Aquaman was one of my most anticipated movies of 2018. I’m a fan of most of the DCEU and despite my thoughts on Justice League, Jason Momoa as Aquaman showed himself to be pretty good in it and I wanted to see him in his solo movie. Additionally, there were some talented people involved including director James Wan and a cast that included Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson and Nicole Kidman. Everything about the movie looked great as well from the trailers, on such a large scale and looking like no other comic book movie that has come beforehand. The only real caution I had was that the previous DCEU movie, Justice League, was disappointing and I was fearing the possibilities of studio interference affecting a DCEU movie once again. Outside of that, I was really looking forward to Aquaman. Aquaman is a really distinct comic book movie, that’s visually stunning, features some good performances and is just one big epic ride from start to finish. It’s got some faults for sure but they don’t take away too much from the overall experience.
The story isn’t necessarily anything we haven’t seen before, but it’s the way that it’s done that makes Aquaman stand out. While the DCEU has generally embraced it’s comic bookiness, Aquaman is the most comic book like out of all of it (mostly due to how far the characters and world is from any other comic book movie). Despite this, it doesn’t feel like a comic book movie, it feels so far removed from any other superhero movie we’ve seen before. If you edited out the credits that mention this as a DC movie, you could totally pass this off as an action adventure fantasy, mostly because that’s what this movie is. Aside from a reference to the main villain of Justice League, it doesn’t makes any clear references to the other movies that would leave people unfamiliar with the cinematic universe confused. Justice League featured a scene between Arthur and Mera but honestly, after watching Aquaman I can say that you don’t even need to have watched any of the prior DCEU films to hop right in.
This movie has a good mix of dark and light that works well for the movie. There’s a lot of debate about the tone about the DCEU as a whole, but I feel like while all of them (aside from Justice League) has reasonably strong bit of darkness to it, the tones with each film is different, and I like that. While the MCU has a consistent tone that makes every movie feel like it’s in the same universe, the DCEU can have a wide range of different tones. Yes, Aquaman (the movie) can be pretty cheesy at points but I’m pretty sure that James Wan and co. knew that so instead of being ashamed of it and trying to tone it down, they went full force with it, and so making it work on a weird level. When the film at one point features an octopus playing the drums, you know that they had to be self aware about the whole thing. Now there is quite a bit of comedy in this movie and most of it works but every so often there’s a joke that doesn’t quite work. I think something that most people will feel is that there’s so much going on. There is so much packed into this movie, James Wan basically combined 3 comic book story arcs into one large story, leaving Aquaman to be like 2 hours and 20 minutes long. I don’t think that the movie is overly long (after Justice League, I think every DCEU film should be at least 2 hours and 20 minutes long), nor do I think the pacing needed to necessarily be faster, it’s just a lot of things happen in this one movie. Despite this, it’s easy to follow and not overly complicated, if anything the more complicated bits are the exposition from Mera about Atlantis in some scenes, and even then it won’t matter if you don’t pick up all of it. Also it’s worth noting that there’s a mid credits scene which sets up the sequel (which it will definitely get). I could sort of figure out what it would be about but it’s worth sitting through 2 minutes of credits for it.
Jason Momoa reprises his role as Arthur Curry/Aquaman and once again he was great, getting a lot more to work with this time round. While Justice League introduced him to the big screen (excluding his cameo in Batman v Superman), what we were left with didn’t exactly go into much depth with him. Here it’s established he doesn’t fit in the human world or with the Atlanteans and the whole movie is him accepting his role as King of Atlantis. Momoa’s charisma and performance is perfect for the character and you can really root for him. I’ll just say that if you aren’t a fan of Aquaman as a character or can’t take him seriously, you will after this movie. Amber Heard plays Mera and she’s really good as well, they really showed off Mera as being a very powerful character and she gets some great moments. Momoa and Heard have great chemistry and play off each other really well. I think when it comes to the writing, some of the romance elements you don’t really buy too much, with regard to how their relationship changes over time. Its not that believable but the two leads make it work fine enough. Willem Dafoe and Dolph Lungren are also good in supporting roles, with Dafoe playing Vulko, who’s an advisor of Atlantis and Arthur’s mentor, and Lundgren playing Nereus, Mera’s father and a king of an Atlantean tribe who allies with Orm. Nicole Kidman and Temuera Morrison play Aquaman’s parents, and while their roles are small, they do add quite a bit to the movie. It seems like parents are a big thing for all of the DCEU lead heroes and Aquaman suitably is no exception, with them having their important parts in the story.
