James Wan crafts a cinematic odyssey filled with wonder, vibrant world-building & water. Lots and lots of water.
I feel obliged to start this review by mentioning my bias, I love DC, I have done for many years and won’t ever claim that this doesn’t have an impact on the way I see their films. That being said, I think all reviews have a level of bias in them, as we are literally cataloging our likes and dislikes.
So, this is my disclaimer to you, the reader, to be aware that this and all my reviews will be biased by something or another, but that I also believe in my ability to view something for what it is, and I would never let bias get in the way of objectivity.
I went into Aquaman with a quiet buzz of anticipation, an anticipation that used to roar with a tangible sound as I went to see the new DC movie. But given the hit and miss nature their films in the past few years, I now enter the cinema with a mixture of excitement and fear. I can say quite happily that I left the theater a lot more at ease, for James Wan’s underwater origin story is the most Aquaman-ish (first review and I’m already making up words) Aquaman movie that ever could have made it onto the big screen.
Jason Momoa portrays Arthur Curry with a level of rugged charm and naivety that blends well against the driven, self-assured Mera played by Amber Heard. If Heard’s Mera blends well with Arthur, then Patrick Wilson’s Ocean Master is the perfect foil. Raised to be king by an un-relenting father, Orm is an entitled high born who sees actions (often violent ones) as having more sway than charm. In all honesty, the majority of the main cast play their part very effectively which always makes for a more satisfying experience as a viewer. I would have loved to have seen more of Yahya Abdul Mateen II’s Black Manta, but I understand the potential reasoning which prevented this.
The film shines when it revels in knowing exactly what it is. The best example of this is the final third of the movie, it thrives on being a giant, bombastic underwater adventure with colour, action and talking crab creatures. The action scenes are masterfully choreographed, shot with a real flair and passion which leads to each sequence feeling refreshingly unique. The other way in which Aquaman shines is in Atlantis, itself. James Wan and his team conjured up a mystical underwater world that mixes elements of Star Wars with aspects of Asgard. The cinematography and CGI were crafted wonderfully allowing Wan to show us Atlantis as a rainbow infused acid trip seeping colour and creatures from all sides.
Admittedly, the script is very by the numbers. If I was going to predict the plot of the film before I had seen it, this would have pretty much been it. The story is ripped straight from Geoff Johns’ run on Aquaman (not that this is a bad thing), but it did mean that the film lacked any real element of surprise. I do think that if a sequel was green lit (which seems likely given the box office haul), a lot of the arcs introduced in this film would lend themselves nicely.
Tonally, the film is strongest when it leans into the shark-riding, trident-wielding madness which almost seems more like a hallucination than a sober cinema trip. It’s at its weakest when it becomes overly sentimental, tBuy tickets herehe intention behind these moments are good, but like some of the comedic notes in the movie, the execution falls a little flat.
James Wan’s Aquaman is an acquired taste (if I were to try and identify that taste I’d probably go with pop rocks laced with tiny fireworks), but one thing that can’t be denied is that it has a vision and it runs (or swims) with that vision, all the way to the bottom of the ocean.