“Aquaman” has always been one of the silliest heroes in the DC Universe. He’s a particularly difficult character for the DCEU to tackle considering their dark, dreary and emo approach to superheroes. They even managed to make Superman depressing! “Justice League” was their first attempt to inject a little frivolity, which might have worked if it wasn’t all done via reshoots once Joss Whedon took over the film. With 2018’s “Aquaman” they took a large step forward and with James Wan in the lead, for better or worse, have fully embraced the ludicrousy of the man who talks to fish.
The film opens with a prologue that shows how Aquaman’s Atlantian mother, Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) and his Lighthouse living father, Tom (Temuera Morrison) met. For all the cliches it piles on top of CGI-Deaged actors, it’s a surprisingly sweet segment. It’s not the writing, it’s not the plot, but something else, perhaps the chemistry of the Kidman and Morrison, or maybe the Jack Daniels I had with dinner, but somehow it works. As with most super-origin-stories, we know the romance will end in a traumatic event. When it occurs James Wan immediately proves he has a very creative mind when it comes to action. The sequence is a long-unbroken take with Nicole Kidman taking out multiple assailants while the camera follows her around with impossible angles. Although it clearly almost entirely computer generated, Wan has stated in recent interviews that the footage of Kidman was shot practically, in a single take, using a spider-cam. Regardless of how it was done, it’s clear we’re in for a very different ride. In fact, it sets the tone for the entire movie. What follows is a lot more silly dialogue, creative action sequences, and vivid computer imagery.
The rest of the story involves Aquaman choosing to take his “rightful” place as King of Atlantis, a spot his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) has claimed as his own. No one really seemed to care that Orm was King until he decided to wage war on the humans who have polluted the ocean for decades, a point it’s hard to argue against. Even Aquaman has been seen smashing various glass bottles on the shore! If Orm isn’t stopped soon, he will unite the other underwater tribes (races? countries? species? It’s never quite clear) and become the feared OCEAN MASTER! If you think that sounds silly, just wait till Patrick Wilson has to deliver THAT line. He gets an “A” for effort but I can’t think of anyone who could deliver most of his dialog without making the audience snicker. That is perhaps the biggest problem with “Aquaman” It’s just so silly. The hero can talk to fish but lives on land. (I wonder if he eats seafood? or only certain kinds? Is it aqua-socially acceptable to eat crab and shrimp but not halibut?) His parents both have names that are only slightly modified from “Atlantis” His brother has the super generic name “Orm” and the equally generic villain title of “Ocean Master.” The other villain is named “Black Manta” and is a black guy in a really goofy helmet… That he apparently assembles from unknown-tech in under a day?
There’s a lot of A-list talent in this movie, but it seems most of them aren’t sure what to do with it. The usually amazing Willem Dafoe seems lost and never fully commits to his lines. Patrick Wilson is giving it his all, but behind his eyes, you can see he fears everyone is secretly laughing at him. Amber Heard also fully commits, and has some great action sequences, but can’t escape “The Little Mermaid” color palette. The only characters that seem believable are Aquaman and his father. Temuera Morrison seems to genuinely enjoy his role and the company of his “son.” Jason Momoa has it the easiest of all and is essentially just playing himself. His air of “it’ll all turn out ok, so I’m just gonna have fun with it” fits this interpretation of the character nicely, and appears to be a sentiment he lives by in the real world. A lot of the film’s jokes are made at his expense since he embraces a less-than-smart attitude, but in key scenes, he reveals his intelligence. The best way to ascertain the intelligence of others in a room is to play dumb.
All these negative comments don’t make the movie unwatchable. Oddly, as dumb as it is, it’s a lot of fun. There are some incredible visuals and a lot of very creative (or perhaps drug induced) imagery. While watching it’s easy to see other films it borrows from, sometimes improving upon. There are touches of “Avatar”, “Pacific Rim”, “Tron: Legacy”, “Finding Nemo”, and “The Abyss” throughout. It even features the best super hero kiss since Peter Parker’s upside down Mary Jane kiss! (logic be damned)
“Aquaman” is ridiculously fun if you check your brain at the door. It would be more highly recommended if the far superior “Bumblebee” and “Spider-Man:Into the Spider-Verse” weren’t both out right now too. Perhaps the best way to sum up this movie as a whole is “James Cameron’s Wet Dream”, and who wouldn’t want to watch that?