Let’s talk about Aquaman.
The DC Universe is in a weird place right now. After a middling reaction from both critics and the audience to Justice League, everything went wrong. Both Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck have dropped out, so that’s your Batman and Superman gone. So no one really knows what the future of the Justice League movies are which was the whole point of having a DC Universe. But even so, we have some of the solo films coming out so let’s see how Aquaman holds up.
Aquman, or Arthur Curry if you will, now acts as a hero following the events of Justice League. But with his half brother King Orm trying to unite the ocean to attack the land, he is forced to return to the seas and take his rightful throne to save the world.
The movie starts off really oddly. After a fairly standard expositry scene explaining Arthur’s backstory, we head to a submarine which is being taken over by pirates. This is where sub-villain Black Manta is introduced and you’d be forgiven for forgetting who the hero is. Manta is passed down a knife from his grandfather and when his father is trapped in the sinking submarine, Aquaman refuses to save him. Justifiably, Manta decides to go on a quest of revenge. Often this is the hero’s story and you could easily argue that it’s the case again here. Other than the piracy at the start and an alliance with King Orm, and there’s no indication that he knows about Orm’s destroy all humans schtick, he could easily be the hero of the story. That does make him an engaging villain at the very least but there appears to be some misjudgment on the behalf of the film makers.
This isn’t even a major flaw but I mention it because on the emotional side of things, there’s a lot of disconnects and lack of themes running through. As you’d expect, Aquaman encounters Black Manta again in a great action scene. Afterwards though when reflecting on it, Arthur reveals that he feels guilt for allowing his father to die. This was never mentioned once between the opening action scene and that one and is never mentioned again. Then, King Orm mentions the reason they are attacking the land because of the pollution man has done. This never gets brought up again like the writer saw Blue Planet II and felt he had to put it in to be timely. This sort of thing happens a lot and with the only consistent theme being that Arthur wants to meet his mother who was killed after the Atlanteans found out she had a child on the land. This is what stops the movie from hitting the level that Wonder Woman did, the lack of a strong emotional line throughout the movie and also some pretty hokey acting and dialogue during those scenes. There’s also some hokey acting and dialogue in the action scenes too to be fair.
But those action scenes are really awesome. They’ve managed to make the scenes under the sea really pop, something I was concerned about going in because I’m not sure of many other movies which have big set pieces under the sea like this one. Well, apart from Tentacolino of course which also has Atlanteans in a nice coincidence. But while those under the sea are fun, nothing in the movie gets to the level of the Sicily scene. That is something truly brilliant. It’s not just the action itself which is brilliant, though that is fantastic fun, but the way director James Wan shoots it. There’s two seperate things happening, Aquaman fighting with Black Manta and Atlantea soldiers chasing Mera, and I love the way the movie flicks between the two. Instead of the standard cut, Wan has the camera move like a drone from the two fights which adds to the fluidity and pace of the scene. It’s a great scene and one of my favourite action set pieces from over the last few months.
I mentioned Mera in there and I have to talk about her more because she, and Amber Heard who plays her, is just a revelation. I knew going in that Jason Momoa’s Aquaman was going to be great, he was one of the best things about Justice League after all, but I was not ready for how badass Mera would be. She is fantastic. As the one who has to ground Aquaman and make him a bit more serious, she could easily have become the wet blanket everyone hates. I’m thinking Laurel Lance from Arrow here. But no, she becomes one of the highlights of the movie by having lots of good lines and adding to action with some of her own unique powers. It also helps that her chemistry with Jason Momoa is fantastic and that her theme is badass. You can criticise the DC Universe as much as you want but the music from the series has been consistently fantastic.
All of this means that Aquaman, to the surprise of many, is a really fun movie. It’s not the smartest one around and it’s not going to make a massive impact like DC’s top movie Wonder Woman, but it never feels long despite being 2 hours and 20 minutes long. It is a blast because it has lots of fun action scenes, fun characters with actors who can just about deliver some of the hokey lines they are given and a unique visual identity which should keep it in your mind than you’d expect from a franchise that is still collapsing in front of our eyes.