Warning: There are mild spoilers ahead for “Aquaman.”
Here we go again.
Warner Bros. is making another go around with its DC Comics characters. This time around, Aquaman gets his time center stage in a standalone origin story.
Taking place after the events of “Justice League,” Arthur Curry/Aquaman finds himself tasked with begrudgingly heading to Atlantis to stop his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) from declaring war upon the humans of Earth. Why? Because the people of Atlantis and beyond have essentially had it with wasteful humans polluting their waters. (When you watch the film, it seems rooted a bit more deeply in family conflict, but it’s mostly centered around the pollution problem.)
Early buzz surrounding the film has been immensely positive and “Aquaman” debuted to $US94 million in China.
Does it live up to the hype? Yes and no.
Director James Wan brings a fresh eye to the DC universe with some great and intense visual moments on screen, Jason Momoa is an excellent Aquaman, and the underwater sea world of Atlantis looks like something out of “Avatar.” But there are some things that feel too cartoonish, some jokes don’t quite land, and the film continues to make some mistakes of past Warner Bros.’ DC entries.
For better or worse, the film is parts “Splash,” “The Lion King,” “National Treasure,” and an original Wan horror flick.
At the least, it should be a crowd pleaser.
Why you should see it: Warner Bros.’ top horror director and Jason Momoa’s performance as the man of land and sea, Aquaman
If you don’t recognise director James Wan by name, you definitely know his work. He’s responsible for horror movies “Saw,” “The Conjuring,” and “Insidious.” He also directed a little movie called “Furious 7,” which grossed over $US1 billion at theatres. Wan brings a fresh take to the action scenes in “Aquaman” and his flair for horror gets a nod late in the film as well. “Aquaman” may not be the best DCEU entry in the franchise, but there’s no denying Wan knows how to make a popcorn flick.
The main reason to see “Aquaman” is for Jason Momoa (but more on him in a minute). What you may not realise is that Aquaman was turned into something of a joke for the longest time. A guy with the ability to speak with fish? He became the butt of a lot of jokes in comics, TV shows, and even the LEGO video games. Momoa has really turned around people’s impressions of him to make Aquaman feel like a force to be reckoned with in the DC universe.
Amber Heard, who plays Princess Mera, is also a standout and you’ll get to see Willem Dafoe in a role that’s a bit outside his usual default villain status.
What’s hot: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard’s Mera, the ocean visuals, and Nicole Kidman
Have you ever wanted to see “Avatar,” but underwater? That’s how it looks just about every time you’re taken underwater in “Aquaman.” The world of Atlantis is lit up in a gorgeous palette of soft blues, purples, and greens.
If you’ve visited Pandora at night in Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park, it feels just like that. It’s not just the ocean scenes that look beautiful, there are just some very, very gorgeous scenes in this superhero movie. A favourite comes in the film’s last leg when Momoa and Heard are swimming down in almost a sea of red light. There are major spoilers if I mention anything else.
The main reason to see “Aquaman,” though, is for Jason Momoa. This guy truly believes he’s Aquaman and is a joy to watch on screen as he delivers one-liner after one liner. Not all of his jokes land, but you can tell Momoa is having a good time. If you miss Momoa on “Game of Thrones” and enjoyed his recent hosting stint in “SNL,” this is for you.
And if all of that doesn’t intrigue you, the film has plenty of shirtless Aquaman scenes.
Aquaman isn’t the only standout character. Mera (Heard) should become a favourite as well. The actress was briefly introduced in “Justice League” in a pretty unforgettable moment, but she shines here. Mera has this really cool ability which lets her control water and it’s a marvel to see each time it’s executed onscreen.
Heard delivers a perfect balance to Momoa’s big, burly but somewhat dimwitted (something he owns up to) Arthur Curry. She’s graceful, intelligent, and is always thinking three steps ahead of Curry. Their budding relationship is a highlight of the movie.
If the DC extended universe has anything over Marvel’s movies, it’s the introduction of powerful, strong female characters ranging from Wonder Woman to Harley Quinn and now Mera. (Sure, we’ll get Captain Marvel next year, but it’s taken over 20 movies to get a standalone female movie in the MCU.) I think a lot of little girls are going to want a Mera doll. Grab one for the holidays ASAP.
