Who Lives In Atlantis Under The Sea?
Given the turbulent history of DC movies, it’s a relief to know that Aquaman is DC’s best effort since The Dark Knight. While it pales in comparison to Batman’s flagship film, Aquaman does enough to right the sinking ship of the DC universe, producing a visually stunning, competent superhero film with a charismatic Jason Momoa at its helm. While the movie suffers a little from a bloated run-time and the mis-placed humour doesn’t always hit the mark, Aquaman is a confident, bold step forward and a highly enjoyable action film in its own right.
The story begins with a brief origin story for Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa). Part Atlantian, part human, Arthur is the destined child to unite the armies of Atlantis while bridging that gap between the surface world and the sea. Skip forward to present day and Arthur finds his destiny called into action as the threat of war looms on the horizon. Arthur’s half brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) wages war on the surface, calling forth the service of Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), hell bent on revenge after an early run in with Arthur on board a submarine. What follows is a story that sees Arthur seek out a legendary trident while fighting off the forces of Atlantis and Manta. While the story itself is well told, it is pretty predictable stuff and with a run time of 130 minutes, Aquaman is unnecessarily bloated.
Thankfully, the time spent with Aquaman is worth the ride as an inspired Jason Momoa carries the film forward. His performance as the conflicted superhero is really well written with a few good bursts of charismatic humour for good measure. At times this humour does overpower the narrative and especially during the second act, Aquaman bizarrely throws a lot of one-liners and quirky, goofy comedy into the mix which doesn’t always hit and actually offsets the tone of the film during this period of time. Still, the rest of the cast do well in their roles but this is the Jason Momoa show and boy does he stamp his authority on the film.
Say what you will about the plot, visually at least Aquaman is stunning. Absolutely stunning. The CGI is on point, the level of detail in the ocean is sublime and the numerous camera movements from the surface to under the sea and back again are really well shot and extremely polished. The imaginative design of the various Atlantis inhabitants are good too, with each race properly fleshed out and given visual references linking to their characters. The brash, warrior race ride scarred sharks while the more elegant Atlantians ride seahorses are good examples of this. All of that combined with some wide, sweeping camera movements and a story that jumps to numerous locations around the world make Aquaman an absolute visual delight.
While Aquaman’s story doesn’t feature anything particularly outstanding or groundbreaking, what it lacks in originality it makes up for with motive. While a lot of superhero movies devolve into a meaningless slog of hero VS villain, Aquaman understands character motivations breed action and it’s clear to see throughout the film. Manta’s reasoning for revenge on Arthur makes perfect sense. King Orm hates his brother over a very personal reason while Arthur himself is conflicted over numerous issues that have affected his past. All of this combines to make Aquaman a film where you can empathise with each character. While this all seems like basic storytelling, its something that superhero films (and DC in particular) seem to have forgotten over the years.
Aquaman may not be the best superhero film of the year, nor is it a particularly groundbreaking or innovative title. What it does, it does extremely well with a very polished visual flair and a charismatic Jason Momoa at its helm. The story is certainly enjoyable and despite an overlong run time, manages to flesh out each of its characters in a compelling and believable way. Fans of the genre will love this film and those despairing over DC’s direction as of late can breath a sigh of relief. For now at least, DC seem to be back on track with delivering worthwhile superhero films. And who would have guessed that Aquaman of all heroes, would be the one to do it.