Aquaman is the latest in the line of DC comic book origin story movies, and it’s directed by notable creative James Wan. Most well known for his work in the horror genre (directing films like SAW and The Conjuring), Wan brings his directorial talents to this aquatic superhero story. Although we’ve met Aquaman (Jason Momoa) in a previous DC film (Justice League), this standalone tale gives us insight into how Aquaman came into the power. Like other recent DC films, Aquaman is far from perfect. However, it produces a lighthearted and entertaining ocean-centric journey all the same. While it doesn’t have the narrative quality of Wonder Woman, Aquaman ends up being one of the more successful DC films yet.
The Rightful King
The narrative of Aquaman tells us the origin story of Arthur Curry, a man parented by both a land-dwelling human and an oceanic queen. His father, Tom (Temuera Morrison) is a mild-mannered lighthouse caretaker who discovers an unconscious body washed up on the rocks. This turns out to be the queen of the fabled underwater city of Atlantis, Atlanna (Nicole Kidman). Shortly after his birth, Aquaman’s mother descends back into the ocean, leaving him and his father ashore. Years later, Aquaman is a powerful and snarky man, who spends his days drinking at the nearby tavern. Underneath the waves, a war rages between the seven kingdoms of the sea, spearheaded by Aquaman’s half-brother, King Orm (Patrick Wilson). King Orm plans to bring the underwater war to the surface, punishing humanity for their poor treatment of the oceans. Urged on by Mera (Amber Heard), a member of the Atlantis royal family, Aquaman travels below the waves to stop the war.
Overall, Aquaman‘s story is pretty straightforward. The main plot is a familiar “reclaiming the throne” story, with a healthy dose of family drama thrown in for good measure. In order to overthrow his brother King Orm, Aquaman must travel to the furthest depths of the ocean and attempt to retrieve a mythical trident. The movie flips back and forth between the political drama of King Orm’s war and Aquaman’s quest to stop it. There’s also a notable side story involving Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a literal pirate who seeks revenge on Aquaman. Unfortunately, Aquaman can’t quite decide on the story it wants to tell. Aquaman’s quest is the main focus, but the movie spends a lot of unnecessary time developing its subplots. It struggles with the tone as well, shifting between tongue-in-cheek comedy and standard “too serious for its own good” drama. For the most part, the narrative content in Aquaman works, there’s just too much of it going on to get invested.
The Seven Seas
At its core, Aquaman is an action blockbuster. There are plenty of high budget CGI battles, exciting fight scenes, and riveting action sequences. Luckily, these are all framed incredibly well. Even the best of Marvel’s movies suffer from shaky-cam here and there, but Aquaman is solid through and through. A good portion of the movie takes place underwater (appropriately), and that element is used well in almost every action set piece. The camera spins and twirls and characters fight, adding visual flair to the impacting and hefty combat choreography. When it comes to the fun factor, Aquaman delivers exciting content in droves.
In between the various action sequences, Aquaman stuns the audience with beautiful oceanic landscapes. From the ocean floor the wide blue, Aquaman packs its underwater sequences with quality imagery and colors. There’s a wide variety of inventive and interesting wildlife, vibrant and gorgeous plants, and a slew of technological wonders. Considering just how much of the movie is CGI, Aquaman could’ve easily turned out visually unconvincing. However, I was consistently impressed with the visuals, both during the action and narrative-focused scenes.
Despite being incredibly fun to watch, aesthetically pleasing, and packed with action, Aquaman definitely has some issues. The main problem is the tone, which shifts constantly. Some characters are played straight and serious, whereas others feel campy and ridiculous. It creates a weird clash, and you’re never quite sure if you’re supposed to be taking things seriously or not. Jason Momoa commands the screen as Aquaman, but besides a noticeable amount of physicality and good looks, he doesn’t bring much to the role. Don’t get me wrong, Jason Momoa gives a personable and enjoyable performance, but he doesn’t play the role of Aquaman: he plays himself. Momoa’s aloof and casual attitude sets the overall tone early on, so by the time we meet some of the more serious characters, the performances come off as excessive.
The film also suffers due to its length and pacing, which is all over the place. Although entertaining, the story doesn’t truly start moving until over an hour in. Once we get introduced to Aquaman, Mera, and a few other key characters, the movie reaches its stride. Unfortunately, the story is weighed down by unnecessary characters and side plots, taking up valuable screen time. This film could’ve benefited greatly from a liberal edit, where the focus is zoned in and the excess removed. Even some of the action scenes are laughably repetitive. For instance, five different conflicts begin with an explosion interrupting a conversation. Like clockwork, two characters will be talking and an explosion will rip through the scene. This is the defacto “here comes the action” notification, and like repeat helicopter crashes in war movies, it becomes predictable and unintentionally comedic.
Should You Go See Aquaman?
Despite its many issues, Aquaman is still a pretty fun movie. A lot of the imagery is ridiculous, the script is weak, and few characters have much conviction. However, it’s often a beautiful CGI feast for the eyes, jam-packed with exciting and lengthy action scenes. Thankfully, James Wan’s excellent direction keeps the camera in focus, allowing viewers to become lost in the aquatic mayhem. Jason Momoa plays a likable superhero, and although his character leaves a lot to be desired, his performance is entertaining enough. When the movie isn’t concerned with setting up the sequel or stuck between two tones, it’s a serviceable popcorn flick with a budget. If you keep your expectations in check, Aquaman should be plenty of fun. Some viewers will undoubtedly hate it, but for the majority, Aquaman will be a surprisingly exciting and beautiful movie.
Movie Rating: 3 stars.
Movie Rating Guide
1 Star = Unwatchable
2 Stars = Cannot Recommend
3 Stars = Great for the Fans
4 Stars = A Solid Movie
5 Stars = Must Own (DVD/Stream Download)
I'm a life long gamer and an overall media junkie. In addition to writing great articles like this, I run the gaming and entertainment blog http://SuperGamesite64.com. I also watch an unhealthy amount of movies and try to spread as much love into the world as I can. Hope you enjoyed the content!