People have been telling me for years that an Aquaman movie could never happen. But when even Antman got his own movie, I knew it would only be a matter of time before Aquaman got his dues.
The movie begins with how Aquaman’s (Jason Momoa) mom (Nicole Kidman) and dad (Temura Morrison) met and raised baby Aquaman—er, Arthur. Eventually, she is taken back to Atlantis by force, we see a moment in Arthur’s childhood that establishes his abilities to speak to sea fauna, and then we see Arthur, uh, Aquaman doing his thing. Aquaman “doing his thing” shows us how he helps sailors and shows us archenemy Black Manta’s (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) origin.
We also get a quick cut that establishes the turmoil in the sea kingdoms, which directly involve Arthur’s power-hungry half-brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson). This first half hour or so sets up the story and most if not all points of conflict in some way. The main meat of the movie is Aquaman and Mera (Amber Heard) trying to stop Orm from starting an oceanic assault on the land to pay humans back for centuries of pollution and violence, as well as find the trident that would establish Arthur as the true king of all the oceans.
This establishing information is actually handled pretty succinctly (although I would gladly watch a whole movie about Aquaman’s parents courting). Probably because, as with other DC superheroes like Batman or Superman, everybody pretty much knows Aquaman’s deal, whether they care for comics or not: he can talk to fish and he’s the king of Atlantis. Any additional information—like that with Vulko (Willem
There is a slight twist that may seem unexpected and out of context in the film, I will admit. Aquaman and Mera discover an eighth, secret sea. However, the film opens with a Jules Verne quote, so it is foreshadowed. Hey, I’m a big Verne fan. I’m a big dinosaur fan. I can see people hating it, but I thought it was cool. (I won’t spoil which Verne book gets the nod!) It also seemed a bit odd, even to me, that Aquaman and Mera were spending so much time above water, even though their quest was pointing them to places like the Sahara Desert and coastal Italy. However, it was nice to break away from what I usually associate with the superhero genre, IE, New York City in different tints.
The only thing about the story that was bothersome was really the question of Aquaman himself. People are aware of his exploits, yet no one seems to be sure about who he is, or if he’s even just an urban legend. Yet Aquaman doesn’t hide his face from the people he helps, and he even allows people to take selfies with him and post them on the Internet. It seems like it should be obvious that everyone online would be able identify and find him, but the film also seems to want to tell us that he’s a mysterious benevolent entity to the commonfolk.
One big plus to this movie was the overall world design. The land scenes pretty much looked normal, except when things were being blown up or destroyed by typhoon-like waves. But the underwater world looked convincing and lively, with an interesting mix of classical Greece—Atlantis’s contemporaries—to a modern, futuristic upbringing. It sort of reminds me of one of the nice cities from Star Wars, just underwater. I’m just going to throw this out here—the city would make a cool, full-scale LEGO set.
The CGI in this movie was a weakness at times, though. Though things like the city and even armored sharks can be made to look convincing, effects on a more intimate scale often seemed to falter. This is especially true during hand-to-hand combat scenes. When Aquaman’s mother is removed from her human life, she throws enemies left and right, but nothing looks quite right. The CGI is very glossy and clearly there—it’s almost like going from regular gameplay to a cutscene and then back again in a PlayStation 2 game. It started out distractingly bad, and there were either better effects later on, or I got used to the “off” look of them. I want to give the creators the benefit of the doubt and assume they were going for a specific stylization… But I don’t really think that that’s the case.
The other thing that really bothered me throughout the film was the scene I mentioned earlier, which establishes Aquaman’s ability to communicate with sea life at a young age. It seemed unnecessary for a few reasons. The first being that even if people aren’t too into comics, they’ll probably know at least that Aquaman’s big thing is that he can talk to fish; that’s what he always gets made fun of for.
It also causes an odd, albeit brief, hiccup in the otherwise streamlined scene setting for the main events of the film. (It also seems hard to believe that this is the first time Arthur would have had an opportunity to communicate with sea life in this way, being that he couldn’t live any closer to the coast and seemingly would have met Vulko by then.)
Later, its inclusion becomes even stranger. At a pivotal moment where Aquaman is communicating with sea creatures, there is a flashback scene to little Arthur communicating with the fish in the aquarium. But… It’s already been well-established that Aquaman has this ability in the movie. We’ve seen him doing it. There’s even a scene where Mera responds to this ability in surprise, which probably would have worked as the introduction to the ability just as well. It seems as if the scene could easily have been excised in both spots for the sake of the story’s rhythm, if nothing else. Nitpicky, maybe, but it stuck out like a sore thumb because it really felt like the only really sloppy storytelling choice.
Ultimately, the movie ended up being a genuinely enjoyable superhero movie. It is a longer movie at almost two-and-a-half hours, but it didn’t feel like a slog. I fully admit that part of it could have been that Aquaman is my favorite superhero—so I didn’t get any fatigue from trying to keep up with plot points or even really wonder about things like the movie’s romantic subplot.
The movie also avoided the cardinal sin of leaving the story open for an obvious sequel or tie-in or spin-off and there was a sense of that throughout—so I also didn’t spend the movie getting grumpy that I’d going to have see another movie just to close things out. There is an after-credits scene, of course, but even if we don’t get Aquaman 2: The Wettening, it is minor enough that you could just finish things up in the comics if you absolutely need that closure.
Thanks to the well-paced and closed story, it would be a good gateway superhero movie. I think it’s worth a watch, even if classic Aquaman doesn’t rate the highest with you—Aquaman has updated and adapted to the times well.
Aquaman was released in theaters on December 21 and is currently still playing in theaters.