***Contains spoilers for Justice League and Aquaman***
A lonely lighthouse owner in Maine named Thomas Curry is strapping everything down before a storm, before something down on the coast catches his eye. A woman has washed up practically at his front door. He takes her in and nurses her back to health. She reveals herself as Atlanna, Queen of Atlantis, the nation under the sea. She was attacked while escaping Atlantis, and the arranged marriage that awaited her there. Eventually, Thomas and Atlanna fall in love, and they have a son they name Arthur.
Eventually, the Atlanteans come for her.
Atlanna fights them off, but realizes this is just the first wave of the army that is sure to come after her. She decides to go back to Atlantis and give herself up, in order to protect Thomas and baby Arthur. She sends the royal vizier, Nudius Vulko, to help raise Arthur and train him in the Atlantean ways. As the boy grows, so too do his questions about his mother. Eventually, Vulko reveals that Atlanna was sacrificed to the Trench for treason – falling in love with a surface dweller and having a half-breed son. Arthur, sixteen by that point, decides he wants nothing more to do with Atlantis or his mother’s heritage.
In the present day, a year after the Justice League defeats Steppenwolf, Arthur continues to use his Atlantean powers for good. He stops a pirate attack on a Russian Naval submarine, though he causes the death of the leader. His son, David Kane, vows revenge against him. An Atlantean named Mera comes looking for Arthur, pleading for him to return, dethrone his villainous half-brother, Orm, and reclaim his mother’s throne. Orm is marshaling all the forces under the sea to attack the surface world, and must be stopped. To do that, he must find and retrieve the mythical trident of Atlan, the first king of Atlantis. But it’s just a fairy tale, impossible to be true… isn’t it?
Will Arthur claim his heritage? Can he gain the trust of the Atlanteans, who view him as little more than a half-breed? Can Orm even be stopped?
DC is getting steadily better with their movies… hopefully, they are learning their lesson! I let this one sit for a few days before starting to write so I would be able to think about it more critically.
Overall, the tone was much better than past DC movies. Aquaman has very little of the doom-and-gloom of past DCEU installments. It struck a good balance between serious and goofy. There are moments of suspense, urgency, tragedy, and passion – but they are lightened by cheesy one-liners and Jason Momoa’s roguish smile. The bright color palette did wonders as well, especially in some underwater sequences.
Speaking of Jason Momoa… he is an excellent Aquaman. It’s true the man is VERY easy on the eyes, and it’s easy to just go in and just… stare… (not that I did that) but hear me out!
Aquaman has a history as the joke hero of the DC Universe. Though the character debuted in 1941, his appearance in the 1960’s animated Super Friends show did him no favors. He was portrayed as a lovable goofball with the weakest powers of the bunch. He became infamous for these reasons, leading DC to try rewriting the character multiple times to change public perception for the better. Thus, his arcs are convoluted… which also didn’t help much. Today, Aquaman is still a bit of a joke.
Jason Momoa has a presence about him. He’s a physically imposing dude with an intense stare. He’s best known, of course, for his role in Game of Thrones as Khal Drogo, the ruthless Dothraki warlord to whom Danerys Targaryen is married off to by her brother, Viserys. The Dothraki are a war-loving and hard people, and Momoa pulled off that stoic role perfectly. Yet, if you watch his interviews and behind the scenes snippets – he’s totally different! He’s funny, humble, charming, he drinks beer and throws axes. He’s someone you’d like to sit back and shoot the breeze with.
I think that by casting Momoa, DC wanted to accomplish two things. First, they probably wanted to yet again try to change the public’s perception of Aquaman’s character for the better. To do this, they needed someone with the ability to look very serious, imposing, almost intimidating. Second, they knew from reviews of past movies that they needed to get away from their dark tone. They needed someone who, at the same time, could be light and charming, and be able to hold that balance between hulking and friendly well.
Boom. Enter Jason Momoa, our new Aquaman.
