Aquaman shows us just how far superhero movies have evolved — by the plain and simple fact that the entire film seems to have leapt off the pages of a comic book. In fact, this is its greatest strength, that it epitomises its genre as an action adventure superhero film. From the visuals to the action, the plot to the characters, and even the character design — the movie stays true to its origins while being interpreted in a modern and fairly realistic fashion.
The film follows the adventures of Aquaman (Jason Momoa) a year after the events of Justice League, as he struggles to deal with his royal undersea heritage and save the world from certain doom. Along the way, he’s joined by Mera (Amber Heard) and Nuidis Vulko (Willem Dafoe) as he opposes his Atlantean half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) and his sinister plans.
Aquaman’s version of the underwater world is at once familiar (sea-themed designs and corals abound) but refreshing (more than one race of underwater humanoids exist), giving us a richly coloured Atlantis. We immediately understand how all the deep sea politics work, but we’re excited enough by the oceanic technology to want to go on the exploratory journey that the director takes us through. The smoothening effect and cinematic filters on the underwater scene sometimes go overboard though, making it look like someone used a beautification app and accidentally turned all the dials up to eleven. Mostly though, the underwater scenes do truly evoke that sense of being in a completely different environment.
In fact, the visuals are outstanding regardless of where the action takes place. Be it in real-life cities like Sicily or CGI settings like Atlantis, there’s this sense of grandeur as Aquaman and Mera traverse the globe in their quest for a powerful artifact. They’re not just on some mere treasure hunt — they’re looking for a legendary weapon that was hidden by the greatest of kings. The beautiful sets and exotic locations constantly serve to remind you that this is a larger-than-life adventure, as all superhero stories should be.
The fight scenes are well choreographed, with each character having distinct and recognisable fighting styles. And yet, it manages to steer clear of the sometimes corny lines and movements that plague such movies. Aquaman is believably powerful, but not so much so that he mops the floor with his opponents in every fight. His companion, Mera, is just as competent, with powers and moves that serve to distinguish her clearly (instead of just giving them both the same powers as a visual shorthand for their Atlantean origins).
In terms of tone, Aquaman tempers the serious, political drama with the occasional one-liner and quip. It finds this balance by allowing the characters to make appropriate jokes at select moments, without forgetting that this is ultimately a story of kings and queens, royalty and history. It’s a near perfect balance in terms of tone, without steering into camp or melodrama. And this is important for establishing the epic scope of the movie, and how the eponymous character is truly the only person who can save the world.
Aquaman‘s audio could do with a little work though, with pop music tracks popping up in random scenes. It’s almost as if someone went through the film just to squeeze in as many pop songs as possible, in an attempt to liven it up (it’s not necessary, the film is excellent even without the addition of all these music tracks). There’s also some sort of bubbly audio effect applied to the underwater scenes (clearly meant to evoke the idea of them speaking underwater), which can make it difficult to figure out what some characters are saying. This is particularly noticeable in the first act, when the undersea characters are not only delivering exposition, but saying the names of all the important artifacts and locations that will appear later in the film.
There’s also this odd inclination for surprise explosions. The protagonists keep getting ambushed by explosions that fling them halfway across the scene, and after the first few times it becomes rather comical. That’s not to say that the pyrotechnics aren’t great, but you’d expect the heroes to be a bit wary of the bad guys blowing things up around them after a while.
Despite its fantastical premise, Aquaman manages to deliver on a moving and powerful story — while still pleasing pop culture fans by inserting multiple references throughout the film. It’s thoroughly impressive to see how they’ve kept all the core components of Aquaman lore intact, while still providing a refreshing take on his adventures. Like its hero, Aquaman rises to the occasion and shows us what a true superhero movie can be.
Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? Yes.
Should you watch this more than once? No.
Secret ending? Yes, mid-credits.
Running time: 143 minutes
Aquaman is a superhero action-adventure film that’s the sixth in the DC Extended Universe film franchise.
Aquaman is directed by James Wan and written by Will Beall. There are additional screenplay credits for David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, and additional story credits for James Wan and Geoff Johns. It stars Jason Momoa (Aquaman/Arthur Curry), Amber Heard (Mera), Willem Dafoe (Nuidis Vulko), Patrick Wilson (Ocean Master/Orm), Dolph Lundgren (Nereus), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Black Manta/David Kane), and Nicole Kidman (Atlanna). It is rated PG-13.
Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter, having written for popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Crimewatch”, “Code of Law”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.
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