Directed by: James Wan
Premise: Based on the DC comic book. Arthur Curry, also known as Aquaman (Jason Momoa), must challenge his half-brother for the throne of Atlantis to prevent a war between the peoples of the land and the sea.
What Works: Aquaman follows sequentially from 2017’s Justice League but this film has very little in common with the DC films helmed by Zack Snyder. Building upon what Patty Jenkins started in Wonder Woman, filmmaker James Wan and his crew abandon the somber tone and gritty style of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman for something altogether different. Aquaman is light and colorful and has a breezy, occasionally tongue-in-cheek tone. This movie is reminiscent of the action pictures of the 1980s. Aquaman is played by Jason Momoa and his large muscular frame, charisma, and sense of humor recall Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone at the peak of their careers. In Justice League Momoa hinted at a capacity for humor and a self-aware masculinity. He gets to run with it here and Aquaman is distinct from other superheroes; instead of a remote demigod he’s the superhero you want to have a beer with. Momoa is paired with Amber Heard as Mera, an Atlantian princess who is Aquaman’s ally and eventual love interest. Momoa and Heard make for a likable on screen pair. It’s admirable how much emphasis the filmmakers put on the human relationships. Aquaman has a human father and an Atlantian mother, played by Temuera Morrison and Nicole Kidman. Their love story is believable and the family relationship between this couple and their adult son gives Aquaman emotional warmth that distinguishes it from the Snyder films. Aquaman is gorgeously produced. The undersea locations have terrific production design and the filmmakers use color and lighting in ways that make Aquaman one of the best looking superhero films in recent memory. One of the most outstanding qualities of this film is how bonkers it is. Aquaman includes undersea warriors riding sharks, giant seahorses, and other oceanic creatures outfitted with saddles and sci-fi weapons and the final sequence is a gonzo mashup of shoot-’em-up stunts and sea monster action.
What Doesn’t: Aquaman struggles with some of the problems common to superhero films. For one, Aquaman seems invincible. This is a frequent flaw of DC heroes in particular like Superman and Wonder Woman. In the opening fight scene it’s clear that Aquaman is invulnerable to bullets and other manmade weapons and he performs extraordinary feats like raising a nuclear submarine to the surface all by himself. He’s so powerful that we never believe Aquaman is ever in real jeopardy. The story is also familiar. This is another film about an outcast who is actually an exceptional individual and the world’s only hope. Aquaman is remarkably similar to Thor and Black Panther in that it is about an heir learning to make himself worthy of the throne. The film occasionally gets bogged down in superhero fantasy jargon with characters talking about mythological minutia that doesn’t mean anything. That’s especially evident in the climax in which a lot of groups are fighting but it’s not entirely clear what they are fighting for.
Bottom Line: At its core, Aquaman is a fairly standard superhero story but the moviemakers push the style and the energy and come up with a bold-looking movie that is a terrific piece of entertainment and one of the better superhero films in the DC oeuvre.
Episode: #731 (December 30, 2018)