Wet 'n' Wild
Aquaman is directed by James Wan and stars Jason Momoa as the titular superhero. The film also stars Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Nicole Kidman.
Common complaints against the DC Cinematic Universe thus far have included, "It's not fun", or, "Their movies look so dark and depressing." There's no denying that DC has elected to use a darker color palette in the likes of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Suicide Squad, probably thinking that they can match Marvel's bright and cheery superheroes with brooding superheroes that fight among gloomy, de-saturated backdrops. Spoiler alert: dark and depressing didn't fly with critics and audiences, even though Man of Steel and Suicide Squad turned out to be reasonable box office successes. So it's odd when Aquaman, the seventh entry in the DC Cinematic Universe, comes along and does an almost complete 180 turn from what the DCEU had been trying to do for several years now. James Wan and company go all out with anything and everything imaginable to turn Aquaman into the goofiest, flashiest, and most irresistibly fun movie that almost all of 2018 has to offer.
Right now, I'd still give the edge to Wonder Woman as the DCEU's best overall film to date, but I think Aquaman is likely to go down as the DCEU's most significant film, representing DC's complete transition from murky and stony-faced to cheerful and radiant, considering that the next film up on the schedule, 2019's Shazam!, has the same idea in mind: continue the goofy, lighthearted attitude that Aquaman has brought forth. Now as for Aquaman, bright and cheery is basically a requirement, because the film's majestic underwater world would be a living nightmare to explore if everything under the sea was made to look like the lonely inner corridors of the Titanic wreckage. Despite his filmography being mostly horror movies - which would certainly encourage dark and gloomy- James Wan proves more than capable of making Atlantis one of the most visually alluring locations to be seen in a superhero movie over the past several years.
So Aquaman tells the story of the half human, half-Atlantean Arthur Curry, son of lighthouse keeper Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison) and Atlantean Queen, Atlanna (Kidman). In 1985 Maine, Thomas Curry finds Atlanna washed up on a beach during a storm, taking her back to his lighthouse to tend to her wounds. The two fall in love, but years later, when Arthur is a young boy, the Atlanteans are able to find Atlanna and demand that she return to Atlantis. Having no choice but to return home, Atlanna entrusts her loyal advisor Nuidis Vulko (Dafoe) to train Arthur and turn him into a skilled warrior. Years later, Arthur has grown up to be a powerful fighter, but because of his half-breed status, he is rejected by the Atlanteans.
One year after the events of Justice League, Arthur's younger half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) seeks to wage war on the surface world, but he cannot do so unless he has the support from at least four of the seven underwater kingdoms. Mera (Heard), who has been betrothed to Orm, sneaks away to the surface to ask Arthur to help stop Orm, knowing that Arthur has a stronger claim to the throne. Arthur, however, believes he has no right to be the king of Atlantis, and so, he refuses to help. However, when Orm summons a tidal wave that nearly kills Thomas Curry, Arthur changes his mind and accompanies Mera to confront his half-brother.
- First off, we need to talk about just how ridiculously fun Aquaman is. The movie is CGI entertainment galore, as James Wan turns the movie's underwater setting into a battlefield chock-full of rampaging sea creatures and showy Atlantean technology. Here's the best part though: despite the screen being very busy at times, Wan always has the fighting and action look entirely comprehensible, utilizing a series of wide shots, first-person views, and 360 maneuvers to ensure that all the ludicrous insanity unfolding on screen is clear as day. The most likely reaction from a viewer is, "This is all so ridiculous, but wow, how I can see everything that's happening!" Nearly every action sequence offers something like Dolph Lundgren riding a seahorse or Mera using bottles of wine to fight off Atlantean bad guys: one thing after another to slap a big, silly smile on your face. And you know what? You're going to enjoy every darn second of it.
- Now that I've seen Jason Momoa in the title role, I cannot envision anyone else playing Aquaman/Arthur Curry. While the comics have typically drawn Aquaman to have golden blonde hair, Jason Momoa's darker hair color ought to be the least of your concerns. He gives us the best of both worlds in his performance, pairing Aquaman's brute physicality with a jolly and irresistibly charming demeanor that promises us whenever fighting isn't going down, there's always a good joke around the corner. I want to be clear though, the way Wan and Mamoa go about the movie's humorous, light-hearted tone is quite different from the approach that Marvel has taken with the likes of Iron Man, Thor, and the Guardians of the Galaxy: Aquaman never drives its humor into the ground and go long stretches in which the story is put on pause so that the characters can crack a series of jokes. When Jason Mamoa or somebody else gives a one-liner, it is always in the context of the present situation, as opposed to characters making vulgar insults towards one another or making any other sort of embarrassing remark. It's sort of like James Bond-style humor, only not as groan-worthy as Bond tended to be in some of his movies. So anyway, Jason Momoa is perfectly cast as Aquaman, and I do hope that DC gives us several future opportunities to witness more of him.
- I am honestly stumped when it comes to describing anything in Aquaman that I can say for a fact bothered me. One area I know the movie isn't very strong, however, is its villain: Orm is a pretty stereotypical bad guy, believing he has the right to be king while denying that someone else has a stronger claim than his own. Patrick Wilson isn't all that menacing, and I think he missed a big opportunity by playing the role straight, not matching his own performance to that of the movie's goofy tone. If Aquaman himself can be silly in his own charming way, why can't Orm? I can only imagine the extra comedy on hand had both Aquaman and Orm been making one-liners. That would've been the ultimate serving of cheese.
So yes, Aquaman is ludicrous nonsense from first frame to last frame, but James Wan handles the absurdity with so much delicacy, presenting the CGI action and spectacle in a completely coherent way that not only is absolute eye-candy, but also scraps the shady color schemes of the DCEU's older films in favor of a flashy, more attractive palette that signifies a changing of both mood and tone for DC and their future films. Jason Momoa is perfect in the title role, and I pray and hope that the next time someone tries to do a solo Aquaman film without Jason Mamoa, it will come out long after I'm dead and buried. Aquaman is pure fun, and even though there's no real reason to love this movie and the way it embraces all of the most nonsensical things a comic book can offer, we wouldn't want it any other way.
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