I tuned out of any news or trailers for the DC universe as soon as Justice League happened. The movies were bland, deprived of excitement, and flat out boring. Aquaman attempts to course correct the DC universe and actually succeeds, trading in complicated storytelling and dramatism for good old fashioned fun. The plot is derivative and completely predictable but Jason Momoa’s enthusiasm, some gorgeous visuals, and impressive action sequences make this a step in the right direction.
The movie completely ignores the backstory it set up in Justice League and starts fresh by having Arthur Curry/Aquaman wanting no claim to the throne and saying he has never even been to Atlantis. When his half-brother, king of Atlantis, beings to incite war amongst our modern world, Arthur must find the Trident of Atlantis and take back the throne for peace.
Jason Momoa just has so much energy in his portrayal that it’s hard not to get sucked in automatically. He embraces everything with such a bold and exciting attitude that puts a smile on your face when he is leaping out of a plane or about to fight someone. There’s no real dramatic tension or emotion that he is called to do, but rather just a fun presence to see on screen much like the rest of the movie.
The movie is gorgeous to look at with bright colors and fantastic wide shots of Atlantis and different creatures. The movie reminded me a lot of Avatar with all the bright visuals and color it had giving a sense of vibrancy that hasn’t existed in the DC universe until now. It definitely helps the movie and makes it a lot more enjoyable to watch rather than the dark and dreariness that has plagued the franchise.
The story is not anything new that hasn’t been done in the past, in fact it reminded me a lot of the first Thor movie. Arthur essentially doesn’t want the throne of Atlantis but he has to come back and reclaim it because his evil brother is trying to take control and start wars. This doesn’t make the movie any less enjoyable or thrilling, but just know that there is no originality or intuition with the movie.
The movie is insanely over the top, and the director definitely has played into the silliness that happens on the screen. Octopus play the drums, Jason Momoa rides a seahorse into a battle, and there’s a gigantic Godzilla like monster that breathes fire underwater. It calls for a great sense of disbelief, and you have to lean into it and not think too much in order to gain enjoyment. Of course I usually don’t like this with movies, but Aquaman seems to be the exception here. But this will definitely divide people on whether they can handle all the mythos and fantasy elements here.
This movie also has some of my favorite action sequences from the DC Universe movies. It is filmed with nice wide shots that allow you to see everything going on and makes you feel a part of it. The camera angles and cuts make it feel organic and smooth leading to some seamless transitions and exciting moments. The underwater portions in particular are a lot of fun, filmed with just enough amount of realism for being underwater that allows you to buy into the fact that these characters can talk and attack while submerged.
In terms of flaws for the film, as I said before this movie requires a great amount of disbelief. Whether or not you can lean into that will make or break your movie watching experience. The other thing is that the movie is a lot of movies in one. It is an adventure film, revenge tale, rise to leadership, and a deep sea exploration tale. This hurts the movie’s focus and can make it feel a bit jarring and disorienting at times when you are trying to process the information.
The other weak spot is the villain of the film. The beginning of the movie set up an excellent story for both Aquaman and Black Manta that I thought the film was going to explore. But Black Manta takes a backseat to leave room for Oceanmaster, Aquaman’s brother. That conflict is very by the numbers for storytelling and I would have much rather seen more time dedicated to the Black Manta conflict than I was given.
The film has no tie ins to the larger universe at hand and that is certainly in the movie’s favor. Aquaman acts as a great soft reboot to the franchise and sets a good direction for the franchise to be revived. The performance by Jason Momoa is what carries the film and makes the adventure all the more thrilling. The action and visuals help elevate the movie but that is at the expense of an interesting plot and dynamic villain. This is the “fun” movie of the holidays and if you are looking for good old fashioned escapism, then this is the one for you.
Check out my other DC movie reviews: