“Aquaman is lame.”
“Aquaman is useless.”
“Why is a guy who talks to fish on the Justice League?”
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. For years, Aquaman has been the butt of the joke when it comes to superhero fans-however, his new movie might turn the tides. (Pun fully intended.)
The Aquaman film opens with a recap of our titular hero’s birth: he was the result of a star-crossed romance between Atlantean queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) and lighthouse keeper Tom Curry (Temura Morrison). However, attacks from the deep forced Atlanna to return to Atlantis. Arthur learned to hone his abilities under the tutelage of Vulko (Willem Dafoe) and now utilizes them as the “Protector of the Deep.” But when his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) plans to engage the surface world in war, Arthur and Princess Mera (Amber Heard) must find the lost trident of Atlantis’ first king, and Arthur must embrace both sides of his heritage.
If all that sounds like a lot, it’s because this movie has a LOT going on; it feels as if director James Wan threw a bunch of Aquaman comics, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Excalibur in a blender. To his credit, Wan embraces all aspects of the mythos-and I do mean all of it, from riding seahorses to Orm embracing the title of Ocean Master (and kudos to the screenwriters for actually finding a way to make that title make sense), no stone is left unturned. The same goes for the visuals-Atlantis, much like Wakanda, has its own mythology and smaller kingdoms with wildly different types of sea life and technology. The standouts are the Trench-the horrific, rotting sea monsters that lurk at the edge of the known sea. Here Wan is in his element-he fully embraces the horror of the Trench, and makes you squirm in your seat.
The film’s willingness to go big is also where it stumbles-much like Green Lantern and Batman V Superman before it, it feels like we are getting two films’ worth of story in one film. However, unlike those films the cast is pretty gung ho about it-especially Jason Momoa as Curry. His take on Aquaman echoes the long haired hook handed version Peter David wrote in the 90’s-rather surly, willing to punch a problem in the face rather than talk about it, and unwilling to put up with any crap. However, it’s revealed that this is all a front to mask the insecurity he feels at not being fully part of Atlantis or the surface world, and a hesitation to claim his mantle as king. What Momoa lacks in depth, he more than makes up for with charisma.
The supporting cast’ performances are across the board-Heard fluctuates between romantic interest and doing her best impression of Ariel from The Little Mermaid. Dafoe’s sequences remind me of an underwater Obi-Wan Kenobi (mind you, this is a compliment.) Wilson fully embraces the madness of Orm; this is truly is a villain you will love to hate. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Dolph Lundgren as the burly King Nerus, or Julie Andrews as a Cthulhu-esque sea monster. But the standout is Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as David Kane-better known to all as Aquaman’s mortal enemy Black Manta. Though Mateen’s screen time is limited, he managed to imbue Manta with the searing hate that defines the character. (A post-credits scene also hints at a larger role for Manta in the future.)
It might be overlong and a bit messy, but Aquaman more than makes up for its shortcomings by being bold and pulpy. If you love the character, or you’re a fan of spectacle I highly recommend it. If you think Aquaman is lame…well this is the film for you.
Final Verdict: 4 out of 5 tridents. Outrageous!