Film Review - Aquaman

Aquaman (2018), PG-13, 2h 23 min - Live action DC films have had a very spotty track record over the last few years.  Previously, last year's Wonder Woman had really been the only one that had been well received.  I personally feel that Aquaman will be the second.  The funny thing is, it has more than a couple similarities with Wonder Woman: an outside the box director for a big, superhero film (in this case horror/thriller aficionado James Wan), a lead actor who didn't necessarily seem right when first announced (Jason Momoa), and a script/story that was allowed to stand on its own as opposed to being shoe horned into some greater, expanded universe plan.  I certainly don't mean to bash any of the other DCEU films (I probably enjoyed them more than most, even considering their downfalls), but I have always felt like WB/DC rushed the expanded universe concept in an attempt to catch up with the record breaking Marvel Cinematic Universe.  As a result, the DC characters were not allowed to breath and grow on their own.

Aquaman takes place sometime after the events of 2017's Justice League, but easily stands on its own, only making reference to that film once in an early conversation between Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Mera (Amber Heard).  We're given a proper origin story for Arthur: he's the product of a love between two worlds after his mother, Queen Atlanna of Atlantis (Nicole Kidman) washes up on the shore of his father Tom Curry's (Temuera Morrison) lighthouse in Amnesty Bay, Maine.  After Atlantean troops searching for Atlanna attack the family, she decides to return to Atlantis in order to keep Arthur and his father safe.  Athur's abilities to communicate with sea life manifest on a school trip to the Boston Aquarium and he soon begins to be tutored about his Atlantean ancestry by Vulko (Willem Dafoe), an adviser to the Atlantean Royal family loyal to Atlanna (who is thought to have been assassinated for her perceived treachery as she had been betrothed to the King of Atlantis prior to her washing up on the shores of Maine).

In the present, Arthur is playing the reluctant hero, not seeking out attention but stepping in when sea vessels in the area come under duress.  In one such confrontation, he comes head to head with a pirate known as Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his father (Michael Beach).  Manta's father becomes trapped in debris from the altercation, and dies as the sub sinks.  Manta vows revenge on Arthur whom he blames for this father's death. 

Meanwhile, Arthur's step-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) - Atlanna's full blooded Atlantean son, and the current King of Atlantis - has aspirations of uniting the Kingdom's of the Seven Seas (splintered kingdoms of Atlantis that separated when Atlantis sank), and turns the focus of his armies on the world of land in response to an attack on an Atlantean temple.

After some prodding by Mera and Vulko, Arthur realizes that his ties to both the worlds of land and sea makes him uniquely qualified to combat Orm and his plans.  But first he must locate an ancient Atlantean artifact that will amplify his powers, allowing him to command all of the life in the sea.

Director James Wan does a great job of fleshing out a diverse cast (both literal and figurative) and organically building multiple underwater civilizations.  Aquaman is part Star Wars (under water 'space' opera), part Indiana Jones (globetrotting adventure), part giant monster movie, and all fast-paced fun.  Even staying true to his roots, Wan slips in a dash of horror-thriller courtesy of the The Trench.  Aquaman may not become an all-time classic like the aforementioned franchises, but just as they did, it tells an entertaining tale that can be serious at times while still knowing how to have a good time.

There are a couple of moments that feel a little forced, and a couple others that are pretty cheesy, but all in all, Momoa's and Heard's portrayals of Arthur and Mera are wonderful.  Their relationship grows over the course of the film, and gives off a very Han/Leia vibe that is both entertaining and endearing.  The dislike and hatred of Arthur from Orm and Manta is also quite palpable.

Visually, the film is stunning.  The locations are as diverse as the cast and Atlantis itself is reminiscent of Pandora from Avatar (in color) or Asgard from the Thor films (in scope).  As a result of the underwater environments and the sea life inhabiting it, the visual effects are top notch.  There's a little bit of the video game look to a couple of fight sequences that has come to be expected of the DCEU films, but the underwater landscapes and creatures are breathtaking at times, and more than compensate for it.   

