At one point or another, there was a moment where you heard someone joke about DC Comics’ resident underwater hero, Aquaman. Upon debuting in the 1960’s, the character was the butt of endless jokes about his fish companions and judged for his apparent limited practicality of his marine powers. While DC has attempted in the past to make Aquaman “cool,” the general audience still seemed to view the orange-and-green costumed “fishman” as a joke. That is, until Zack Snyder got a hold of the character.
When crafting Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Snyder opted to cast Jason Momoa in the role of Arthur Curry/Aquaman. The divisive director sought to create a new version of the age of old character,one with a rough exterior that wouldn’t be belittled by fish puns. Fast forward to 2017 and Momoa makes his debut as the character in Justice League, where he stole the show. Now, in 2018, Momoa leads his own solo film and with James Wan at the helm, Aquaman is a visually breathtaking, epic adventure that breathes new life into the DCEU.
Once home to the most advanced civilization on Earth, the city of Atlantis is now an underwater kingdom ruled by the power-hungry King Orm. With a powerful army at his disposal, Orm plans to conquer the remaining oceanic people to unite the seven kingdoms of the seas to invade the surface world. Standing in his way is the Aquaman, Arthur Curry, Orm’s half-human, half-Atlantean brother and true heir to the throne. With help from royal counselor Vulko and Mera, Princess of Xebal, Aquaman must retrieve the legendary Trident of Atlan and embrace his destiny as protector of the deep.
What makes Aquaman truly special lies with its director, James Wan. Taking on the task of creating a movie based around a literal joke of a comic character would never be considered easy but under Wan’s eye, Aquaman succeeded in telling a classic story and molding it for the future. Channeling various storytelling devices, Wan’s tale of the hero’s journey is an enthralling adventure that constructs its own, visually mesmerizing corner of the DC universe. At the helm, Wan is able to excellently stage underwater action sequences where the fighting is entirely fluid and pulse-pounding, especially during several long-takes in the film. He fully embraces the campy side of a comic book movie –mainly through the dialogue of Black Manta and King Orm – which some will view as laughable and probably roll their eyes at. Personally, Wan’s use of campperfectly adds levity to otherwise dire circumstances of the film.
I mentioned in my review of Wonder Woman that, like Hugh Jackman and Robert Downey Jr. with their respective comic book characters,Gal Gadot perfectly embodied the role of Wonder Woman. The same can be said herewith Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry/Aquaman. The idea of Aquaman being born from two worlds, each with their own cultures, citizens and burdens is the driving force of Aquaman and is seen as the film’s primary theme. From an early age, Arthur longed for a sense of belonging and the story – written by David Leslie, Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beal –makes it a goal to investigate why Arthur feels detached and how being caught in between the world he lives in and the world who rejected him has impacted his life and molded him into the man we meet in Justice League and at the start of Wan’s film.
Momoa’s portrayal of the superhero is further strengthened by his supporting cast, starting with Amber Heard as Mera. As the female lead, Heard is terrific as the straight-forward character that acts as the perfect foil for Momoa’s “Aquabro”personality. He is aloof and would simply rather use his fists to solve his problems while Heard thinks through every task ahead of her and it makes for a fairly hysterical relationship. Patrick Wilson is fantastic as Arthur Curry’s half-brother, King Orm. While the role may seem like a typical cliché villain, it is Orm’s motivations that propel him above the standard. After losing his mother, he blames the surface world for his burdens as well as for the pollution of the ocean. It is a message that truly makes sense because after all, we humans know what we have done to Earth’s oceans. While his role is small, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II brings his A-game as Black Manta. Mateen II hams it up whenever he is onscreen, perfectly delivering cheesy lines of dialogue while also proving to be a threatening presence to Arthur’s life. The standout amongst the supporting cast however is Nicole Kidman as Queen Atlanna. An actress who I never expected to be in a blockbuster film like this, Kidman is superb as Arthur’s mother, grounding the emotion of the movie and exploring the vulnerability of a mother’s love.
Aquaman is able to transcend the stereotypical nature of a comicbook film through its blending of genres. Again, credit to James Wan and the team of writers, Aquaman takes the adventurous nature of Indiana Jones, the family drama of a Shakespearean play, the sci-fi action of anime and even include aspects of horror, specifically when our leads make their way to the Kingdom of the Trench.
The visuals of the film are impeccable, arguably only comparable to Avengers: Infinity War in terms of size and scale. Where Infinity War had to build sets from other planets, Aquaman was tasked with creating a world entirely set underwater and the visual effects team delivered on all accounts. Atlantis is a marvel to look at, reminiscent of Pandora from James Cameron’s Avatar. The incredible attention to detail that went into building Atlantian homes, ships, weapons and suits is a feat previously unseen in the comic book movie realm and it was just simply a joy to behold
While the DCEU as a whole has been divisive, one area that always seems to garner praise is its music and Rupert Gregson-Williams has composed one of 2018’s best scores. It is like he brought together the rock ‘n’ roll nature of Ramin Djawadi’s Iron Man score, the ethereal atmosphere of James Horner’s Avatar score and the regality of Ludwig Goransson’s Black Panther score to create one awe-inspiring soundtrack. Perfectly encompassing the conflicted nature of Arthur while also grasping the sheer beauty of Atlantis, Gregson-Williams’ music greatly enhanced the colourful and vibrant world.
With moments that seem to have been ripped from the comic panels of its source material, Aquaman is a daring, unique, imaginative and ambitious journey that establishes an exciting new corner in the DC Extended Universe. It is able to stand on its own, showcasing a new spin on the classic hero’s journey but putting Arthur’s dual-identities at the forefront. With terrific performances, a wonderful musical score and superb direction, Aquaman reinvents the hero for a new generation, one that will surely take him seriously and put an end to the constant fish jokes.
Rating – 8.5/10
Aquaman swims into theatres on December 21, 2019