At times spectacularly stupid, at other times just plain spectacular, James Wan’s Aquaman is Thor by way of the Fast and the Furious franchise. Which makes sense; Wan directed Furious 7, and his horror background (Saw, The Conjuring) is beneficial for the imaginative world-building and spectacle necessary to make a film like Aquaman work. Though Aquaman doesn’t surpass the wonderful film that is Wonder Woman, it’s better than the dour Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, the messy Justice League, and the incoherent Suicide Squad. Scrappy, adventurous, and a lotta fun, it’s squarely in the “good” category. I mean, Willem Dafoe rides on the back of a shark sporting a bizarre man-bun and fighting giant seahorses. What’s not to like?
While we were introduced to Arthur Curry (James Momoa, with great hair and a lotta tattoos) in Justice League, Aquaman (thankfully) doesn’t really make reference to any of the other superheroes in the DCEU. The story opens with a tragic romance story between a kindly lighthouse watchman (Temuera Morrison) and the exiled queen of Atlantis (Nicole Kidman), with Arthur born of their love, a man living between two worlds–land and sea, human and…whatever the Atlantians are. When Arthur’s half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson, in a terrible wig) tries to unite the various underwater kingdoms in order to become Ocean Master and declare open war on the pollution-causing surface world, Orm’s betrothed Mera (Amber Heard, in a crazy wig) seeks out the snarky and reluctant Arthur to convince him to find a mystical trident and take up the mantle of king of Atlantis. This search for the trident prompts an Indiana Jones-like quest for Arthur and Mera, while Orm tries to stop them via the Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a terrorist pirate with a personal grudge against Arthur.
It’s all quite silly, though not as witty as Thor: Ragnarok or the Guardians of the Galaxy films. Momoa is charming enough and seems to be having a blast, though many of his jokes didn’t land well with me (likely due to the script, not his comedic timing). Heard does her best with what is (sadly) a traditional trope of the beauty in a skintight suit helping the Big Strong Man find his way as he woos her. What Aquaman does take seriously is the creative world-building. The underwater kingdoms are incredible environments, and Arthur’s introduction to Atlantis is vivid and colorful, like an episode of Blue Planet. A late sequence in the kingdom of the Trench is truly terrifying and awe-inspiring as Arthur and Mera try to flee a swarm of light-sensitive marine beasts. The action sequences are also thrilling, and, most importantly, you can actually see what’s happening. Wan’s camera twirls and swirls throughout the action scenes, but it almost never cuts away and is often in medium or wide shot, creating a coherent and compelling battle ballet. An opening fight scene with a trident-wielding Nicole Kidman is just fantastic (we need more Nicole Kidman in sci-fi fantasy films), as is a rooftop chase sequence in Sicily, which borrows heavily from the similar Fast Five rooftop chase in Rio. I’ve referenced a few other franchises now, probably because Aquaman generally feels so indistinct or deliberately riffing on other films. In this, Aquaman is entertaining if not very original–but if you’re gonna steal from something, steal from the best.
IMDB Listing: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1477834/