Aquaman Review: Bold, Bonkers, and Badass.
Aquaman is the latest film in the DC Universe and one that focuses on the character of Aquaman portrayed ever so brilliantly by Jason Momoa. Yes, Aquaman is an origin story but one that feels somehow unique when being compared to other superhero origin tales. Instead of spending most of the runtime focused on the backstory of Arthur Curry, the film instead opens with his parent’s backstory and quickly becomes a hero’s journey. The script offers enough background on the title character that you understand why he feels the way that he does but it never beats you over the head with it. Instead, the film is more focused on having fun and taking the audience on a wild and wacky adventure.
There has been a lot of chatter about this project ever since James Wan signed on to direct it back in April of 2015. I don’t have to waste too much time in this review discussing this but there always seems to be some sort of unfair and/or negative bias towards the majority of DC films. This is all pretty fascinating considering DC films like Superman and Batman paved the way long before Marvel Studios was even a thing. Has the road of DC been somewhat bumpy as of late? Somewhat but I do believe that a lot of that stems from this whole Marvel vs. DC argument that has gotten a bit out of hand. I will never understand why the majority of people have to constantly compare the two as though they can’t simply coexist. It just makes no sense.
I have a lot to say about Aquaman but before I begin, I want to point out that this is a James Wan film. If you call yourself a fan or have watched any of the films that James Wan has directed over the past twenty years, you can see clearly see his fingerprints all over Aquaman. And the reason why I bring this up is that I think it was a major concern for a lot of the naysayers. James Wan clearly made the movie that he wanted to make and WB clearly allowed him to do what he wanted to do. The way that Wan moves the camera is mesmerizing. As a film lover, I am constantly blown away by how Wan is able to set up certain shots. There are several big battle scenes that take place mainly underwater and they are simply jaw-dropping. There is one scene, in particular, where he sort of spins the camera around and it’s so perfectly captured.
If you have seen the trailers, you probably have seen the scene where Amber Heard’s character Mera is running and jumping from rooftop to rooftop. With how many times I have seen the trailer, I totally thought that the scene would be rather underwhelming but that isn’t the case at all. I found myself in awe by the sequence because it’s just so crazy and outrageous that you can’t help but be sucked into it. I think there are so many scenes like that in this film where you can really tell that Wan wanted to push himself to the extreme for sake of action or comedic effect.
It is clear when watching Aquaman that Wan went back to the comics and did his homework. Wan seemed to know what risks were involved when making an Aquaman movie. I would never call myself a comic book connoisseur but I am familiar with most of the popular comic book characters. Aquaman has always been viewed as a joke and kudos to Wan for embracing the jokey and campy nature of the character while turning him into this incredibly likable badass. Arguably, this doesn’t fall entirely on Wan but rather how he approached working with Momoa by making sure that they were both on the same page with their vision for the film.
Speaking of Momoa, we got a pretty good idea of how he was as Aquaman in Justice League but now, we get to see if he can carry a film on his own. The answer is yes. Momoa definitely has what it takes to sell this character and this story to a massive audience. Momoa’s take on Arthur Curry comes across as surprisingly rather well-rounded. Sure, he can be a little simple-minded at times but the character is charming, charismatic, and witty. I felt while watching the film that it was nearly impossible not to be won over by the tough guy persona with a heart of gold. Momoa makes it incredibly easy to like Arthur Curry and does such a great job of embracing the source material while having a ton of fun with it. There is something to be said about the way that Momoa has single-handedly turned a character that was once viewed as a complete joke and managed to turn him into this sexy charismatic badass.
As someone who has only seen Amber Heard in a few roles over the years, I wasn’t really sold on her playing Mera. I was pleasantly surprised, however, when watching the film by how much I enjoyed Heard in the role. I thought she was very funny, charming, and sexy. Yes, you read that right, I called both Heard and Momoa funny, charming and sexy. Heard also has great on-screen chemistry with Momoa. The two of them just seemed to be having the time of their lives which made all the back and forth banter between the two of them very natural. Their scenes together are interesting to watch because they tend to come across as very cheesy but that is all part of the film’s charm.
