UK Release Date: 12th December 2018
Runtime: 143 minutes
Director: James Wan
Writer: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall
Starring: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison
Synopsis: With the ruler of Atlantis preparing to wage war on the surface, half-Atlantean Arthur Curry must return to his underwater ancestral home to keep the peace.
Whisper it, very quietly and quickly before someone makes another Justice League or Suicide Squad, but DC might have found its groove. While Aquaman doesn’t hit the heights of Wonder Woman – partly due to a lack of consistency and that feeling you’re watching something new – it fits in nicely with that film’s oeuvre. This is an immersive introduction to a vibrant new world that treats Atlantis with respect, but with enough energy to step away from its more bizarre excesses. It’s anchored by two charismatic leads and has refreshingly engaging action sequences.
Through flashbacks, we learn the origins of Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), his powers and the fractured relationship between him and the underwater world of Atlantis. He is approached by Mera (Amber Heard), who says he needs to take the throne from his half brother, who is planning a war on the human world because of the 21st century boogeyman of pollution – or something.
Aquaman benefits from both an unrelenting sense of pace and that feeling of being directed by an individual rather than a committee. There is a clear style to the film, but James Wan’s inventiveness is such that each action scene – of which there may or may not be one too many – feels new and distinct. An extended sequence in Italy is a thrill ride from start to finish, with a clarity of vision that other films in this universe have lacked. It could feel patronising to say this movie’s ability to get from A to B without tripping over its own underwear is a positive, but when compared to how the character came across in Justice League, it is a monumental success. The fact you leave this movie wanting to spend more time in its world is to its credit after so many middling-to-bad DC movies.
Despite all of this, it is far from flawless. There’s an arc to Heard’s character that feels like it has been left on the cutting room floor, if it wasn’t just entirely missed, and the desire to keep moving means you don’t get to know the characters (POOR SEA PUN JOKE KLAXON) underneath the surface.
Momoa is charismatic, but there isn’t enough narrative meat on his considerable frame to make you feel like his is a complete journey, and it’s certainly not a unique one. Supporting characters’ motivations are quite rudimentary, also. Patrick Wilson is playing well to the crowd in the cartoonish villain role of Curry’s half-brother King Orm, but the background to his argument is too weak to have you buy in sufficiently to the central conflict. Willem Dafoe feels like wasted casting as a rather inoffensive mentor to Arthur, and Nicole Kidman’s talents are certainly squandered as a victim of the ‘sidelined mother in a superhero film’ trope.
There are also some classic DC trappings here that the film doesn’t avoid. The slow-mo isn’t egregious, but it is still there, and the great action doesn’t stop it from going into the now customary light-show clusterfuck that signs off every DC film. Overall though, Aquaman is a delight. It’s a fast-paced romp through a fascinating new world, culture and politics that thrills without ever quite sitting still long enough to evoke real feeling. More broadly, it signals that DC might just be finding its way across (POOR SEA PUN JOKE KLAXON) choppy waters.
Pop or Poop?
Confounding just about everybody’s expectations, Aquaman is good. In fact, it’s the best DC movie other than Wonder Woman and shares that film’s willingness to put faith in a director. In this case, James Wan rises to the occasion with an arsenal of mad creative choices, flair-packed action sequences and a cast doing their best to take sub-par material and imbue it with the same crazed energy possessed by the man behind the camera.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.