WARNING: Spoilers for Aquaman
“Hey, what happened to that guy’s DCEU reviews?” I’m sure no one was actually asking that question, but that’s what I heard in my head when I realized how long it had been since my last DCEU review. I started this whole endeavor in an attempt to review each of the films as I watched the franchise in chronological order leading up to the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. So why not continue with the few films that do take place after? That brings us to our next film: Aquaman.
This is a fairly fun film! Dumb, but still fairly fun.
This film benefits most from its director, James Wan. James got his big break with the original Saw and has since gone on to create multiple horror franchises including the Insidious films and The Conjuring Universe. Here James breaks out into massive scale adventure filmmaking and he handles the comic-book genre quite well. He truly embraces the goofiness of it all and brings us a world we have never seen before. This film features visuals never before put on screen. It’s truly gorgeous.
Aquaman picks up mere days after Justice League (either version). There are small continuity errors depending on which version you watch, but nothing too glaring. The script is a classic quest story: Arthur must find the Trident of Atlas in order to stop his brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) from declaring war with the surface world. So it’s really just there to get us from one stunning set piece to the next.
Everyone does a good job with their material. Patrick chews the scenery as Orm. You can tell he’s having a lot of fun. Amber Heard is serviceable as Mera as well. The romance between her and Arthur is as bland as uncooked rice, but she can handle the action scenes with stride. Willem DaFoe is also great, though underused, as Vulko.
Jason Mamoa is solid as Arthur, but I actually preferred his performance in Zack Snyder’s Jutice League a little more. That Arthur had more of an edge whereas Wan’s Arthur is much more of a big, dumb, lovable teddy bear. So making the adjustment is little tough. But regardless of the small character changes, Mamoa still hits most of his beats well.
But the breakout character of this film is Black Manta.
Played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Black Manta is one of the most accurate comic-to-film translations I’ve ever scene. And the opening scene does a great job making Aquaman himself responsible for his arch enemy, which adds a nice extra layer to him. I can only hope we get plenty more Black Manta in the sequel.
More. That’s a good way of describing what this film needed. We are presented with multiple kingdoms throughout the film, including the CENTER OF THE EARTH. There are damn dinosaurs and everything! But we sadly only spend a few minutes there. This film could have (and maybe should have) been split into two parts. That would ensure that we spent enough time to take advantage of these locations.
Pacing is pretty good, except for one scene in particular. The arena scene is cut in half by a lengthy flashback what is not needed at all. Everything that we see in this flashback could have been split up and delegated to smaller moments in different sections of the film. But it happens all at once which grinds the film to a halt. If it weren’t for those flashbacks, the pacing would be pretty perfect.
The finale is an epic battle between multiple armies, undersea animals, and monsters. That act three ranks among the grandest and most epic battle sequences in any DCEU movie. Special effects are very good; it’s incredible how much is actually digital. Small details needed to be added to help the appearance of everyone being underwater such as air bubbles and moving hair. Computer code had to be written specifically to make this movie possible. The musical score by Rupert Gregson-Williams is also a potent mix of rollicking adventure music bolstered by modern synth highlights. It’s one of my favorite modern super hero film scores. Just cut that dumb Pitbull song and it would be perfect.
Bottom Line: Aqaman is a dumb, but fun ride. It’s here to take you on a colorful, adventurous tale though kingdoms you’ve never seen before, and nothing more. Momoa is a teddy bear with big muscles who is clearly having a good time. And that good time translates to the audience. This film is held up by an incredible visual style, and secure blockbuster directing by James Wan. Flawed as it is, this movie is still a fun ride.