Jared McMillan // Film Critic
Before Aquaman’s latest iteration, the half-human/half-Atlantean was considered a letdown in comparison to the other DC superheroes. He was predominantly known for being able to telepathically talk to fish. With DC wanting to move forward with JUSTICE LEAGUE, they needed to bring in Aquaman, but do so in a way that can subvert the previous stigma of that character.
Enter Jason Momoa, whose casting not only made Arthur Curry someone to pay attention to, but it actually caused him to be one of the best things about JUSTICE LEAGUE. This burly, wisecracking metahuman that had fun getting into trouble commanded the audience to get out of the previous notions on the DCEU. It was a change of pace from the moody, neutral feel of the previous DC films, save for WONDER WOMAN. So, it would only make sense to put him in a standalone feature.
AQUAMAN begins like most initial entries of a superhero franchise, which is the origin, voiced over by Aquaman. Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison) finds a strange woman on the rocks below his lighthouse. That woman is Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), who has fled her world to escape an arranged marriage. He treats her wounds, she stays with him, and they fall in love, culminating in the birth of Arthur Curry. However, their few years of bliss gets interrupted as the Atlanteans catch up to her, and she is forced to leave them behind.
Cut to around 30 years later, after the events of JUSTICE LEAGUE. Arthur Curry (Momoa) has achieved celebrity as the Aquaman, who just stopped a group of pirates from hijacking a submarine. After celebrating with his dad, Mera (Amber Heard) arrives to warn him of an impending war between Atlantis and the surface world, led by his half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson). The only way to stop him is to come back to Atlantis and claim his birthright as the oldest brother to take the throne. He shrugs it off until a warning shot is fired in the form of massive tidal waves. Aquaman must save humanity as well as Atlantis.
What follows is a Herculean task to find the lost Trident as Aquaman and Mera race against time to get the last hope for peace, and the movie figures out how to play to its strengths while not taking itself too seriously. This can (and does) lead to some hiccups in storytelling, whether it is editing that creates a lack of transition, or just altogether leaving out information that would help with consistency. For example, Vulko (Willem Dafoe) is seen training Arthur from he was a young kid, but still keeps Orm on this weird path to annihilation. There’s no insight to his motives and it gives some disconnect.
Fortunately, everyone is just so damn charismatic that you tend to forget those minor missteps and enjoy the ride. Momoa and Heard have a nice, subtle chemistry that isn’t too aggressive or forced. Mera throws some digs towards Arthur’s way, but he’s so nonchalant that it helps their attraction grow. It’s a slight linger instead of a glance or his goofy reactions to the match he’s met, not “we hate each other but then we’ll love each other by the end.” Screenwriters David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall make their dynamic playful between the action and offer instances that mirror the relationship between Tom and Atlanna. Also, they do well to keep the story flowing as it shifts between Arthur on land and Orm in the sea. The dialogue can be a bit cheesy, but most comics have that corny prose, so it feels more like an homage.
AQUAMAN’s key to its success lies within the director, James Wan. He allows the camera to create a kinetic pace yet keeping focus for the audience. Wan incorporates a lot of dolly shots and crane shots to flow with the action instead of making rash cuts in the editing to make the fight seem consistent. Much like his work on THE CONJURING franchise, the camera is used to help focus and/or highlight what makes this shot or scene exist, whether it is a hero shot or the incandescence in the underwater kingdoms. The sequence as they descend to The Trench Kingdom allows Wan to dip into that horror background and makes for fantastic imagery that will be talked about when referencing this movie.
It’s safe to say that AQUAMAN will be a huge success and easily one of DC’s best efforts. It manages to give the audience a lot of entertainment, with eye-popping visuals and a story that reels you in because the movie just doesn’t want to take you on a ride, but have the audience join them on the ride. Here’s hoping those working on the DCEU catalog will keep the momentum going.
AQUAMAN is now playing in theaters nationwide.