We waited 13 long, agonizing months for this movie and it felt like longer.
All the pain of the past from the Justice League disaster, all the promise of the future with what we were hearing about DC Extended Universe productions, and all the nerves and emotions of hoping and praying that after five movies filled with some level of polarization outside of Wonder Woman, we would finally have our time in the sun again.
That time has finally arrived, DCEU fans. It’s just underwater, in the hands of Arthur Curry and his kingdom of Atlantis.
Aquaman is INCREDIBLE. Scratch that. REMARKABLE.
When we talk about comic book movies and what is the next one in the pipeline, we all have a general idea of what to expect from them no matter who they are being produced and distributed by. There are things that we come to understand and expect about them in practice.
Aquaman throws that book out the window, backs up the truck and rolls it over a few times before lighting it on fire and writing “EPIC” with the ashes. It’s THAT damn good.
Bear in mind, that I am a DCEU fan that to this day doesn’t believe the franchise has produced a “bad” movie, including Justice League, which while it left SO much to be desired, isn’t even close to the worst comic book movie I have ever seen. So on the one hand you could say that my DC bias is showing heavily and there’s no way I can be critical about any of their movies, which isn’t true but you could think that. On the other hand, you could say that I’m someone that loves and appreciates Zack Snyder’s original work on the franchise and if I really like Aquaman then that must be a good sign. Yes, it’s more of the latter.
Aquaman is not exactly like any of Zack Snyder’s films, or David Ayer or Patty Jenkins or anyone else that has directed a comic book movie. It is a purely James Wan film with all of his direction, pacing and structure and what he brings to the table here is nothing short of a magnum opus. I was legitimately unprepared for the epic nature of what we saw on screen. Think Lord of Rings plus Indiana Jones, with a shot of Jaws and sounds of Blade Runner and Tron Legacy, all within the span of 2 hours and 23 minutes AKA PERFECT LENGTH for a comic book film.
The plot of the movie is straightforward. Arthur Curry must take control of the throne of Atlantis before his half brother King Orm uses it to gather all of Atlantis’ armies in an effort to attack the surface world and declare war on the rest of us above ground. To do this, Arthur will need the help of Mera, his old friend Vulko and he will need to believe in himself as the true ruler of Atlantis to bring peace to both the underwater kingdom and the surface world.
That’s as much as I can say without going into spoiler territory, which I won’t do for the sake of this review. There’s still so much to digest with it, though.
For starters, we can safely say in my opinion that this is Jason Momoa’s greatest film to date. The man just kills it as Arthur Curry and he’s a genuinely strong, charismatic, likeable and relatable character here. You feel his emotions of joy, pain and sorrow at various times in the film and it remains one of the most inspired bits of casting for a role, especially one that spent decades being laughed at and shunned in the general public. Kudos to Zack Snyder for casting Momoa and kudos to all involved for transforming Arthur Curry into such a respected and glorious character on screen.
We also have to give kudos to Zack Snyder for casting Amber Heard as Mera, as her presence was absolutely dynamite and provided great chemistry with Momoa throughout his journey in the film. She displays a great balance of heart and understanding along with fiery compassion and strength, which is a credit to the DCEU’s treatment of its female heroes. There are no damsels in distress in the DCEU, just badass women that can save the day as much as any man can, and Mera is the next chapter of that awesome reality.
Patrick Wilson’s Orm is the closest we have gotten to Michael Shannon’s Zod in terms of villains. It’s kind of unfair because as fantastic as both actors are, Shannon’s turn as Zod in Man of Steel was one of the best villains in comic book movie history, so living up to that expectation is pretty lofty but Wilson comes pretty damn close with Orm. He is just as ruthless and no nonsense as Zod was in Man of Steel, he has a brutal yet definitive plan of action and his motivations are very strong throughout the film. For what Wilson is asked to do with this role both in a physical and conversational sense is absolutely fantastic and Orm should be one of those villains that we remember as a shining example of how it should be done in a true comic book film epic.
The supporting cast of this movie is all dynamite as well, starting with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Black Manta, whose presence in this film is strong, vibrant and weaved into the plot of the film extremely well. He doesn’t feel shoehorned in and it’s not a crowded sandbox he’s playing in. He is given his time on screen at the right points for the right reasons and he makes the most of it. The same can certainly be said for Nicole Kidman’s Atlanna and Temuera Morrison’s Tom, Arthur’s mother and father. Some of the more emotional moments in this movie that I was not expecting to happen involve the story of those two characters and their relationship with Arthur and they were great moments in the film.
My favorite of the supporting cast might be Willem Dafoe as Vulko, who serves as part of the Atlantean guard but is also Arthur’s most trusted advisor that wants to help him take the throne that is rightfully his. I’m really not used to seeing Dafoe in such a mentoring role like this but he was great and his chemistry with Momoa and Heard was also very strong. Also, solid praise for Dolph Lundgren’s King Nereus who ended up having a lot more to do than I thought he would and was an important character in the film, not just amounting to a cameo. That was awesome to see.
Aquaman’s VFX are second to none. I’m not kidding. It’s the most gorgeously rendered and visualized comic book movie I have ever seen. Nearly flawless in its execution. That sounds like hyperbole, but I really mean it. We haven’t seen a comic book movie’s visual effects look this good throughout the entire movie in awhile, and that includes other comic book movies that were released this year. I don’t see how any other film beats it out for visual effects categories that it qualifies for.
Rupert Gregson-Williams, take a bow for your incredible score. I listened to it all the way through before seeing the movie, loved it and then it was just made so much more complete when you add the visuals to it. It is truly on the level of Zimmer’s work in the DCEU with Man of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and even eclipses Gregson-Williams previous work on Wonder Woman, which was also very good.
Aquaman is a serious tour de force and unlike any other comic book movie we have ever seen to this point. When it comes to epic scope and scale of a world, nothing else we have seen in the last 10 years comes close to this in terms of visual representation and storytelling and I congratulate James Wan and the entire cast and crew on making one of the most remarkable movies we have ever seen in this genre. The future is EXTREMELY bright for the DCEU now.