What’s this? DC have had two movies in a row that weren’t terrible? Maybe they can salvage something after all…
Arthur Curry, son of a lighthouse keeper and an Atlantian Queen from the ocean depths, has to come to terms with his heritage when his brother attempts to seize control of the aquatic armies and bring war to the world above.
It feels like a lifetime ago that we first saw Jason Momoa as the titular Aquaman, during that dodgy looking trailer-bait section of Zack Snyder’s ill-fated Batman Vs Superman. Now, along with Wonder Woman’s solo entry, the oceanic rockstar gets his own chance to prove critics and naysayers wrong about the hopes for the DC comics cinematic universe.
Looking at it objectively, and with the inevitable comparisons to contemporary, Marvel, Aquaman feels a lot like 2011’s Thor. A character that bridges two worlds; one being our own and the other being an entirely CGI generated sci-fi/fantasy world filled with codes of honour and medieval and mythical stylings. Momoa plays the often ridiculed character of Aquaman as he has before in the choppy Justice League movie, as a big-headed, oafish rogue. Straying away from the well mannered, eco-warrior he could have been, to become more like a gladiator trapped in modern times, but with none of Thor’s “fish-out-of-water” characteristics.
However, the film starts out shaky. One thing that these DC movies honestly feel laboured with now is balancing the act of giving backstory to characters we’ve already been introduced to. This brings about the “Man of Steel” symptom; the necessity to bounce the audience back and forth through time. This is the character we know. This is them as a kid. This is the current villains. This is the hero as a slightly older kid. This is the villains in the past. It is laborious to sit through. Marvel’s method isn’t new; it is just sensible to play things out chronologically when you have half a dozen ancient aquatic kingdoms to introduce.
The film certainly isn’t boring though. At least, in the eyes of younger audiences it isn’t. There is perhaps three scenes in this film that don’t climax with an explosion or someone being condemned to death, in one form or another.
Seriously, count the number of times a conversation is interrupted with a wall exploding.
The film has a baffling intent on making everything epic. Every encounter (which is often) has to feel like the finale. Slow-mo shots of Momoa turning his head, hair flinging around and a electric guitar shrieks away. Regularly. It makes for an almost Michael Bay-esque feeling; like nothing slows down and everything is weightless. Like it is playing with the audience: “You think this is big? Try this. No, this isn’t big enough either. This is big!”
But the film is full of recognisable faces: Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, and Dolph Lundgren (oh, and Amber Heard) and for the most part the CGI is quite good. While you do have to adjust to some aquatic audio reverb with a lot of underwater dialogue, you can get behind some of the plight of these characters. Our villain this time, King Orm (Patrick Wilson) is perhaps the more interesting (and believable) DC villain we’ve had so far. When the film chooses to have physical props, sets, and costumes, it can look quite interesting and unique; a lot more than could be said for both BvS and JL combined.
It is also having a bit more fun with itself. Which is wise, as you are telling a story about Jason Momoa learning to talk to fish (more or less). There’s also colour! Far more than with Wonder Woman’s suitably grey Great War setting, this film is often vibrant and alive with design and details. When the film chooses to slow down and show us Atlantis it is quite fascinating the amount of detail put into it.
I just wish it had some more quiet moments, some more moments that evoked emotion from the audience and made the characters more compelling, instead of simply uttering dime-a-dozen lines about destiny, or really obvious jokes. But it is a step in the right direction.
At least we aren’t force-feeding people Jolly Ranchers anymore.
All in all, you have to be ready for some non-stop action, heavy amounts of CGI (but even die-hard Marvel fans should accept that their movies have a lot of that nowadays). Ultimately if DC and Warner Brothers can keep this quality consistent from now, and build on it, we could have some investment in the franchise.