Manta, played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen. Talk about an ultra-cool villain who I hope gets more screen time in the sequel. He’s not your run-of-the-mill “I want to rule the world or ocean” type like Orm. He’s very singular focused and a formidable opponent. I would have been fine if he was the main antagonist in this movie. Here’s hoping for part two.
Despite a messy plot that overextends itself by doing too much and a run time that could have been trimmed down, the movie is all about spectacle. The red herring of a mysterious ancient trident worked out excellently for the mythology woven into Aquaman’s solo vehicle and establishing that groundwork. Wan did great work in this film, definitely feeling more comfortable in the terror parts of the film to add the tension to the hero’s journey. It’s very ambitious and putting on the coolest and imaginative adventure; this is especially true in the final battle sequence on screen. It strives to be a weird and wonderful superhero movie and it nearly succeeds.
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