Aquaman: Adventure, awe and wonder
Aquaman rises from the depths and brings back faith in the DCEU! After the underwhelming Justice League movie, the task of keeping the light on in the darkness of the DCEU falls on the most underestimated member of the roster: Aquaman. In the biggest surprise of the last couple of years, the new DC is movie is not only good, but probably the best of the new universe. Wait, what? The hero that talks to fishes has the best movie? Probably! Some things are certain. You will have fun, you will feel good and actually enjoy the new DCEU movie in way not even the Marvel movies have done it (the comedic action ones, not the more serious ones). All in all, I, for one, left the theatre in good spirits, a feeling that persists even a day later as I’m writing this review.
Legend has it that one day… a new king will come.
So, if you’re looking for more details about the movie and haven’t already booked your ticket, keep reading while I try to explain the description above. Once home to the most advanced civilization on Earth, the city of Atlantis is now an underwater kingdom ruled by the power-hungry King Orm. With a vast army at his disposal, Orm plans to conquer the remaining oceanic people and then the surface world. Standing in his way is Aquaman, Orm’s half-human, half-Atlantean brother and true heir to the throne. With help from royal counselor Vulko and princess Mera, Aquaman must retrieve the legendary Trident of Atlan and embrace his destiny as protector of the deep. Even the synopsis is more coherent than most of the other DCEU movies. When it comes to the story, Aquaman is inspired by Geoff Johns‘s New 52 story-arc that relaunched the character in critical and public acclaim. Contributing to the movie adaptation are also James Wan and Will Beall (key writer for the TV show Castle). The script is written by the latter and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, who has worked on mostly horror movies. While it is not profound or thought provoking, the story and the script are simple, easy to follow and very engaging. It is inspired by the Arthurian quest (the search for the trident and the rise of the true heir), while also being a swashbuckling-adventure movie, with vibes of Indiana Jones and The Pirates of the Caribbean. The way the story goes always makes you excited for the next step in the hero’s journey, because Aquaman finally manages to follow the classical mythic structure (better than Wonder Woman). I’m not saying moviemakers shouldn’t take risks bending or modifying this structure, but most of the time we get convoluted and confusing stories like Batman V Superman, so James Wan choosing to stick to the basics makes Aquaman the best DCEU movie in this regard. The third act of the movie and the fact that it embraces every element, be it silly or not, makes it better than Wonder Woman, for me.
I’m no leader. I came because I have no choice. I came to save my home, and the people that I love.
The cast is pretty solid and the characters receive a pretty balanced screen time. Let’s start with the main character (my man!). Jason Momoa was an interesting/controversial choice for Aquaman/Arthur Curry since Snyder announced it before BvS. His performance in JL was decent, but felt out of place. Here, Momoa shines. He unleashes all of his charisma and has fun playing a fun character. Aquaman in light-hearted and a little arrogant, coming to terms with his heritage and history. He isn’t very changed after the events of JL (a little inconsistency here), but he does understand the consequences of his actions (Black Manta’s origin has an emotional impact on our hero). He grows on his arthurian journey and becomes a more responsible person. His relationships with those around him are also very important. Mera (Amber Heard) is his guide on the journey and the chemistry between Momoa and Heard plays a big part. I was very impressed with Amber‘s acting. Vulko (Willem Dafoe) is his mentor, the one that showed him the atlantean way and I was sad that his role was not as big as I hoped, but Dafoe makes the best out of his appearances. Nicole Kidman as Atlanna, Arthur’s mother, also does a very good job. She doesn’t seem to treat the role as a money-grab, seeming that she has fun and enjoys playing something different than her usual dramatic roles. Temuera Morrison‘s role as Tom Curry is small but brings an important emotional element. His relationship with Atlanna is the start of the story and the end and the circle is beautifully drawn.
A war is coming to the surface. And I am bringing the wrath of the Seven Seas with me.
You can’t have a hero without a good villain and Aquaman delivers on this part also. The movie has two villains, King Orm, Arthur half-brother, as the main one and Black Manta, as a secondary one. Don’t be alarmed, James Wan knew how to balance their importance in the story. Patrick Wilson as King Orm does a terrific job! His character is constructed as a roman emperor: stern, noble and arrogant. Orm has a purpose and his motives are always clear, so no mumbo-jumbo villain here. He sees himself as the true leader of the Atlantean Empire and acts like it. Wilson is a good choice for the role as he has played a big role in Watchmen and also worked on the two biggest horror franchises of our times: Insidous and Conjuring. His experience working with James Wan on both franchises, but also in horrors gives him an edge in playing a menacing, but powerful character. Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is Aquaman’s main antagonist in the comics, but the story nedeed to focus on Arthur’s rise and his battle with Orm, so Manta is merely introduced here. His origin story is very well done, as we find out everything we need to about him and his hatred for the hero and seeing just enough of him to understand. He is clearly set up as a bigger villain the future Aquaman stories. It’s also a pleasure to see Dolph Lundgren appearing in more movies again, after Creed II and we see him playing King Nereus, Mera’s father and Orm’s ally here. Other cameos include Graham McTavish as the legendary King Atlan (also appearing in the first Creed), Julie Andrews as the voice of Karathen, a mythical creature guarding the Trident and Leigh Whannell, as a plane pilot, a longtime friend of James Wan, writing and creating many projects together (Insidous and the Saw franchises).
A son of land, and a son of the seas.
Visually, Aquaman is breathtaking. The underwater world looks amazing. Blending elements of Sci-Fi and fantasy, Aquaman shows us an imaginary world that is the stuff of dreams. Yes, the movie is bonkers! You have sharks with laser guns on their backs, armored seahorses, warrior crabs and an octopus playing the drums! But it’s the kind of stuff we used to imagine as kids, the kind of creations that made us daydream forever and it is amazing. It might seem silly, but Aquaman doesn’t shy away from going full on comicbook style and for that, it deserves a golden starfish! The soundtrack is also very well crafted, composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams (who also worked on Wonder Woman). The music fills every scene with that sense of wonder and heroism, making the whole journey an adventure for the viewer as well.
Overall, Aquaman is a solid superhero movie! It knows what it wants to make us feel and never strays from the path it chose. When I left the cinema I felt good, I felt entertained and pleasantly surprised, as I was cautious, it being a DC movie. Aquaman made me feel that spirit of adventure, awe and wonder that I haven’t felt since I was a kid and stayed up late to watch The Wizard of Oz or The Clash of Titans on TCM and that makes it one of the best comicbook movies. Because, in the end, as much as we want drama and profound lessons, we need superheroes and their stories to make us feel better, to take our minds away from our daily lives and our problems and transport us into a fantastical world brimming with adventures, heroes, monsters and the hope of a better world.