By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
With the exception of last year’s Wonder Woman, every DCEU film has been rather messy. Despite the production woes of Justice League and the last minute changes, the filmmakers managed to salvage a fun and watchable movie. This offered some hope for what seemed to be a slowly sinking franchise. Another ray of hope shone through when DCEU producers tapped director James Wan to helm the Aquaman film. And though the film does show some promise, the resulting movie has its issues as well. James Wan’s movie manages to keep the franchise alive and exciting, but also fails to be the savior it badly needs.
Set after the events in Justice League, Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) returns to his place as guardian of the seas. However, trouble is brewing in Atlantis. Arthur’s half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), who reigns as the current king, wants to unite the ocean kingdoms so that he can wage a war against all land dwellers on Earth. As a half-human/half-Atlantean, Arthur very reluctantly agrees to challenge Orm for the throne. In doing so, he hopes to create a lasting peace and prevent any catastrophes that such a war would cause.
Written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Willuam Beall, and James Wan, based on the characters from DC comics, Aquaman is definitely an ambitious film that is so much fun, but one that has a bit of an identity crisis. Wan and his co-writers can’t seem to decide if their movie is a Saturday morning cartoon or a more serious comic book drama. What keeps the movie fun and exciting is Wan’s obvious love for cartoony superheroes, and had he committed fully to a singular style and tone, everything might have completely worked. Also, the film stalls in the middle when Arthur and Mera (Amber Heard) must solve the mystery behind a magical trident. This entire act takes way too long and could’ve been trimmed down.
The movie has a mix of both amazing and terrible CGI that one wouldn’t expect from a bigger budget sci-fi film. Most of the underwater scenes look amazing, but the land scenes, particularly a desert sequence, look ridiculously bad. As far as the world building is concerned, Wan and his team have an amazing vision for Atlantis and the other underwater kingdoms.
The prevalence of humor does work well in the film. Some of the more fantastical elements of the movie are so bonkers and out there, its not too difficult to play off of this. In a way, Arthur Curry is a fish out of water when it comes to his discovery of the worlds far beneath the water’s surface. This approach mixed with Jason Momoa’s charm and comic timing works so well.
And Momoa looks like he is having so much fun. The writing along with his acting chops make his Aquaman a very lovable character. Not only does his presence make the character a badass, but his interpretation of the character’s personality is what really sells the performance.
The movie also has some great performances by Temura Morrison as Arthur’s human father, Nicole Kidman as Atlanna, his mother, Patrick Wilson as Orm, Amber Heard as Mera, Willem Dafoe as Nuidis Volko, and Dolph Lundgren as Nereus. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II portrays David Kane/Black Manta, a human nemesis to Aquaman. Unfortunately, he is a weak link in the cast. Well, that is at least until he dons the Black Manta suit. As David Kane, he gives a dreadfully overacted performance that is laughable at times. I know it sounds strange, but I actually took him more seriously when he wears the cartoonish Manta suit.
So, James Wan’s version of Aquaman makes for another messy, albeit entertaining, entry in this troubled cinematic universe. The director and his co-writers, to be fair, had a difficult task and a lot of pressure to deliver a movie that would elevate the DC movie franchise to at least the level of Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman. Though they fail to do so, at least they have made a movie that is mostly fun and likable. With more movies planned for the DCEU, the machine will go on for a few years, but I feel like the future of Aquaman will depend on the box office returns. This movie is good enough to warrant a sequel, but this sequel must have a better script and more focused direction.