Speaking of cheesy, I need to give a shout out to Patrick Wilson for really embracing this whole comic book villain role. His portrayal of King Orm felt like it was a throwback to the early days of comic book movies and tv shows. What was really fascinating about Wilson’s performance is that while it may come across as very over the top to some, it felt like Wilson was very much aware of how ridiculous his character was. I sort of miss the days when you watched a comic book movie and just had fun with it instead of worrying about how the story will ultimately connect the dots to future films or when you are so worried about how incredible the performances are. Don’t get me wrong, I like the serious tone of the Dark Knight Trilogy and a good chunk of the films in the MCU but I like having fun and finding a comic book film that has that perfect balance of fun, action, and drama seems rather difficult to find nowadays.
Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II are some of the more notable roles of the supporting cast. I really dug Nicole Kidman as Atlanna because I felt like this was something that we have never seen Kidman do before. She got to kick ass and have fun. Kidman has had such a successful career by taking on so many dramatic roles but it was oddly refreshing to see her just let loose and have fun. The same thing can be said about Willem Dafoe, who I think is an acting legend but who also rarely just takes on a role to have fun. I don’t really want to go too much into detail about Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s character but I do have to say that he was the weakest link amongst all of the characters for me. I don’t know if it was just that he didn’t get enough screen time or how his character was set up but I found his performance to be sort of distracting. It was almost like the character didn’t fit the tone of the film. This wasn’t a huge issue but it made a big enough impact that I felt like I needed to point it out as one of the film’s weakest links.
To me, what sets Aquaman apart from other superhero films is that Wan and everyone involved just wanted to make a film that wasn’t afraid of being bold, bonkers, and badass. You can’t help but watch certain scenes without thinking to yourself, “wow this is seriously bonkers.” A perfect example of this is the scene where Dolph Lundgren is riding a seahorse while talking about going into war. Take a moment right now and think about how ridiculously brilliant that sounds. And no, I am not kidding that is an actual scene in the film. I do feel the need to constantly applaud filmmakers who aren’t afraid of taking a risk, thinking outside the box, and are committed to bringing their vision to life. James Wan is no dummy and I think he knows that Aquaman isn’t going to work for everyone but he made the film that he wanted to make and that speaks volumes. I think a lot of people are going to have an absolute blast with Aquaman while others will pick it apart for being something that just doesn’t click with them because it is just so out there in a lot of ways.
Before I close out this review, I do have to point out that the film is very CGI heavy, however, when compared to most other CGI visual spectacles released this year, I think Aquaman is one of the most impressive of the bunch. The scenes in Atlantis are beautifully shot and incredibly detailed. You can’t help but applaud the talented artists who worked on this project from the set designer to the costume designer. Aquaman is a visual feast for the eyes and a colorful work of art. I do think seeing this film in IMAX will definitely increase the wow and fun factor especially when you see some of the elaborate battle sequences and that rooftop chase scene which I mentioned earlier.
All in all, Aquaman is the type of film that you just need to embrace it for what it is. We have become so accustomed to films following certain formulas that whenever someone dares to make something that goes against the gain, we often struggle to accept it. I feel like Wan’s vision of this world is one that stands on its own. Sure, you can compare parts of the story to other superhero stories because let’s be honest most superheroes have similar themes. The important thing to note is that when you sit back and look at this film as a whole, there is something special about it. You can tell that a lot of hard work and effort went into it and at no point during filming did Wan, Momoa or anyone in the cast not understand the type of film they were making. Aquaman is an ambitious film but one that isn’t afraid of being campy while being committed as an action-packed underwater adventure.
Scott ‘Movie Man’ Menzel’s rating for Aquaman is an 8 out of 10.