Aquaman is one of the most cheesy, out-there, crazy, and laughably stupid superhero films I’ve seen in a long while. And don’t worry, those are all meant as the highest of compliments.
Admittedly, the trailers leading up to the release of this film looked mediocre at best, and I was sort of dreading the release of it because I assumed that we would be getting just another forgettable DC product. However, some of my mind held out hope because of the director: James Wan of The Conjuring and Saw fame. Not only is he an incredible horror director, but Wan impresses no matter the genre, with Furious 7 being one of the best of the franchise. Needless to say, my thoughts were conflicted going in, and the decent reviews coming out of early critics’ screenings had given me hope.
Aquaman is an absolute blast, but not in the way that anyone was anticipating. There is hardly a scene in Wan’s film where I didn’t have a wide grin on my face, and this is due to the unconditional fun the movie delivers to audiences. Yes, Aquaman is ridiculous; in fact, at times it is absolutely bonkers (an octopus playing the drums, the great Julie Andrews as a giant Kraken-like creature, etc) and there is nothing else Wan could have done to improve this film’s quality.
Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones) plays Arthur Curry, a half-man/half-Atlantean who must take the throne of Atlantis before his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) wields the power of the seven seas to destroy the surface world (land). So it’s basically Black Panther but from Killmonger’s point-of-view. Most movies don’t get away with being this hokey and ridiculous without seeming far-fetched and indulgent, but Aquaman succeeds because of the talent behind the camera.
Wan exceeds all expectations with his fully immersive action scenes and some of the best and most colorful CGI in DC universe history. As soon as the first fight sequence involving a young Nicole Kidman came around, I knew I was in for a treat. The action is all shot with long, unbroken takes, so that even though there are tons of random sea creatures flying towards the screen, the audience can clearly see the events unfolding. Not only is the action visible–it is gorgeous. The cinematography is spectacular, with every single color known to man being visible in any given shot during the two hour plus run-time of this film. Underwater battles have never looked this good.
After watching Aquaman, I found myself attempting to poke holes in it, but every hole I found seemed meticulously placed there by the writers, who are fully aware of the crazy world they’ve created. The humor in this movie is not found solely in stupid one-liners (though there are plenty of those), but in the cliched situations and details that the writers and director insert to make fun of their own film. Self-deprecating humor has become popular among superhero movies (see Deadpool), but none do it more subtly than Aquaman does. Many people will correctly watch it as a fun action-filled superhero film, but those who are familiar with the lore and the cliches of the genre will find that Wan wants to parody himself and other similar films.
My flaws with Aquaman lie in some of the side plots and quests, one in particular being Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who is a really well-developed character. This is a shame due the fact that they don’t utilize him much, and when they finally do, it is as a generic costumed villain who fires lazer-beams at the hero. I feel that they should have included much of his development in the next Aquaman film, and instead concentrated the lost time on Orm, who doesn’t get much backstory. The audience knows Orm is Aquaman’s brother, but the film never reveals why the villain acts as he does, or what his defining experiences are.
This narrative also requires a bunch of overloaded exposition scenes, some of which actually started to bore me. I understand why they are essential to the film’s structure, but listening to the entire history of the city of Atlantis made my mind wander to other topics. Another small complaint is that the actor who plays teenage Aquaman for one scene is atrocious. I hate to completely tear apart an actor because they probably worked hard to perform in a major film like this, but there is no sugarcoating how laughable that performance is, especially since the script required him to get emotional.
However, most flaws in James Wan’s Aquaman can be overlooked because of how damn fun it is. If you came out of it not having had an ounce of fun, then I would hate to be at any party conducted in your presence. I understand that people will think that this film’s cheesiness is too much and is unbearable to watch, but it is clear that Wan was intentional and that makes Aquaman that much more of a riot. This and Man of Steel are the two best DCEU films thus far, and I won’t be surprised if a sequel is announced in the coming weeks. If you want an unconditionally good time at the cinema to get away from the stresses of the real world, then Aquaman is the movie for you.
I give Aquaman a B+.