It’s certainly been rough seas for the DC cinematic universe, with only Wonder Woman finding any degree of critical acclaim combined with commercial success. Aquaman is the sixth in the universe, and despite being the third to have Momoa in the role, is the first to focus solely on the character.
Here we get the backstory to Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), and how a doomed romance between an Atlantaen queen (Nicole Kidman) and a lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) lead to the birth of Aquaman. However as Arthur’s half-brother, King Orm (Patrick Wilson), seeks to unify the various undersea kingdoms in a war against the surface world, Aquaman must try and take up his claim to the throne in an attempt to halt him. To do this Mera (Amber Heard) and him set off to find a legendary Atlantian artifact the Trident of Atlan.
Aquaman is a surf and turf pizza – fish, beefcake and a lot of cheese.
If you go in with that mindset, then chances are you won’t be disappointed by Aquaman. It’s a huge budget, special effects extravaganza, that hits all the action beats it needs to, with charismatic and beautiful leads. That might seem a shallow interpretation of Momoa and Heard’s appeal…but just take a look on social media.
Momoa’s obvious appeal is strong grounds for the character’s sudden popularity. Gone are the days of Aquaman as the butt of jokes, as Momoa brings a roguish charm to the likeable lug. This version of Aquaman is a self admitted blunt instrument, one that leaps before he looks, and laments the consequences afterwards. Here we get into some trouble with the characterisation, because despite the actor’s charm, Aquaman is kind of a dick.
When I say kind of a dick, let’s be clear here, Aquaman is portrayed as a capricious murderer. Not just once, although there is one which is shockingly blatant, but by the end of the film Arthur has the blood of hundreds on his hands. To be fair this is indicative of a greater problem in the DC cinematic universe, in that their attempt to add complexity to the four-coloured comic book morality of their heroes, but in their overcompensation they still haven’t found a satisfactory balance.
Even without the issues of characterisation, Aquaman is a patchy film in terms of pacing. It’s certainly at its best when it jettisons the long, drawn out attempts at world building (weaving in the rich comic book lore, without doing overly much with it), and instead focuses on the action. Here director James Wan (Saw, Fast & Furious 7) is in his element, and lets his big budget, and computerised special effects shine. The result is actually a literal thing of beauty, with many of the shots of the deep filling your heart with wonder. The design of the various denizens of the ocean world are utterly on point, and the glowing Atlantean city is faultless.
If your expectations are for a superhero origin story, that can entertain with its spectacular visuals and action sequences, then Aquaman fits the criteria. If you have higher expectations (and honestly, a number of comic book films have met and exceeded that mark this year) then Aquaman doesn’t quite keep its head above water.