Aquaman was once the mockery of the superhero world; a seahorse riding, fish-talking ‘fast’ swimmer. A far cry from the badass that pop culture has turned him into. DC films have had a hard time, on even rougher seas. In the span of 5 films, Warner Bros and DC have crafted one of the finest superhero films with Wonder Woman (2017), but ALSO one of the woeful worst in Justice League (2017). In terms of great superhero films, Aquaman falls somewhere in between the two. Not bad at all, but definitely not amazing.
Director James Wan brings the underwater hero to vivid and spectacular CGI life. It’s an action-packed adventure that attempts to create a world of wonderment, and it does succeed in that regard. The film follows Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry and his quest to gain the throne of Atlantis – a technologically advanced civilisation at the bottom of the sea. After Atlanna, Queen of Atlantis (an ever gorgeous and commanding Nicole Kidman), bares a child with a human, she unwittingly starts a war over the newborn half breed who has the power to lay claim to the throne and weld an ancient powerful trident that control the seven seas. With the help of hydrokinetic warrior Mera (Amber Heard), Arthur must stop his half-brother Orm (a great but underused Patrick Wilson) from waging a war with the surface world by becoming the king and hero that Atlantis needs. It’s a lot.
The star of this film is undoubtedly James Wan. His vision and direction is a sight to behold, a wonderful watery world with sleek as seaweed design and colourful characters, he has brought a clear direction back to DC films. The action sequences are some of the best in recent years, his use of CGI and revolving camera work bring a depth and voyeuristic element to the combat scenes. He is a master of his craft. The action scenes are so plentiful but so quick, one wonders if fewer action scenes with less expositional dialogue may have helped the film. The final battle in the third act is when Wan truly embraces the genre and fully goes to the fish market. It’s a psychedelic delight that rivals Avatar. Shark riding warriors fighting crab people with a giant Kraken and Orm’s army ascending, it’s a wonderful mess. The CGI and effects are is so seamless it’s breathtaking.
Momoa’s Aquaman is likeable enough to carry the film, however his charisma feels forced at times. His ascension from reluctant drunken vigilante to king/hero is far too quick and easy. The character doesn’t develop, more of his internal struggle with his birthright would have brought a much needed depth to the film; Aquaman needed more Aquaman. Patrick Wilson is a fine actor that sadly isn’t afforded the arc Orm deserved. Although he is a highlight, his villain doesn’t represent a big enough threat and is too easily defeated. Mera, as a character is interesting and important, however Amber Heard is shockingly substandard. She lacks any form of magnetism and delivers (admittedly silly) lines with an odd placement of reverence, utter shame for such a fantastic character. Nicole Kidman gives the performance her all and makes Atlanna one of the great maternal superhero figures.
Special credit within the story needs to be given to Black Mantra. A large helmet wearing aquatic villain that could have been trivial and silly instead is turned into an antagonist with a savage plight and understandable motives. His first scene and subsequent creation is a definite highlight. If Aquaman delivers a sequel, Black Manta will be keenly anticipated.
The film get so waterlogged and bogged down by its own exposition and weighted burden. It’s an action packed adventure, but story lacks the heart and intelligence of Wonder Woman or even a Marvel film. However its fishy fun and a great blockbuster that’s relatively easy to watch. Aquaman is ‘a lot’ of a lot of things, but it doesn’t entirely sink. Besides – any film that has the time to seriously show an octopus playing the drums during an underwater gladiator battle… can’t be all that bad.
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