Imagine yourself a few years ago, and someone posed the question on what the highest grossing DCEU movie would be heading into 2019. Yeah, you wouldn’t have said Aquaman. Yet, here we sit with the film surpassing one billion dollars at the global box office and turning Jason Momoa into a bonafide star.
I’ve been a fan of Jason Momoa since his days as Ronon Dex on Stargate: Atlantis. Nice full circle you pulled there, Jason. He’s a great lead actor, and you can tell the man enjoys the hell out of his job. As the titular character in Aquaman, he carries the movie and cemented himself as an integral player in the DCEU.
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Not only did Aquaman work to unite Atlantis with the surface world, but he also pulled double duty helping save the DCEU. It has its share of flaws, but it’s hard not to root for Jason Momoa who genuinely enjoys the character. The guy’s demeanor is infectious and draws you into the film. A solid popcorn flick which continues Wonder Woman’s work of righting the DCEU ship after multiple missteps.
Aquaman Story Highlights
In a departure from most DCEU movies (looking at you Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman), the origin story of Aquaman is told at a quick pace. We find out Arthur Curry is half-Atlantean/half-human thanks to his father (Temuera Morrison) saving and falling in love with Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), who is the Queen of Atlantis.
After being tracked down by Atlantean soldiers, Atlanna is forced to return to Atlantis to save her son and his father from being hunted down. Arthur grows up believing his mother was executed for living on the surface and giving birth to him.
During the start of the movie, we get to see Aquaman show off his superhuman powers saving a Russian sub being hijacked by pirates. It’s here we get our first look at Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s David Kane character. As his father dies in the scuttled sub, Kane vows vengeance against Aquaman.
As the movie progresses, we learn Arthur’s half-brother, Orm Marius, is angling to unite the kingdoms of the sea and become Ocean Master. Marius’s chief advisor, Nuidis Vulko (William Dafoe), plays both sides working with Meera (Amber Heard) to urge Arthur to find the lost trident of Atlantis to unite the seven kingdoms. In flashbacks, we see Vulko training Arthur in his teens.
After losing a challenge to Marius, Arthur is saved by Meera who wants Arthur to embrace his lineage and become the ruler of Atlantis. The challenge fight scene is some of the best CGI work I’ve seen in a while.
Meera heads to the surface and sets off with Arthur to find the hidden trident so he can take his place as ruler of Atlantis. It sets off multiple battle sequences leading Marius to turn to Kane who becomes the Black Manta to avenge his father’s death.
The movie takes us to Egypt and the Mediterranean as Arthur and Meera search for the hidden trident. Both eventually decode the cryptic clues and find their way to a lost city in the middle of Earth. Here he reunites with his mother, who was thought to be executed and passes several trials before he’s deemed worthy by a Leviathan to wield the trident.
Meanwhile, Marius is leading his combined forces against the Kingdom of the Brine to become Ocean Master. Arthur shows up with the trident and uses it to enhance his ability to communicate with the creatures of the ocean to turn against their handlers. A fight ensues on the surface as Aquaman defeats Marius ott become the new Ocean Master.
Aquaman Story Lowlights
The biggest lowlight of the film has to be Black Manta. While the costume was improved from the trailer, the character felt barely used except in one sequence between him and Aquaman. It felt rushed as the character managed a few blasts from his modified Atlantean weapon and then he gets tossed off a cliff. When you consider Black Manta is a chief villain of Aquaman, it’s one of the chief disappointments of the movie.
King Atlan’s trident is another disappointment for me. It was built up the whole movie as whoever wields the trident will immediately become king. Arthur had it and still had to battle and kill off a sizable number of his subjects before they came around to the fact he had Atlan’s trident and was the true king. I get DC wanted an epic battle sequence, but that’s one glaring plot hole.
The surface wide shot of the battle involving Meera, Aquaman, and Black Manta’s squad was a jarring visual. We saw it in the trailer, and it didn’t look any better on the big screen. It’s an odd sequence when compared to the underwater action which seamlessly combined visceral combat with large scale battles.
This is a tale of two movies when it comes to visuals. I mentioned the surface battle between Black Manta and Aquaman as a low point, but once the film went underwater, it’s a visual delight. From the challenge between Marius and Arthur to the final battle, Aquaman looks fantastic.
You may remember Justice League when Meera and Arthur spoke about Steppenwolf in an air pocket. It was a weird way for Atlanteans to communicate and was dropped in the film. Characters could talk underwater without creating special air pockets. The effect creates a seamless transition from scene to scene and while not eye candy like the battles, it’s the little things that create the visual masterpiece that is Atlantis.
It’s here where the movie becomes a bit rough. The soundtrack is great, but the volume in certain sequences was too much. I will disclaimer my complaints on the sound design due to the fact I have an autonomic disorder and semicircular canal dehiscence. The quick definition is poor acoustics, and loud noises are not an enjoyable experience.
Still, my brother had issues during the climactic battle scene understanding the dialogue. The soundtrack overpowered the dialogue. We also weren’t in the best theater. When the volume ratched up, you could hear the speakers vibrate.
Wrap Up & Score
After the multiple missteps in the DCEU, I was prepared for disappointment. Instead, I was treated to one of the better movies so far out of DC. Yeah, it’s not a high bar, but it shows the studio is hard at work to mix in some comedy instead of Snyder’s vision of dark comic book movies. I’m not saying they don’t have their place. Done right they can be incredible movies, but Aquaman was a welcome change of pace for DC. A much-needed change.