The butt of many a joke throughout DC’s history, Aquaman has been a superhero that has been a bit hard to take seriously. Bedecked in bright orange and green while using a seahorse as a mode of transport, this was a character that was hard to imagine working well in the era of modern comic book movies. The closest audiences had got to a modern take on the underwater hero was a failed tv pilot starring Justin Hartley and, honestly, it’s probably a good thing that the series didn’t get made. (You can see the very 2000’s intro here: https://youtu.be/H_VYf4KwNj8).
However, once Jason Momoa was cast as Aquaman by Zack Snyder for Justice League, it started becoming clear that the movie version of the Atlantean would be leaving behind his campy source material, becoming a rugged force to be reckoned with. Momoa’s turn as Aquaman was both charismatic and grounded enough to make the hero one of the standouts in the otherwise all-over-the-place Justice League.
Which brings us to Aquaman’s standalone movie. Helmed by horror extraordinaire James Wan, this was one of the films, along with the upcoming Shazam and Wonder Woman ’84, that would show audience the direction that the DC movie universe would be heading going forward. The trailers did a good job of selling the story of the film and created a generally good feeling about the potential end product.
Sadly, the actual result doesn’t fully live up to those expectations. Wan’s Aquaman is a silly fun film that is wildly uneven across the board. With a cast consisting of Momoa, Nicole Kidman (Queen Atlanna), Amber Heard (Mera), Willem Dafoe (Vulko), Patrick Wilson (Orm), Temuera Morrison (Tom Curry) and Dolph Lundgren (King Nereus), the acting is a bit all over the place, with some actors giving it their all, while others just phone in.
Heard as Mera is particularly weak and wooden, with a lot of her lines not really packing any sort of punch and her chemistry with Momoa was almost non-existent, making the predictable romance between the two seemingly come out of nowhere. The attempts at banter between Heard and Momoa were borderline painful, with Heard just not able to keep up with Momoa’s inherent charm. In terms of acting I couldn’t pick which was the worst offender, Heard’s line delivery or Temuera’s attempt at an American accent.
On the other end of the spectrum, Wilson as Orm is obviously trying to give a sense of nuance to his villainous role, going all in on the character, loud and bombastic, to a level where you can see where Orm’s motivations are coming from, but the movie doesn’t fully capitalise on the making him seem truly sympathetic.
This is a movie that has had the kitchen sink thrown at it. It incorporates ideas from multiple movies, even ones you didn’t think could be part of this film. There are so many McGuffins and the story could use a bit of simplification. But the parts of the movie that work, work well. Almost enough to make you sort of ignore the weaker sections. From my first viewing, I’d say the things that worked would have a 70/30 split with the things that don’t.
It’s obvious that DC and Warner Brothers want to move away from the dark, muted palette of their previous films, and have made Aquaman a smorgasbord of vibrant colours. The depiction of Atlantis and the various kingdoms of the seven seas are stunning in their design and the effort taken to differentiate the various nations and their environments pays off, creating a vast new world under the sea. And the design choices don’t just stop at the environments, as the creative aesthetic flows throughout the film, from the costumes to the tech used by the Atlanteans.
And while the designs are amazing, the CG work in the film (much like most things in the movie) is a bit on and off. It goes from depicting the most bad-ass sea-horses ever seen, to bad green-screening and cg doubles. It may be due to various VFX houses working on different areas of the film but the overall result is not a polished as it could have been.
At its core, Aquaman builds a foundation for DC to work off. It’s not an amazing film, but it’s good entertainment. It feels like it’s trying to too much at once and would have benefitted with some defter editing to streamline the story. The dialog could have used some work as well, with a lot of the jokes falling flat in the viewing I went to, or just being predictable enough to see them coming a mile away.
Aquaman is a good start for the new DC, but I hope Shazam and Wonder Woman ’84 do a better job. I’d normally say watch it at home, but the visual spectacle deserves to be seen in theatres.
I give Aquaman a 6.5 out 10. And yes, there is a post-credit scene.