Film Review: ‘Aquaman’

Warner Bros.’ Worlds of DC heads for the seven seas…

Aquaman 2

King of the sea: Jason Momoa leads the action in ‘Aquaman’ (image credit Warner Bros. Pictures, used for illustrative purposes only).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison

Directed by:  James Wan / written by:  David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick & Will Beall (story by Geoff Johns, James Wan & Will Beall, Aquaman created by Mort Weisinger & Paul Norris) / 143 minutes

What’s it about?

As the kingdom of Atlantis prepares for war, Arthur Curry – aka ‘Aquaman’ – finds he must fulfil his destiny and take the throne in order to unite the underwater world and prevent a deadly conflict…

In review

Aquaman, the latest of Warner Bros. Pictures’ slate of superhero films under the ‘Worlds of DC’ banner (which was previously and unofficially referred to as the ‘DC Extended Universe’, or DCEU) is a fun, albeit partly derivative, comic book blockbuster that’s highly entertaining if inferior to previous Warner/DC outings Man of Steel and Wonder Woman.  It’s fair to say that some of the narrative beats are predictable and unoriginal and comparisons to Marvel Studios’ Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther are easily drawn but with that in mind, Aquaman holds its own and doesn’t pretend to be anything other than it is – a swashbuckling and visually jaw-dropping popcorn action adventure.

Picking up where he left off in Justice League (and with backstory that’s interspersed throughout in a series of flashbacks), Jason Momoa is the likeable lead infusing Arthur Curry/Aquaman with roguish charm and swagger, offset by just the right touch of vulnerability that provides the character with an essential element of relatability.  It sounds cliché, but it’s a significant part of what draws audiences (and readers) to these colourful heroes in the first place and through the efforts of Mamoa and the film’s screenwriters it’s hard to believe that Aquaman could ever have been one of DC’s most ridiculed characters.  Opposing Mamoa is Watchmen’s Patrick Wilson as Arthur’s half-brother Orm – aka ‘Ocean Master’ – whose militant rule of Atlantis and a desire for conquest threatens war with the surface.  Wilson is great and is a formidable presence, providing Aquaman with an effective villain.  Another standout is the reliably excellent Willem Dafoe as Arthur’s childhood mentor, Vulko and Nicole Kidman adds further star power in the role of Queen Atlanna.  Amber Heard is fine as Mera (whose father, King Nereus is played by action legend Dolph Lundgren) but is no Gal Gadot and unfortunately Yahya Abdul-Mateen II similarly underwhelms as Black Manta – it’s not entirely the actor’s fault given he’s handed some cheesy lines that undercut the threat value.

Whilst there are familiar tropes – the reluctant hero searching for purpose and fulfilment has been seen countless times – and there’s a shameless riff on Indiana Jones as Arthur and Mera search for a powerful Atlantean artefact, the writers of Aquaman deliver an enjoyable and fairly pacey tale that despite some droll dialogue is enhanced greatly by astonishing visuals.  Director James Wan (Furious 7) and his team take the fantasy of the lost city of Atlantis and really run with it, depicting vast and rich uaquatic realms teeming with a variety of life that’s wonderfully bizarre and inventive – the sight of an army of soldiers riding sharks and battling gigantic crab-like creatures is both odd yet strangely believable.  Wan executes it all rather well and injects the epic scale action of Aquaman with energy and skill, although the use of slow-motion in superhero action scenes is becoming a little tiresome.

In terms of the film’s tone it’s fairly light and family friendly with dashes of humour (that’s thankfully not too goofy or forced), continuing Warner Bros.’ plan of course-correction from Zack Snyder’s darker, more introspective and existential vision.  In some ways that’s a shame as there are some merits to the latter but from a crowd-pleasing perspective (and in pursuit of Marvel-level popularity and healthy box office returns) it’s understandable.  It’s also completely accessible to new or casual viewers – whilst Aquaman is certainly part of the overall main DC cinematic universe, bar a single reference to the events of Justice League it favours a standalone approach and that’s totally fine and allows Wan’s film to be what it needs to be and provide firmer foundations for the Worlds of DC going forward.