Nicole Kidman also surprisingly plays a larger role as Atlanna, Aquaman’s mum and Queen of Atlantis. I also didn’t know I needed Kidman kicking butt in my life, but here we are.
What else? There’s a moment which comes near the film’s end when Momoa and Heard find themselves in a dire predicament I won’t spoil. Wan gets to flex and show off why he is one of the best in the horror genre right now. Aquaman and horror? That doesn’t sound like it should work. It does.
What’s not: Some jokes that miss their mark, a story that’s just a bit too long, and falling into some of the pitfalls of previous DC movies.
“Aquaman” is a long, long movie at two hours and 22 minutes. It’s slightly shorter than “Wonder Woman” but almost a half hour longer than “Justice League.” A lot of that is because of the introduction of so many characters.
While a nice introduction to a DC villain, I think Black Manta didn’t need to be in this movie as much as he was or maybe at all. The movie probably would have been a bit more grounded if it was solely focused on the strained family relationship between Aquaman and his half brother, something that earned Marvel a big win with “Black Panther” earlier this year because of the surprise relationship between the film’s hero and antihero.
For what it’s worth, Wan finds an entertaining way to keep the story moving during its long runtime. Every time a scene felt like it was about to drag on too long or became too sentimental, an explosion happened. I’m not joking. I’m not sure if that was intentional, but I thought it was hilarious, in a good way. I counted it happening at least four times that I came to expect it at certain points and I was never let down.
That said, some of the stakes don’t feel that high in Aquaman. Curry spends the majority of the movie searching for a trident to overtake his brother as king of Atlantis; however, posters and marketing for the movie have already indicated Curry is most likely winding up with this trident. This has been an ongoing trend with Warner Bros. spoiling its movies in marketing ahead of release. (We’re looking at you, “Ocean’s 8.”)
There are also some tonal issues early in the film. The movie starts out feeling like 1984’s “Splash” with Kidman’s Atlanta washing ashore and being baffled by the human world before we meet Aquaman. The movie had tones of “The Lion King” as Curry was told he needed to return to Atlantis to take his place as king and “National Treasure” when he and Mera go on a hunt for a trident lost long ago. Most of it shockingly works, but a lot of the humour in the movie simply doesn’t.
“Aquaman” tries oh so very hard to be funny and many of the jokes fall flat. I saw this film with a crowded audience Monday morning at 10 a.m. and it wasn’t only film critics in attendance from a scan of the room. There were no big laughs from the audience during the entire film. And it wasn’t that they didn’t like the film, there were a lot of claps at the film’s end. The jokes just didn’t seem to work here. Some of the them felt awkward and forced.
The biggest mistake of “Aquaman” is that it falls into some of the pitfalls of previous DC films. Some of the movie and its characters just come off as too cartoonish. I know that sounds silly for a superhero movie, but Aquaman’s half-brother Orm comes off like an over-the-top cartoonish version of a villain I’d see on a Saturday morning “Justice League” cartoon. It’s fine to have these larger-than-life characters, but there’s a way to make them feel grounded in reality. Nolan succeeded at that with the “Dark Knight” trilogy and “Aquaman” succeeds at that with Arthur Curry and so many other characters. Some of the sea characters just feel like they missed the mark.
Like most DC movies, “Aquaman” also contains a huge fight sequence near the end and it feels somewhat unnecessary and clunky with where the rest of the film was at. Frankly, it felt pulled out of “Justice League.” DC likes doing big, flashy CG action sequences, but they don’t always feel earned. The one in “Aquaman” felt like it was simply added for the sake of doing a big action sequence.
Bottom line: If you’re a fan of Jason Momoa or James Wan, see this.
You have to give some props to Momoa and Wan for being able to take one of the biggest jokes in the superhero world and making him feel like one of the most formidable heroes in the DC universe now. Watch out Batman. Go for Momoa’s performance of Aquaman and stick around for some of the incredible shots and visuals.
There are some bumps in the road and the film overstays its welcome a bit, but it contains a surprisingly relatable story about family if you don’t always see eye to eye with your siblings. I teared up at one point for what it’s worth near the end.
Stick around for one post-credits scene and try to spot the secret Julie Andrews cameo in the film.
“Aquaman” is in theatres Friday, December 21 with early Amazon Prime screenings Saturday.
Watch a trailer below.
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