The villains were also great. Patrick Wilson plays Orm, Arthur’s half brother, and is one of the stand out live action film villains from DC thus far. Orm has an understandable reason for wanting to declare war against the surface world, with all the damage that humanity has caused Atlantis. Orm isn’t just evil for the sake of being evil. When the movie cuts back to him from Arthur, you aren’t pulled out of it and you are also interested in what’s going on with him. Patrick Wilson’s performance is somehow both larger than life and yet subtle and riveting, really making his villain even more convincing and overall better. As much of a dangerous antagonist that this movie has shown him to be, you get the feeling that they hadn’t gone all out with him yet because it would probably be something so large scale that the Justice League would have to come in. Still, with what he did here he made for a great villain. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays one of Aquaman’s most iconic adversaries, Black Manta, who in this movie is a bit of a supporting antagonist. Manta here is really setup for future movies, so if you love the character from the comics, don’t go in expecting a lot of him because you don’t really get that. With that said, they do use this movie as a bit of an origin story for him and a way of establishing him as a character. It might’ve made the story feel less packed by removing him and saving him for a sequel but I still liked that we got him here (it also means that in the sequel we won’t need to spend so much time introducing him). He’s also great and makes himself to be quite a threat when he’s on screen and they do make him a stand out in the movie, even if we don’t get a ton of screen time with him. I can’t wait to see more of them in future movies.
Director James Wan made the 7th Fast and Furious movie back in 2015 but otherwise he’s primarily known for his horror movies like Saw, The Conjuring and Insidious. Here he takes on a comic book movie and he did fantastic work with it. This is an absolutely stunning looking movie and a feast for the eyes. There is a lot of visual effects and CGI used to portray a lot of what’s going on and most of it is at such a high level of quality. There is the occasional fake looking effect but considering how they managed to make almost all of it look great, it’s not a big issue. It is a very CGI heavy movie but really it couldn’t be achieved any other way, you couldn’t just use practical effects for the entire movie, especially when it comes to the water sequences. They did the best they could with the effects, and most of it looks great. The action scenes are great, both the scenes that take place on the land and in the sea are great. However the scenes that take place in the sea are the highlights. The fight scenes are so unique to anything we’ve seen before, particularly between Arthur and Orm, the last fight was especially great. So much care and attention detail was put into making it all work. You can probably tell that when the characters are under water that the actors weren’t actually filming under water but they do such a good job making it look like it was. Everything also feels on such a large scale, this movie really is an epic. There are even some sequences that I’m not even sure how they managed to film, with them quite often featuring long takes. An example of this is featured in the Comic Con trailer which shows a scene in Italy with Arthur and Mera being chased by Black Manta and others and it’s one shot that zooms in and out of locations following them and you can clearly see that it’s the actual actors there. I’m not necessarily sure how you’ll feel about the overall movie but all the visuals make it worth seeing on the big screen alone. There’s even a sequence towards the latter portion of the movie which was horror esque, which was nice to see considering James Wan’s horror roots. As previously mentioned, Aquaman completely went all in on the fantasy elements and this is the case with the designs of everything, the stand outs being the design of Atlantis and really everything underwater. Not all of the film takes place near the ocean, but the sequences that don’t at least have them go from different location to different location, so there’s a variety of types of locations. The costumes are also fantastically made. Some of the costumes are straight out of the comic book, and while it’s not necessary for character designs to be ripped directly from the comics, really extra credit should be given to those who make it work, especially if it’s for something outlandish like Aquaman. Costumes particularly for Mera, Orm and Black Manta are fantastic and work on screen very well, special credit however is for making the classic Aquaman costume work on Jason Momoa, and not making it feel goofy at all. The score by Rupert Gregson-Williams was really good, very large scale and epic, just like the rest of the movie. He also composed the score for Wonder Woman and he does well at making both scores feel completely separate from each other. The other music choices were a mixed bag and were more often than not rather silly, and I don’t mean in the good goofy way, I’m meaning like it feels out of place and didn’t fit in at all with the rest of the movie. I’m not exactly sure who’s idea it was to have Pitbull to do a song but it was likely a studio mandated decision and it wasn’t a very good decision. Not a movie breaking issue but just rather distracting.
Aquaman is a visually stunning movie that embraces its comic book source material and was just an incredible experience. It’s got some messy aspects for sure but it really is worth seeing on the big screen for it all. Now it is worth noting that my opinion on Aquaman could change over time. When I first watched Wonder Woman I declared it one of the best comic book movies ever made, and then rewatching it a couple times, it didn’t hold up as well even though it’s still a solid movie. As of right now, I really loved watching Aquaman, and if we are going to continue getting these types of director driven movies that separate itself from all the other comic book movies (alongside mainly Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Wonder Woman), I think the DCEU is going to continue to have a unique appeal and an audience (an audience that includes me).