Aquaman is a massive, sprawling epic that may rank among the bro-iest, most testosterone fueled action movies in years; its also the best thing to happen to the DC Cinematic characters since Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy concluded in 2012. While the DC universe has struggled to create characters that people connect with and maintain cohesive and memorable stories, Aquaman is the complete vision of director James Wan, who has created a thoroughly weird and vey exciting underwater world. Without a doubt, there are some very cheesy moments and the film’s runtime can get tedious, but at the center of the film is a genuine attempt to do something viscerally different by the means of telling an age old story.
Set shortly after the events of Justice League, Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Mamoa) is fighting on his own to protect the world from threats in the water, both man and monster. After learning that his half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) is intending on uniting the kingdoms of Atlantis and declaring war on the surface, Arthur travels with his companion Mera (Amber Heard) to search for a lost trident in order to take his rightful place as King of the seven seas.
Again, this is a mix of fairly conventional story elements found in other comic book worlds, but the film commits so much to the ridiculous that its hard not to appiciate it, and its also self aware enough to recognize its own silly nature. The visuals and action are just dazzling here, and the world of Atlantis feels like a vibrant and exciting new medium. Even when the exact underwater politics of different kingdoms or how exactly Arthur’s quest fits into everything are held together by fairly thin story beats, I was happy to be taking this journey.
Jason Mamoa is perfectly cast, and certainly evokes the ’80s action star charisma of an Arnold Schwarzenegger or a Sylvester Stallone; he’s good at beating up people and has a strong enough comic timing that makes him an insanely charismatic performer. With all the action and explosions and such, the film leaves sometime for emotional weight in the form of Arthur’s parents, played by Nicole Kidman and Temuera Morrison; the two of them give Arthur a humanity and reason to be undertaking his quest.
After years of being in the shadow of Marvel, I think DC has a real winner in Aquaman, and while its not experimental neccessarily when it comes to story or plot, they hit the exact tone necessary for a big, swashbuckling adventure movie. This is a world and group of characters that I liked spending time with and would be open to seeing again, and director James Wan deserves all the credit in the world for realizing his vision. Grade: B+