3.5 out of 5 stars.
We all know that Warner Brothers’ DC cinematic universe hasn’t been all that successful thus far, and that the vast majority of the films in the series have had both visually and thematically dark tones. So it was an interesting choice for the studio to go with Aquaman—traditionally a very corny and colorful hero, the source of endless teasing and memes among comic book fans—as one of the DC heroes getting a standalone film. But while “Aquaman” is far from perfect, it proves to be a bright spot—and an entertaining jaunt—in the DC universe.
Directed by the always versatile James Wan, “Aquaman” is set after the events of last year’s “Justice League” but dives into the origins of Arthur Curry, the half-human, half Atlantian man with the power to communicate with sea creatures, while also tracing his journey to reclaim the throne of Atlantis and prevent his kingdom from going to war with the surface world. Arthur (Jason Momoa), who grew up in Maine with his lighthouse-keeper father (Temuera Morrison), is averse to going to Atlantis, as its people forced his mother, Princess Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) to leave him and her father to marry the king and bear him a son. But he is forced to come to terms with his birthright when Princess Mera (Amber Heard) comes to ask him to challenge his half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) for the throne, as Orm is preparing to declare war on the surface world.
The film’s plot is straightforward, if messy. While Orm is the primary villain, a secondary villain is introduced in the form of David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a pirate who goes by the name Black Manta and swears vengeance against Aquaman. Black Manta serves as little more than a distraction to the story here, as he has no purpose other than to set up events for him to be the main antagonist in a potential “Aquaman” sequel. Atlantian politics and how the varying kingdoms relate get a little confusing, while the story in general is longer than it needs to be. But it does have a fun, adventurous spirit about it, as Arthur (and the audience) is whisked away first to different countries, then to different worlds, on a mission to find the trident that will prove he is worthy of the throne. The characters themselves aren’t particularly engaging or interesting; Momoa and Heard are fine, as is Willem Dafoe as an advisor in the Atlantian government, while neither of the bad guys are especially memorable. The most intriguing couple are Kidman and Morrison, but the film does do a decent job focusing on Arthur’s conflicting feelings and doubts about becoming king of Atlantis, and telling his origin story in the process.
The film looks great too. Sure, there is a lot of CGI—I mean, a lot, enough to be overwhelming in some scenes, particularly toward the end of the film. But for the most part, the movie is appropriately bright and colorful, especially in the underwater scenes. The cinematography is solid too, with some nice jump cuts taking viewers between the present day and flashbacks to Arthur’s childhood, and some impressive tracking shots in some of the action scenes. The costumes and characters (both human and non-human) are all colorful and borderline ridiculous as well, but they fit in well with their environment.
Saying that “Aquaman” is one of the best DC movies to date may not exactly be taken as a compliment, but I mean it as one. It’s a fun movie despite its flaws, one that thankfully embraces the lighter origins of the character while maintaining a look and feel that keeps it in the same universe as the other DC movies. Plus, there are a lot of guys riding on the backs of sharks and seahorses. You really can’t go wrong with that.
Runtime: 143 minutes. Rated PG-13.