So… er, I hear the DCEU are actually trying to make their movies good now? Ain’t that a turn up for the books?
Okay, now that I’ve got the obligatory ‘DCEU is terrible (minus Wonder Woman)’ joke out of the way (It was either this or a Superfriends reference), let’s talk about Aquaman. Honestly, while I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was anticipating this movie, I actually did have fairly decent hopes for it, in large part thanks to its director, James Wan (of Saw, Conjuring and Furious 7 fame). While Wan has never particularly delivered any of my all-time favourite blockbuster films, he’s also never failed to deliver a consistently entertaining film and I was interested to see if he’d do the same here.
Long story short, yeah, he more or less pulls it off. Aquaman is a pretty good movie. Maybe not as good as the toppest tier of SH movies in this recent era, but still nonetheless fairly good.
The biggest compliment that I’ll give the movie is that it looks amazing. Seriously, the colours and the CG and all the designs and costumes for the Atlantean stuff all look fantastic and like something out a comic book (in a good way). I’d seriously call it one of the best looking comic book movies period. The days of Zack Snyder sucking the colour out of everything are clearly long over at DC and thanks freaking god. Honestly it’s amazing just how much more grand and impressive and epic-of-scale this seemed than, like, the entire Justice League movie, for example. The final battle was seriously some kind of underwater Lord of the Rings shit with armies and giant sea monsters. So visuals wise, I don’t have much to complain about.
On a similar related note, the action in this movie is also really great. There’s a good amount of variety, from small one-on-ones, to big clashing armies, to fights that are underwater and others that are on land and so on that never feel too samey or like they go on too long. Wan clearly has a lot of fun experimenting here and there, including a great little oner during the first clash between Aquaman and Ocean Master. And the final clash has a real sense of epicness and scale to it that, as mentioned before, Justice League really lacked.
As for the story, it’s perfectly functional, if a bit standard for the superhero genre. It basically follows a lot of the same beats as Black Panther, albeit replacing the meaningful racial themes and politics with a generic search-for-the-mcguffin. Which is fine. Not every movie needs to be Black Panther or tread the same kind of paths. And better to have a functional story than works that get overly ambitious without any idea of what you’re trying to do/say, like BvS. And as far as mcguffin searches go, it wasn’t bad and led to a pretty cool climax, even if it was where I started to suffer a bit from CGI overload. It did possibly shove in a bit too much and there were few places that definitely could’ve used proper fleshing out (the final battle in particular starts surprisingly suddenly), but it holds together.
I will say, the movie does kinda suffer from a lack of clear focus as to what Arthur’s character/character arc is meant to be, with a lot of small moments and a lot of speeches as to why he’s the rightful king, but nothing that really felt like it quite came together properly, at least not as well compared to Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman. Jason Momoa tries his best, but he does feel a touch miscast between what Snyder obviously wanted his Aquaman to be like and what this movie is attempting to do with the character. Plus he ends up getting shoved to the back quite a lot by his much more interest side-cast more than once.
Speaking of the side-cast though, they’re more-or-less pretty uniformly great. I wasn’t fond of Amber Heard’s Mera early on in this and in Justice League (where she mostly seemed to be an exposition machine) but she won me over with quite a few great moments. Willem Dafoe and Patrick Wilson are both fairly generic mentor/villain respectively, but they do a solid job with what they’re given. Black Manta steals almost every scene he’s in and surprisingly gets one of the more emotional moments of the movie (even if he could arguably be cut out entirely without losing much). I was surprised by how compelling the relationship was between Aquaman’s parents too. Plus Julie Walters was great as the kraken and should’ve had more speaking lines.
Another thing I will say about the movie though, is that it is hella exhausting. Not only does it come up to nearly 2 and a half hours runtime total, but so much of it is crammed with action and effects work and CGI that I can easily understand some people getting a bit burnt out on it, especially during the enormous climax. I felt physically kinda tired walking out of the cinema and I’m rarely one to feel that much in the way of CGI overload.
To sum up though, I enjoyed the movie a fair bit. As mentioned before, it looks absolutely outstanding and there’s a ton of great action and effects. Plus the story, while a bit standard, is functional enough to work. I do think there are a few things about the story and the characters that I’d call fairly messy and it never quite manages the whole ‘child of two worlds’ thing it keeps aiming for or a lot of the other themes that it attempts to pull of beneath the surface. Plus, again, at nearly two and a half hours, it’s freaking exhausting to sit. But it’s still a pretty fun movie, so if you’re interested, I’d say check it out.