David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick
As Marvel prepared to conclude their two-part Avengers saga, DC delivered its first big superhero blockbuster since Justice League, the soft debacle that prompted quite a bit of doubt in the DCU's future.
Led by director James Wan, Aquaman stars Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry, the half-human son of Atlantis' princess Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), who spends his time saving the innocent as "The Aquaman" and drinking beers with his dad. The film opens with Atlanna's backstory as she meets Arthur's father and they begin a life together before they are attacked by Atlantis' soldiers and Atlanna decides to go back home in order to keep her son safe.
Years later, when Arthur's half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) decides to turn the kingdoms of the sea against humans, Arthur and Orm's betrothed Mera (Amber Heard) set out to recover the Trident of Atlan that would confirm Arthur as the rightful king. Their journey takes them to the Sahara desert, Sicily and various underwater kingdoms as they face all kinds of threats from amphibious monsters to Orm's army and, for lack of a better expression, submarine pirates including the intimidating Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).
To say that this film was a gamble would be an understatement considering it cost about $200M and deals with an often (wrongly) ridiculed comic-book character who had never been given his own movie, not to mention it lands on the back of several mishits on DC's part. That gamble now having paid off handsomely, and with Shazam just around the corner, it looks like the DCU is officially back on track. The film itself is a joyfully ridiculous blend of Black Panther, Thor, Flash Gordon, The Little Mermaid and cheesy action films from the 1980's, complete with a corny dude-making-a-thing montage, and Dolph Lundgren.
It's all very predictable, it's packed with bad one-liners, the plot is ludicrous, people ride giant seahorses, there's a war against crab people, an octopus plays the drums... it's basically a cartoon. And yet, that all gives the film a boldly naive quality that's hard to resist. It's not concerned with being all dark and edgy (Batman V Superman) or pseudo-deep (Man Of Steel), it only aims to be good, dumb fun and it achieves this remarkably well.
Which is not to say that Aquaman is any kind of masterpiece, far from it. This is good popcorn entertainment, for sure, but substance-wise it's paper-thin and some, understandably, might find it a little too brainless by the end. It's much too long, some of the effects are distractingly off, Black Manta never feels like he really needs to be in this film, the dialog is often laughable, Arthur doesn't learn much throughout and the plot tries very hard to mask its lake-sized holes but the film looks great, for the most part, and the action scenes (especially the Sicily-set one) are very well handled so there's always that.
It's also hard to deny that this is the role that Jason Momoa was born to play. His Aquaman is mostly an airhead (save for some nifty historical knowledge) but he's also very charming: an eternally drenched force of nature with a good heart, just the right amount of brooding and an amusingly goofy yet cool super-power. In comparison, Ben Affleck's Batman and Henry Cavill's Superman are literal planks of wood.
What Aquaman lacks in actual depth (pun intended) it more than makes up for in sheer spectacle. This won't win any Oscars but it'll entertain the heck out of you and perhaps even kill a few braincells along the way. This is a not-so-guilty pleasure that breathes new life into a mostly grumpy comic book universe and it's altogether a thoroughly enjoyable piece of nonsense.
Harmless dumb fun, nothing more.