WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
Based on the DC Comics character of the same name, Aquaman, real name: Arthur Curry, was born to an Atlantean queen-in-waiting and a land-dwelling fisherman, whose elicit relationship leaves Arthur as a renowned superhero but one without a people of his own. When word gets to Arthur that the current king of Atlantis and his own half-brother, Orm, is planning to launch a concentrated attack on the countries of Earth, the superhero known as Aquaman embarks on an adventure that has him returning to Atlantis to confront his brother and his own heritage.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
After Justice League grossly under-performed both commercially and critically (deservedly, despite being the second best film in the DC Extended Universe at that point), the future of DC/ Warner’s attempt to take on Marvel Studios with their own “Shared Universe” lies almost entirely on the success, or lack thereof, of Aquaman. It’s a particularly absurd burden to lay on a character that has long been one of the most (unfairly) derided characters in DC’s canon and, considering that the next bunch of DC films are standalone Batman spin-offs and that there have been constant rumours of major actors from the DCEU leaving or being dropped, Warner Brothers clearly doesn’t have much hope in it themselves.
As it turns out, not only is Aquaman already a hit, financially, based on its already gigantic Chinese box office take alone, but it is – by thousands of leagues – the second best DCEU film to date. Not that that’s saying very much since, aside for the pretty great Wonder Woman, the DCEU has largely consisted of Zach Snyder’s mopy Superman and whatever the hell David Ayer’s Suicide Squad was supposed to be. Still, though it features weak villains, some laughably bad dialogue and a generally unruly script, Aquaman is still tons of fun.
Director James Wan (The Conjuring and, more importantly, Fast and Furious 7) and his half dozen credited writers (including former chief creative officer of DC Entertainment, Geoff Johns and Wan himself) have injected a real sense of bright, bonkers fun into the DCEU with Aquaman. It stumbles when it tries to get serious, but it’s mostly a high-spirited, globe-spanning adventure that’s not afraid to get very silly, with none of that terrible self-seriousness that sunk so many of the previous entries in this shared universe. It’s far too reliant on CGI and its underwater mechanics are iffy at best (but then, I don’t know if it would ever be possible to effectively portray people speaking clearly underwater) but it’s also colourfully designed and features a number of terrifically fun and solidly insane action scenes.
The best thing about the film by far, though, is clearly Jason Mamoa himself. While the rest of the cast is filled with big-name actors who often look a bit embarrassed to be there (hello, Nicole Kidman), Momoa fully commits as our thoroughly charming, funny and physically imposing (or, no doubt, “a perfectly sculpted piece of beef cake”, if you’re that way inclined) hero. He has next to no relation to any version of Aquaman I’ve ever read but he’s probably all the better for it as Momoa quickly proves himself to be the best piece of casting in the DCEU this side of Gal Gadot.
He works especially well when teamed up - and usually bickering - with Amber Heard as Arthur’s possible love-interest and generally pretty kick-ass heroine in her own right, Mera. Heard doesn’t exactly display the most range here as an actress but as a gorgeous, prickly and whip-smart counterpoint to Momoa’s Arthur who looks like she was ripped straight out of the pages of the comic, she’s pretty perfect.
The biggest problem with Aquaman, then, isn’t so much its own failings, which are many but are largely nullified by the film’s general sense of playful, over-the-top fun but the fact that it is being released in a year that has already seen a good half dozen far superior superhero films and in a holiday season in which it has to compete against some serious heavy hitters for the same audience’s hard-earned money.
Aquaman is certainly worth seeing at the cinema but certainly not more so than Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse or Bumblebee. It would surely have made more sense to release it around August where the only film of its kind competing for both our money and mind-space was Venom. As it stands, Aquaman is another step in the right direction for the DCEU and a generally enjoyable slice of silly spectacle but looking back at the major blockbusters of 2018, it’s certainly not the one that’s going to stay with audiences the longest. But, then, there are far, far worse cinematic crimes than being ultimately forgettable.