The bottom line:  A fun popcorn adventure, Aquaman doesn’t break new ground but is an enjoyable and visually exciting comic book romp.

Aquaman is in cinemas across the U.K. now and opens in the U.S. and worldwide from 21st December.

10 thoughts on “Film Review: ‘Aquaman’

  1. I went to see Aquaman over the weekend and really enjoyed it, not something I’ve been able to say about a DC comics film in along time. It was a fun movie as well, with some great action, and a real sense of adventure. Lets hope further DC films continue this upward trend :).

  2. It’s good to hear that Aquaman is a good film. The last thing the DCEU, or whatever the live-action film universe is being called, needed is another Justice League fiasco.

    The visuals look great based on what’s being shown in the trailers and I know for certain that many fans of Mamoa are eager to see the film. Thanks for another well done review, I feel more comfortable going to see the film next weekend.

  3. Beautiful review, Chris. I honestly don’t know how you do it to write so eloquently… Share some of your tricks, brethren. 😀 I’m glad however to hear that it isn’t a flop to your eyes, but so many of negative things you point out would truly sadden me in any movie. I do hope that the positive will overrule the negative when I get around to seeing it this Friday. And honestly, I’m not surprised to hear the lighter and more humourous touch that this film takes compared to BvS… Even the fact that it barely connects the other movies to it. I wonder if they’ll bother doing a JL2 in the future and show us Darkseid or if they’re just going to dish out random new movies until something works really well with fans, critics and the box office. I just know Joker is the only movie I’m the MOST excited for right now in terms of quality. I hear they’ve recently completed filming! Let’s see how this turns out. 😀

    • It’s obvious Warner/DC are going for the more crowd pleasing Marvel-like approach but there’s still an awful lot to enjoy about Aquaman and I look forward to watching it again on home video. I’m in the minority here but I did miss some of the nuance of the Snyder films, Wonder Woman I felt did a perfect job of balancing those elements with more of the things the mass audience would respond to. I’m confident that there’ll be another JL film one day but honestly don’t expect it to appear for a few years. I’m cautiously optimistic about Joker but my worry is that it’s only loosely based on the comic book side and more a straightforward “King of Comedy” crime thriller and not fully the Joker if you get my meaning?

      • Ah yes, there is indeed a worry that I still struggle to hide deep down within me regarding the story for Joker… But something much more darker, something original in its understanding of the character’s history/legacy is what I hope will at least transpire from the movie, even if it’s not an adaptation of any of story in particular. I also just really want to see “good acting” cause… so far… Aquaman didn’t exactly give me that, and it’s been a while since I’ve seen “inspirational” acting performances in DC movies. 😦 I guess we’ll just have to be optimistic. Doubt Shazam will satisfy that craving, but hopefully it’ll be good “fun” and nothing forced!

      • Oh dear, I take it you weren’t engaged by Aquaman then? Alas it’s likely the DC films will follow the same sort of path now, especially if the audience responds positively. Still, they shouldn’t shy away from more serious outings – after all, Marvel gave us The Winter Soldier which is still one of their best!

      • Ahhh, it isn’t a bad movie at all, it’s just that it’s a bit saddening that you can feel it trying to abide to Marvel’s standards to please critics and ultimately, to please fans who only enjoy Marvel’s content. It’s sort of what I feared and why I just look forward to the non-Worlds of DC movies (like Joker). But maybe they’ll just this whole Marvel thing better than Marvel and give us something truly mind-blowing in one of their upcoming movies. And yep… The Winter Soldier was a special beloved black goat among their movies hahahh

      • Yeah, it is a shame because it makes superhero fatigue more likely if DC and Marvel are releasing multiple films a year that have the same sort of tone/creative approach. I’d just like to see DC have more success on the big screen and eventually give us the Flash, more Superman and Batman and ultimately another Justice League. I’d like to see a Legion of Doom film happen, that’d be a good way of sort of making a Justice League 2 without the perceived baggage of the first one.

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