Starring: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison
Directed by: James Wan
Written by: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (screenplay by), Will Beall (screenplay by)
Studio: Warner Bros., DC Entertainment
Run Time: 2hrs, 25 min
!!!SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!!
Here we are, finally, after decades of comics, a revamp of the character, a film production spoofed on HBO's Entourage, and two recent cinematic appearances in the current DCEU, Aquaman has his own movie. Was it worth the wait? Certainly. Is this the gritty and dark follow up to Justice League and Batman v Superman? No (thank god). Do I want to see more Aquaman? Err.. kind of, which to be honest, at this point in the DCEU, is better than saying no.
With the DCEU and their crop of films, my opinion will matter very little to you. You are either in or out on what Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment are producing. I'll admit that I was more interested in an Aquaman movie than anything of late from the DCEU for the sole reason that there has never been an Aquaman movie, let alone a movie that will generally take place underwater. To James Wan's credit, the underwater scenes are believable. 20 years ago, maybe even 10 years ago, audiences would not have bought it. So yes, technology has caught up with the believability of an Aquaman story on the big screen.
The visuals, though lush, are not unique. More often than not I was reminded of two films in particular. The first being James Cameron's Avatar (2009). Perhaps it was the blue, the neon, and all the swirling creatures of the sea, but it felt like I was retreading on the same territory. The second film was Tron: Legacy (2010) for almost the same reasons, but with vehicles instead of creatures. The score, by Rupert Gregson-Williams, doesn't help either as it at times has that Daft Punk Tron: Legacy feel, but then tries to evoke the epic emotion of what Hans Zimmer so easily produces.
Despite trying to stay away from spoilers about the film, one issue does have to be addressed. The issue is that of the film's primary villain, King Orm (Patrick Wilson). King Orm merely wants the surface world to pay for what it has done to the sea. In his first act, the sea basically throws back all the garbage and warships that pollute it. First and foremost, "the villain's" cause seems justifiable. Certainly, he will bring about a global scale war, but if he has the ability to vomit the surface world's garbage back on the land and wreck aircraft carriers, why have Atlantis and the surrounding kingdoms been so complacent about what has been happening up to this point? The problem is that villains in superhero films are always tricky. A justifiable cause is a new thing (look at Marvel's Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War). However, you need a dark edge to it. Thanos is killing for what he believes is right. King Orm wants to be King and protect his home. Certainly, he kills a few people, but when you are looking at the pollution threat as his motivation, he really doesn't seem so "bad". King Orm doesn't really have an ulterior motive, which he should. His conflict with Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is one of royal succession. He needs to win over all the people of the sea. Arthur is persuaded by Mera (Amber Heard), King Orm’s betrothed, to help prevent a war that would decimate both worlds. However, after you see the tidal wave wreck the coasts of North America (Superman, where were you?), Arthur is more or less trying to save the surface world.
This brings us to Jason Momoa. I think the man has fantastic energy. Clearly, as a self-promoter, he far exceeds the likes of Ben Affleck (DCEU's Batman) while promoting either his role or his own superhero film. That being said, Momoa is not a leading man. He is definitely a presence and clearly, his role in Game of Thrones illuminated that. In this movie, we get the cool guy/ doesn't want to be bothered/ would-be hero/ brooding type to class A perfection. Yet in an ensemble, as he was with Game of Thrones, he shines more brightly. He's almost dull (yes, the man who performed a Haka at the premiere is dull in the actual film). Of course, we must remember that the very same thing was said about Chris Hemsworth's Thor for the first two movies, and now Thor has become everyone's favorite. Momoa plays to his own strengths in Aquaman, but it doesn't feel like it is enough. Amber Heard, who I hoped would be his "Daenerys Targaryen" and window into the undersea world, is the emotional center to the film. She is quick to remind everyone what is at stake here, even in the very thick of it. These two leads have good chemistry together and the small moments work very well, however, neither one is a movie star and it feels like that is what this film is missing.
Speaking of movie stars, there is only really one in this whole film and it is Nicole Kidman. She brings an emotional element and weight to the film that only Amy Adams (Lois Lane) has delivered to the DCEU up to this point. There is a great collection of character actors, but none of them could headline a 50 million dollar opening weekend without it being a studio tentpole film. This gaggle of actors includes Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, and now Dolph Lundgren (yes, Dolph Lundgren). Oddly enough, all these actors happen to be alumni of several other superhero films that haven't faded completely from obscurity. So when the likes of the Green Goblin, Dafoe (Spider-Man, 2002), is the royal vizier to Nite Owl, Wilson (Watchmen, 2009), who just teamed up with The Punisher, Lundgren (The Punisher, 1989), you wish the studio would go out and cast someone else. I'll remind that you that Aquaman's father, Temuera Morrison, was Abin Sur in the dreadful Green Lantern (2011) film, but you'll forget and forgive the studio on that casting.
When all is said and done, yes, this film is a step in the right direction for the DCEU. It's a solid good first film that overreaches at times, but is forgivable when it does. It looks as if the powers that be almost got the Marvel Cinematic Universe tone down, but then they went too far and made just a Disney movie. From our prolonged hero's quest to the odd music choices, it feels more like a movie for the kids that will stick around as long as their attention span will allow it to.