Whether you’re a fan or not, you have to agree that the DC Extended Universe stumbled out of the starting line thanks to the “grimdark” tone Zack Snyder infused the first few films of the series. It just wasn’t what mainstream audiences wanted out of their superhero films, especially after the Marvel Cinematic Universe set the bar on how superhero films should be made.
Thankfully, it looks like the folks at DC and Warner Bros. got the memo as Aquaman is a much more straightforward superhero action film than its predecessors and is much better for it. But I will say it still shows some of its “grimdark” roots sticking out.
The only reason why I got to watch Aquaman ahead of Western territories because Warner Bros. decided to release it in the Philippines a week before the United States and Europe. Because of this, I know a lot of folks have yet to see the film and, as such, this will be a SPOILER FREE review.
Aquaman takes places some time after the events of Justice League. Arthur Curry has been patrolling the oceans of the world and preventing pirates and other crimes from happening. He’s become some kind of an urban legend among the seafaring community and has been dubbed “Aquaman” by them. Unbeknownst to Aquaman, however, Orm, the current king of Atlantis and Arthur Curry’s half-brother, is planning to wage war on the surface war. Princess Mera and Vulko, Arthur’s mentor, beg Aquaman to obtain the Trident of Altan, a symbol of his royal heritage, and usurp the kingship from Orm.
Right off the bat, I’m going to say that I’m really glad DC ditched the whole dark and serious tone from their first few films. Aquaman, the movie and the character, is loads of fun and filled with some lighthearted humor that works more often than not. There’s a part of me that thinks that the producers saw Thor Ragnarok and decided to follow that direction instead of the other DC films that followed it.
You can sort of see the “grimdark” trying to peek out here and there, however. That’s not surprising as the film’s production started around the time Justice League was being made. There are still some moody scenes but they’re edited in a way that it never feels too heavy nor get in the way of the general “happy” mood. It’s either that or there were indeed some really angsty themes that were cut out to make things more chipper.
Aquaman just doesn’t tell the tale of Arthur Curry, by the way. There are actually three concurrent stories happening. One involves Aquaman and Mera’s quest to obtain the Trident of Altan. The second story has Orm attempting to unite the other underwater kingdoms in order to get their support with attacking the surface.
Finally, you have Black Manta, a pirate who has a grudge with Aquaman. It’s kind of a shame that the arc involving Black Manta feels kind of shoehorned in as it feels unnecessary for the overall plot. I appreciate his appearance but there’s a part of me that wishes that he wasn’t even in this film and was, instead, saved for the sequel. Still, I’m glad he’s in Aquaman. I say that because, one, his backstory here is quite good. Two, he’s probably the best known Aquaman villain. And three, they really did a fantastic job recreating Black Manta’s costume! They got his look but didn’t make him look like a doofus in an odd looking scuba gear outfit.
Still, the main focus is with Arthur Curry and Mera’s journey all over the world to get the
macguffin Trident of Altan. It does come off like an Indiana Jones adventure where the heroes go to one location, find a clue that’ll lead them to the next clue, and so on. Generally, it’s a fun little romp around the world and under the sea.
The thing that I was worried about coming into the film was the special effects. With a film that’s supposed to take place under water for around half of the film’s runtime, was I going to cringe each time I saw them “swimming”? I’m happy to report that, for the most part, the underwater scenes do look believable and do not break your immersion. There were still some moments when you can tell they used CGI actors and still some where the backgrounds look fake but, all in all, they did a good job creating Altantis and the world.
Of course, the worlds would look dead without great performances from the actors and, thankfully, Aquaman delivers on this as everyone does pull off great portrayals. The biggest props have to go to Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry/Aquaman. DC put a lot of faith in him that he could carry the character and they were rewarded with a pitch perfect performance that portrays both dimwitted jock and charming hero at the same time. And to think, Jason Momoa got his start at Baywatch! Oh, you didn’t know Jason Momoa was on Baywatch? Well, it’s true!
Patrick Wilson as Orm may come off as a little over-the-top to some but it’s the overacting mannerisms that make the character work for me. Amber Heard’s Mera is quite likable but there were more than a few times when she came off as too “down-to-earth” even though she is an Atlantean princess. The only performance that disappointed me was, oddly enough, Willem Dafoe’s Vulko. But that’s only because he never gets to ham it up here. And I really like it when Willem Dafoe hams it up! Sadly, he doesn’t get the opportunity to do so in Aquaman.
While it seems like I like everything in Aquaman, I do have a couple of major quibbles with it. My biggest issue has to deal with the film’s soundtrack, specifically, the music that runs in the background during the action scenes. The music that they composed for the more lighthearted moments work well but the ones they made for the more intense moments just don’t match what’s happening on screen during these times. I normally don’t even notice the background musics but, here, it was bad enough to take away my investment of those scenes.
The second issue is much more minor but still bears mentioning. There were some pacing issues throughout Aquaman. Some scenes could’ve been edited for time and some that ran just a bit too long. The entire third act seemed incredibly rushed as well. The 143-minute runtime seemed did seem appropriate because there was a lot of story to get through. But, like I said, they could’ve worked around the Black Manta scenes and made a tighter film.
Aquaman is easily one of the more entertaining films in the DC Universe. I’m still debating with myself if it’s better than Wonder Woman or not and it’ll take me a while before I can figure that out. It’s definitely a must-watch in my book and I hope that the DC Extended Universe can follow Aquaman’s example for many films to come.
What’s your take on Aquaman? Let me know in the comments section below!