Director: James Wan
Screenwriters: Will Beall, David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick
Starring: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Patrick Wilson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison, Ludi Lin, Michael Beach, Randall Park
Despite the seemingly continuous reign of success atop of the worldwide box office in recent years for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DC version, featuring the likes of the hugely popular Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, has floundered to profitability, audiences slowly embracing the stance of critics and judging with their hard earned money, the DC Extended Universe barely surpassing the minimum box office needed to keep it limping from release to release – this is apart from Wonder Woman of course, which is a monster franchise all by itself. In the aftermath of Justice League, something needed to change, and backstage at DC films distributor Warner Bros, almost everything did. Major players came in to replace outgoing overseers and they even seemed to write Henry Cavill’s Superman out of the shared universe. They needed a big hit to close out their year of transition, and it was famed horror director James Wan (Saw; Insidious; The Conjuring) who was charged with steering the ship into calmer waters, the success of Aquaman being somewhat of a necessity to continue in any fashion down the same path as before. With the famed fish-talking, underwater-breathing superhero now unveiled to the world, it’s become quite apparent that Wan has succeeded, for as riddled with cliche as Aquaman is, it’s equally as beautiful and in parts truly quite captivating. An Into the Spider-Verse level of origin story it is not, but a successful step in the right direction it certainly is.
The true strength of this DC release is Wan’s work behind the camera. The director, who helmed Warner Bros’ big blockbuster hit franchise Fast & Furious for the 7th (and highest grossing) instalment Furious 7, was a clear and positive influence on the overall experience, his work in creating a watch featuring some fun, distinguishable and easy to digest characters, as well as exciting and creative action set pieces, being particularly positive; and the work of the CG department to bring some of these sequences to life being above and beyond the usually mediocre to disappointing CG work at Warner Bros (Justice League being the most obvious example, but Batman v Superman and even some Harry Potter movies suffering from this issue). It was like watching an underwater galactic adventure movie akin to the likes of Star Wars at times, with the central crux of the story being one of the hero needing to search high and low for a specific item, which itself brought some great on-land adventure that was like a diet version of the action-adventure classic Indiana Jones or the early James Bond movies in places, like a softer version of the less classic The Mummy (1999).
Stunning visuals and welcomed world exploration aside, Aquaman is your standard superhero origin story complete with an impossible task that proves how the character is deserving of wielding such powers, some lacklustre supporting villains and some truly awful dialogue – it really is a film with which you must go along for the ride, as logic and realism are far from the piece’s most central concerns. It probably runs a little long too, but its choice to focus on the relationship between mother and son at least brings some level of universality to the film that could have been missing, and the lead villain (Wilson) is one the team at DC at least attempted to give more of an edge than many of his ill-received Marvel and DC brethren – though he is not without blood boiling thoughtless power-lust.
The performances are also fine. Jason Momoa has a lot of charisma and was afforded the room to at least look cool as a sort of underwater king – an aspect of his character aided by the seemingly never ending moments of fan service that showed him wet and topless – while Amber Heard was a good support worthy of a little more attention moving forward. The big names on the cast, Nicole Kidman and Willem Dafoe, barely hit 3rd gear in their respective roles, but Patrick Wilson’s performance as King Orm was elevating of the material and it was good to see Dolph Lundgren back in a prominent, mainstream role – his own performance being fairly good in its own right.
This was far from an actor’s film however, and was certainly more geared towards creating an atmosphere or a feeling than bringing forth any meaningful themes or contemporary issues. Tagged on sub-plots aside, Aquaman was very straightforward, turn-your-brain-off fun, but what Wan achieved in making the underwater universe of Atlantis and its neighbouring communities look and feel tangible was an achievement in of itself, the attention to detail on visual and audio effects each bringing the underwater world to life in a way that jumped out of the cinema screen and ultimately made for a reasonably enjoyable experience.
You’re not going to want to head into Aquaman expecting anything more than silly fun, but if you head in with your expectations in check, this one may just surprise you; it seems that DC are finally moving towards the right track.