Casting for other characters was also excellent. Amber Heard portrayed Mera in the character’s cinematic debut. In the comics, Mera is often portrayed as Aquaman’s equal in powers, sometimes even more powerful. I appreciated that history placed in some scenes, where she saves Aquaman instead of the other way around! Willem Defoe as Vulko, Arthur’s mentor, was a surprise, but he pulled it off well. Patrick Wilson as Orm, Aquaman’s half-brother and the self-stylized Ocean Master, had some of the best costuming in the movie. (Also, blond, he looks just like a younger Eminem, and it really threw me) His Ocean Master costume looked exactly like the comics.
Speaking of comics, you know who wrote for this movie? Our boy Geoff Johns. This is HUGE. So far, only one other comic book author has written for the DCEU movies, and that was Joss Whedon’s late rewrites for Justice League. Johns has written the New 52 Aquaman, part of the Blackest Night arc, mid-2000’s Green Lantern, and many more comic books, as well as the CW DC shows. The BIGGEST and MOST CONSISTENT nitpick I’ve had with the DCEU movies so far has been the shoddy writing and characterization. I was overjoyed when I saw Johns’ name in the credits and knew instantly that THAT is what made the difference in Aquaman. They got an ACTUAL COMIC BOOK AUTHOR to write the story, for the first time in the entire DCEU.
In short: THANK ALL THE POWERS THAT BE!!!
That said, the movie was far from perfect, and there were inconsistencies that are nagging at me. I thought it was mentioned pretty early on that only half-human, half-Atlantean hybrids could breathe air as well as water – yet, multiple full-blooded Atlanteans spent LOTS of time out of the water, doing just fine. The only instance where a full-blooded Atlantean struggled to breathe oxygen was during the Ring of Fire sequence, where Mera interferes and manipulates Orm into an air tornado.
(Also, wouldn’t Orm have won by default because Mera interfered with the trial? Those are some unresolved politics that are REALLY bothering me X,D )
The color palette in this movie was much brighter than in past DC movies, but in one respect they took it too far. Mera was too oversaturated for my tastes. I feel they wanted to make her pop and draw the eye, and make her bright on land to make her look otherworldly, and perhaps out of her element – but they took it way too far. Her neon red hair was glaring and distracting at times, especially during bright lit sequences. With her equally bright green costume, she forcibly reminded me of Ariel from Disney’s The Little Mermaid… which was also highly distracting for me. It was almost as if they were trying so hard to get the audience to take Aquaman seriously that they threw poor Mera under the bus.
The movie was much too long for a standalone title only loosely related to the rest of the DCU. The thing that could have been cut was Black Manta. Yayha Abdul-Mateen II did a great job portraying the revenge-fueled villain – but his plotline really bogged it down. It was bare bones, for sure, but it added 30 minutes to what could easily have been only a 2-hour movie. Black Manta is Aquaman’s arch-nemesis, and I understand why they wanted to include him – imagine having the first Batman movie without the Joker. You can’t, right?
However, this movie was about Arthur’s struggle with finding his place and claiming his heritage in the sea after a lifetime on land. Orm was more than enough villain for this movie, not only as the big bad hellbent on world domination, but as Arthur’s foil: his half-brother, born in the sea, intent on claiming the surface world, hating it for taking his mother away. Black Manta’s sequence could have easily been cut down to the opening scene, where Aquaman foils the pirate attempt, and a post-credit scene with him building the signature helmet. That would have allowed for the unnecessary explanation of the connection between him and Atlantis that was in this movie to be moved to the next one, in flashbacks or as the opening sequence.
Also… for a movie with a budget as big as this one’s was (at least $160 million)… the CGI was, at times, abysmal. We’re talking early 2000’s, low budget, TV show Smallville pilot abysmal. Overall, it was decent, but there were a few sequences that were truly awful. Consistently, the movement of the character’s hair underwater bothered me. It looked highly unnatural and was also distracting for me.
Aquaman was finally a step in the right direction for the DCEU. The writing by, thank all the powers that be, actual real-life comic book author Geoff Johns, truly sets this movie apart from all others in the DCEU. The casting of all characters was, as always, spot-on, but this time the actors actually had the writing to back them up, save for a few inconsistencies and a missed trip to the cutting room for an over-long plot. Gone is the grimdark of past DCEU movies: Aquaman ably jumps between serious and fun. You can go for Jason’s irresistible charm – but you’ll stay for the overall good time 😉
Wan, James. Aquaman. 2018.