I also enjoyed Rupert Gregson-Williams' score for the film.  A couple of the modern song choices interspersed throughout the film felt a little out of place, particularly the Pit Bull song as Arthur and Mera arrived at the Sahara Desert.  But honestly, that's really about my only complaint and I'm willing to chalk that up along with some of the cheesiness as acceptable missteps.

Aquaman won't be cleaning up on the awards circuit (although I wouldn't be surprised if it was nominated in some visual categories), but it is a very fun, very enjoyable movie that stands on its own and fleshes out another corner of the DCEU (even if that concept is pretty much blown up at this point).  It is also a reminder of the missed opportunity WB/DC had when launching their shared universe.  Instead of focusing on individual characters as they have with the Wonder Woman and Aquaman films and building towards something larger, they jumped head long into a massive team concept and worked their way backwards.  It is unfortunate because those larger scale films didn't work nearly as well.  If WB/DC can continue the momentum from the Wonder Woman and Aquaman solo films forward through future projects, they may finally be heading in the right direction.

Aquaman is a fun, family friendly, sci-fi/fantasy adventure that will provide the perfect break from your crazy holiday schedule.  Be sure to stick around at least part way through the credits as there is a nice little scene that clearly sets up a potential sequel.  While there hasn't been any official announcement of one yet, I'm certainly hoping that it happens as I thoroughly enjoyed the live action incarnations of these characters and would love to see more of their worlds and adventures.


I don't have nearly as much Aquaman knowledge as some other characters that have had live action adaptations so this section probably won't be terribly long, but here we go:

- Aquaman was created by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris, and first appeared in More Fun Comics #73 in November, 1941.

- Mera was created by Jack Miller and Nick Cardy, and first appeared in Aquaman #11 in September, 1963.

- Orm (Ocean Master) was created by Bob Haney and Nick Cardy, and first appeared in Aquaman #29 in September, 1966.

- Black Manta was created by Bob Haney and Nick Cardy, and first appeared in Aquaman #35 in September, 1967.

- This film draws heavy inspiration from Geoff Johns' Aquaman run from DC's New 52 era.  I guess that shouldn't be too surprising considering that Johns received a story credit for the film.  It just goes to show how accessible his run was as an introduction for those new to the character.  There were even a couple of story elements pulled from Jeff Parker's run that followed Johns', which was also cool.

- In the comics, Arthur Curry is a blonde haired, blue eyed Caucasian.  I actually really like that he has been updated for the times as a more diverse character of mixed descent.  I much as I like the classic comic book look because, hey, it's classic, the updated take really fits the character really well.

- I LOVE that they worked the classic orange and green Aquaman costume into the film!  It didn't even look ridiculous.

- Amber Heard's Mera felt spot on to me.  She was a strong, fierce, supportive, take no bull woman, exactly like in the comics.  It's an attractive combination that was achieved without having to overly sexualize the character.  She also did a great job of capturing Mera's discovery and awe of the world of land.

- Orm's look in his battle armor in the final scenes was straight out of the comics. 

- In the comics, Mera was actually betrothed to Nereus in Xebel and was sent to Atlantis to assassinate Arthur before falling in love with Arthur and abandoning her mission.  The change to her character's lineage actually works really well for the film (being Nereus' daughter and being betrothed to Orm).

- Speaking of King Nereus (of Xebel) - how could I almost forget to mention that he was played by Dolph Lundgren?

- Graham McTavish played King Atlan.

- I didn't catch all of these myself (thank you internet), but Julie Andrews provided the voice for Karathen (the sea monster protecting the King Atlan's trident), John Rhys-Davies was the voice of the Brine King, and Djimon Hounsou was the voice of King Ricou (of the Fisherman kingdom).

- Long time James Wan collaborator Leigh Whannell (the Insidious franchise), has a quick cameo as the freight pilot flying Arthur and Mera to the Sahara.

- He could be seen in a news clip earlier in the film, but the mid-credits scene focuses on Dr. Stephen Shin (Randall Park), a marine biologist who has long believed that Atlantis is real.  In the comics, Dr. Shin was very close with both Arthur and his father before betraying them by trying to gain notoriety for his knowledge about Arthur and Atlantis.  He was created by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reiss, and played an important role in their run.  I'd love to see him play a larger part in a potential sequel.


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