Released: December 2018
Director: James Wan
Distributor: Warner Brothers
Budget: Approximately $160 to $200 million
Stars: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
Fresh off his efforts in saving the world from Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) in Justice League (Snyder, 2017), Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Momoa) finds himself called back to Atlantis when his half-brother, Orm (Wilson), sets in motion a plan to bring war to the surface world. Assisted by Mera (Heard), Curry is tasked with finding and retrieving a legendary trident and claiming his birthright as the rightful King of Atlantis.
Arthur Curry, the Aquaman, was created by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris way back in 1941. Over time, the Prince (and often King) of Atlantis has been the butt of many jokes; memes are abound poking fun at the character’s relative ineffectiveness compared to other superheroes and his ability to talk to fish. In recent years, DC Comics have worked hard to alter or wipe away many of the misconceptions and negative perception of the character but perhaps the best decision ever made towards making Aquaman a cool, bad-ass character was casting Jason-f’n-Momoa in the role.
Momoa, who made his first appearance as Aquaman in a brief cameo in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (ibid, 2016), made an impressive debut in Justice League (ibid/Whedon, 2017) as an alcoholic, surfer-like loner. His character arc was about rejoining the world and sharing his gifts with the larger surface world but, at the same time, the seeds were laid to explore his half-breed background and the clear unfinished business he had regarding his heritage and in Atlantis.
After Justice League failed to be the box office smash that Warner Brothers were expecting, Aquaman is the DCEU’s first attempt to course-correct and get back on track. With stunning visuals, a rocking soundtrack, and some choice alterations to the existing DCEU continuity, Aquaman represents the DCEU’s attempt to slow things down and bring some life, energy, and excitement back to their shared universe.
Aquaman is, in a word, bad-ass. It takes all the best elements of superhero, science-fiction, and fantasy films and smashes them together in a glorious, over-the-top thrill ride that never slows down and never has a dull moment.
Well, maybe there’s a little too much time spent exploring Arthur’s heritage and the relationship between his parents but this ties directly into the plot as Arthur harbours a grudge against all of Atlantis for ostracising him and his belief that they killed his mother, Atlana (Nicole Kidman). Plus, much of Orm’s motivation stems from his disgust at having a half-breed older brother and his quest to become the “Ocean Master” is layered in a desire to destroy Aquaman, dominate the surface world, bring Atlantis back to glory, and his personal lust for power.
Momoa is perfect as Aquaman; as we’ve already seen, this is not your typical fish-scale-wearing goody-two-shoes. This Aquaman is a snarky, binge-drinking, cocky guy who has little to no interest in helping Atlantis or even the world in general, despite the events of Justice League. Momoa is far from a macho meat-head, though; he carries a true sense of conflict and sadness over his unresolved issues regarding his heritage and you can tell that he is torn between wanting to be left alone and reclaiming his birthright.
Matching him blow for blow along the way is the incredibly gorgeous Mera; Mera, like Arthur’s childhood mentor, Nuidis Vulko (Willem Dafoe), has been feigning loyalty to Orm’s throne but secretly desire to displace Orm with Arthur, whom she sees as the true King of Atlantis. While Mera has no love for the surface world, she prefers Atlantis to remain hidden away and in peace rather than at war; however, she struggles to adjust to Arthur’s…unique…personality but is more than capable of holding her own due to her unique hydrokinetic powers.
Aquaman also has the distinction of casting Patrick Wilson in a far more action-heavy role; underwater, Orm is an accomplished fighter who is more than capable of besting Arthur’s sloppier, less elegant fighting style. However, he is also capable of balancing many complex motivations; he is not simply a power-hungry dictator and, instead, you get the sense that he truly believes that his actions are right for the future and continued survival of Atlantis.
Orm forges something of an alliance with David Kane (Abdul-Mateen II), a pirate with a grudge against Aquaman, whom he outfits with advanced Atlantean technology that allows him to assume the identity of Black Manta. While Black Manta could have been featured a little more in the film, which juggles many different stories and ideas all at once, his appearance is a welcome one as he fully embraces the all-encompassing outfit and manages to project his rage and lust for vengeance despite being completely obscured.
In fact, this is one of Aquaman’s greatest strengths; unlike a lot of comic book movies, it really embraces some of the characters most ludicrous aspects. Aquaman eventfully dons a very close approximation of his original, cheesy outfit; Orm fully garbs himself in a strikingly true-to-the-source Ocean Master armour; and Black Manta truly is an energy blasting bad-ass. At the same time, Atlantis looks absolutely gorgeous; there is a true sense of history that really expands the lore of the DCEU.
The pacing is really fun, as well, as right as characters are in the middle of, or finishing, their exposition, a massive action scene will break out and things will really ramp up. it also mixes some contrasting cinematic genres; when Arthur and Mera journey to the Kingdom of the Trench, the film suddenly becomes a monster/horror movie but, by the time they return to Atlantis, it shifts easily into a massive full-scale war movie.
There isn’t really too much to spoil here, thanks to the trailers and posters showing us that Aquaman acquires his armour and wields the legendary trident, the only real twist was that Atlana turned out to actually be alive.
So, instead, I’ll briefly talk about some of the massive continuity changes this film makes to the DCEU. In Justice League, it was heavily implied that Aquaman was familiar with Mera, had spent significant time in Atlantis and had removed himself from his birthright because he was abandoned by his mother, and that he was essentially a self-ostracised king. Instead, Arthur indicates that Aquaman is the first time he has ever met Mera (and, trust me, I would definitely remember meeting a gorgeous redhead like her!) and his relationship with his mother is one based on loss and regret as he never actually met her; his grudge has shifted against Atlantis, as he believes they executed her.
Furthermore, Justice League seemed to indicate that Arthur could not communicate underwater, as he and Mera randomly had a chat within a special bubble she created, but he has absolutely no issue with that here. None of these are major issues but it does make watching the DCEU films a bit jarring and it’s interesting to me that Aquaman spends so much time on these changes and showing Arthur’s training with Vulko but does nothing to address some pretty big plot holes.
For example, none of the flashbacks establish when Vulko first met Arthur and it is explicitly said that Arthur has never been to Atlantis before so it feels like a few scenes were missing to help flesh all this out. Like, I would have had Atlana send Vulko to train Arthur, shown Vulko making numerous trips to the surface with various weapons, armour, and writing to help teach Arthur, and a scene where he gifts Arthur Atlana’s spear. These are minor things but it just seemed a bit weird that Vulko randomly appears with no explanation as to how he first met Arthur.
I cannot stress enough how much fun Aquaman is; the film is bright, constantly moving, full of action, and has a real dramatic weight to the story. It’s not just a big CGI-fest, it’s also full of humour and hard-hitting action and I am so glad that Jason Momoa has the chance to bring this character into the mainstream in such a great way. After this, no one will be making jokes at Aquaman’s expense ever again; instead, they’ll see just how awesome Aquaman can really be!