This review is spoiler-free.
It’s safe to say Warner and DC have been very hit and miss in terms of the movies it has been producing for the DCEU. From the highs of Wonder Woman, to the lows of Suicide Squad, you never know what type of movie you are going to get. From its impressive takings so far, in the Chinese market, Aquaman appears to be a making a big splash (not sorry). Now that it has opened everywhere else, it will be interesting to see how the movie does commercially. With many people feeling disheartened with the DCEU, can this movie do enough to win back this particular audience? If the movie is anything to go by, then they stand a very good chance! To put it simply, Aquaman is a movie well worthy of your money and time. For me, it is probably one of the most enjoyable comic book movies of 2018.
So why should you go and see this movie? First of all, you will find it difficult to not be entertained from start to finish. The pacing is perfectly executed ensuring the film is continually moving forward, despite the amount of story it has to tell. You never feel like the film is stagnating. While you may feel like you have seen aspects of this movie before, the film really comes into its own with the underwater worlds and set pieces. The costume and audio design are also a real delight. One of Aquaman’s biggest strengths is it’s cast. The film is packed full of outstanding performances from both the lead and the supporting characters.
Jason Momoa’s character is finally fleshed out in terms of his backstory and they make some positive corrections since his appearance in Justice League. Momoa really shines in this role, bringing a sense of fun and ‘bad-ass’ in equal measure. It’s safe to say Aquaman is no longer the butt of the joke. Seeing the full Aquaman outfit was also a highlight of the movie. As for Mera, there will be more on her further down in the review. Usually, I’m not a fan of Nicole Kidman, but I thought she was very strong as Atlanna. Quite the emotive performance. Willem Dafoe as Vulko was another solid supporting character.
So what about the villains? Yahya Abdul-Mateen II has some solid moments as Black Manta, but it was all a little too generic. Yahya did the best he could with what he was given, I just wanted more threat from him. But they have plenty of time to correct this in future appearances. As for Patrick Wilson as King Orm/Ocean Master, I thought he was exceptional. I loved Wilson’s performance from start to finish. His theme was stupidly over the top and evil, I loved it. The same goes for Ocean Master’s outfit, ripped straight out of the comic book. The real question now is do they keep him evil or turn him into a Loki-esque type character? Whatever the future holds for him, I hope he has a big role to play. Hands down the best villain the DCEU so far.
In terms of direction, James Wan has completely smashed it with Aquaman. His ability and imagination with the camera lead to some outstanding cinematic moments in this film. We all saw the rooftop ‘one-shot’ in the extended trailer, but there are many more instances where he uses the camera to turn a scene up to eleven. Some of the cinematography was very special. Going into this, I was hoping that, as well as the action spectacles, Wan wouldn’t forget his horror roots. I wasn’t disappointed.
I think with Walter Hamada now pulling the strings on the DCEU, allowing the directors to have that creative freedom to tell their stories will only benefit the quality of movies DC and Warner put out. We’ve seen it with Wonder Woman and now with Aquaman.
So what are the negatives?
Well for starters, I really wasn’t sold on Amber Heard’s Mera. I found her performance very awkward and Heard and Momoa have little to no chemistry on screen. Yes, the script has to take some responsibility for this, but the two just don’t come across as you would envisage Aquaman and Mera to be as a duo. I enjoyed the costume and her hydrokinetic powers though, it’s just everything else that felt lacking. The character needs a lot of work, but hopefully, they can turn this around. Having already mentioned the script, it struggles to land some of its jokes. Some work, but others hit the ground hard. But again, this doesn’t help with the lack of dynamic between Heard and Momoa. Was there some super cheesy and stupid dialogue? Yes. Did I dislike it? No. It was part of the film’s over the top charm.
This movie was a fantasy adventure, more so than an outright superhero movie. Aquaman won’t win any awards for the originality of it’s story. It is very predictable and there are certain plot points and beats that have been done many times before in other comic book movies. But it is the incredible journey and action spectacles that more than makeup for this. Make no mistake about it, this film is highly entertaining and has that comic book wow factor. The other major complaint seems to be the overuse of CGI. I was fine with it. It worked for this particular film style. I’m not sure how they could have achieved what they did without it, so to use this to attack the film seems unreasonable. At no point did I feel taken out of the movie because of it. Some bits were better than others, but again, working in such a unique and difficult environment it was always going to be the case.
As always, I judge a film on emotions and how I felt after viewing it, rather than against a checklist of conventions. I took Aquaman as it came, a silly, crazy, exciting fantasy adventure that was very self-aware and embraced it’s comic book origins. This is definitely a positive addition to the DCEU and if I was to rank it against the other DCEU movies, I’d probably stick it as my second favourite thus far.
Aquaman is a fun ride from start to finish, brought to life through the visionary filmmaking skills of James Wan. However, the awkward onscreen chemistry between Aquaman and Mera is a disappointment. The lack of a believable threat, an issue that plagues many films in this genre, is also once again a factor. But despite this, the film embraces it’s identity and thanks to great pacing, delivers on a solid story and some outstanding action sequences. The visuals and worlds were truly incredible. If this is the future of the DCEU, then the future is looking very bright indeed.