Written by David Leslie, Johnson McGoldrick, Will Beall, Geoff Johns & James Wan
Directed by James Wan
Arthur Curry is the son of a lighthouse keeper and a runaway queen of Atlantis. When he was a toddler, his mother was taken back to her undersea homeworld, and so Arthur was raised by his father while learning about the strange new abilities he developed with each passing day. As an adult, Arthur has fought alongside the Justice League and has become a minor celebrity in his coastal town of Amnesty Bay. His profile increases when Mera, daughter of one of the seven kings of the ocean, implores him to help her stop a pending war with the surface. It seems, Arthur’s half-brother Orm is rallying the armies of the sea whether they like it or not. His end goal is to bring the land-dwellers to heel for the endless pollution of the ocean-realm. Arthur and Mera find themselves in a race to uncover the lost trident of Atlan, the one item that can only be wielded by the true king of Atlantis. With this weapon, they believe the war that will tear apart the planet can be avoided.
Anytime I watch a new DC superhero movie I am forced to grade it on two scales: one in comparison to the other DC movies and the other in tandem with Marvel’s output. When it comes to Marvel movies, Aquaman is just a pale imitator of Black Panther with some Thor thrown in for good measure. I didn’t like Black Panther, so I am not going to enjoy the imitator. Putting Aquaman up against the DC movies it scores reasonably high. For reference, the worst DC movie is Suicide Squad, and the best would be…Wonder Woman, I guess? Aquaman is a little below Wonder Woman. However, saying it’s a good DC superhero movie at this point is talking about how enjoyable your colonoscopy was.
The positives for Aquaman is that is presenting a corner of the fantasy superhero world we haven’t gotten before. Warner Brothers have beaten Marvel to the punch before a Namor movie could be made, though a Namor movie would undoubtedly be better than this. The presentation of Atlantis as a massive urban space like Metropolis or Gotham was pretty good, though there is always room for more of that. The comics have never done a great job of making Atlantis feel like an actual physical space. Artists have typically just drawn oversized crumbling castle fishbowl decorations, so it was nice to see a very sci-fi neon approach. The score by Rupert Gregson-Williams is alright and has synth tone that works well, though like with all modern superhero fare we are still starving for anthemic pieces.
The rest of Aquaman is predictable superhero formula. There’s the bizarre need to include two villains, one of whom is entirely underdeveloped. Orm is your main baddie but, as a result of not cutting away the far from previous script drafts we also have Black Manta with an origin and a single battle, plus he gets the post-credits scene. I personally would have liked Manta to be saved for a movie where he could be given the development he deserves instead of being a barely there henchman. Manta has the potential to be a genuinely terrifying villain that doesn’t have a line like softer baddies such as Loki possess. In the comics, Manta is responsible for murdering Arthur and Mera’s infant son. He is a messed up dude, and the movie just did nothing interesting with him.
Jason Momoa is just not a leading man. He may have the looks, but his line delivery is so rough that it verges on comical. You can do the “bro” hero thing, Dwayne Johnson has proven that, but he exudes charisma and has some decent acting chops. Momoa is having fun making this movie, but he isn’t playing a character. This is Aqua-Momoa, and if that is your thing then more power to you, it just doesn’t interest me. Amber Heard continues to be boring and has me questioning why she keeps getting acting jobs. Willem Dafoe is just there to collect a paycheck. Patrick Wilson as Orm does seem to be very into this role and is hamming it up with loud bellowing speeches. It’s very cliche, but he does seem to be doing a thing.
Having just watched Bumblebee and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse I have to say that this genre of film can be done so much better. The proof is on movie screens right now. While those previous films were made by people that got to the core of the characters and played out themes that built on those fundamental elements, Aquaman feels like Warner Brothers delivering a product for the current fiscal quarter. It does all the things you would expect with lots of booms and bangs and armies fighting and quips exchanged. If you’re interested in dropping twenty bucks for a good nap, then Aquaman might be your ticket.