I am making a pledge to you right here and now. I will make zero water, ocean, or fish related puns during this review of AQUAMAN. Nearly every outlet who has reviewed the film so far has not been able to help themselves. But I…I shall resist. Wish me luck. So, anyway, how about that movie?

AQUAMAN: Orange and Green
Jason Momoa debuts his new threads in a scene from AQUAMAN. (Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures)

The Idea Behind AQUAMAN

Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison) mans a lighthouse somewhere in Massachusetts. One stormy night, he happens upon a woman on the end of the dock. She is Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), a princess of Atlantis who has fled her home rather than agree to an arranged marriage. Even after she destroys his television with a five-pronged trident (quindent?) and eats his goldfish, they manage to get to know each other and fall in love. They have a child together, a boy they name Arthur after the hurricane that raged around their home while Atlanna gave birth.

Alas, the bliss of being new parents quickly ends with the arrival of Atlantean soldiers. While Atlanna defeats them, she decides she has to return to her undersea dwelling and marry, lest her new family never experience a moment’s peace. Left behind, Arthur will, in time, grow to be Aquaman (Jason Momoa). Along the way, however, he trains with Vulko (Willem Dafoe), a viceroy of Atlantis who wishes Arthur to take his rightful place on the throne of the undersea kingdom someday. A revelation leads Arthur to not only refuse that birthright but cut ties to Atlantis entirely.

With the heir disinterested, his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) is free to rule and ally himself with King Nereus in a plan to declare war on the surface. Vulko and Mera (Amanda Heard) reach out to Arthur in an attempt to stop the buildup of hostilities. Arthur predictably refuses until he cannot. Cultural clashes, violent clashes, Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), and questing ensue.

AQUAMAN: Huggies
Nicole Kidman gives her Aquaboy one last hug in a scene from AQUAMAN. (Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures)

Writing AQUAMAN

I want to put this on the front street right now. Overall, I enjoyed AQUAMAN. It never felt overlong, it boasts a winning lead, and the film becomes quite good down the final stretch.

Oh boy, though, is the David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall penned dialogue from a story by Geoff Johns, James Wan, and Will Beall often groan-worthy. There are a lot of lines you can see come from a mile away that do not make them any less leaden. The script also loves to do the “I’m not ______,” “The fact that you say you are not ______ is why you are ________” paired dialogue and does it often. The good news is that as the movie goes on, the dialogue seems to improve some. It’s still not what I would call a strong point of the movie, but the cheese does get easier to choke down.

That said, from a structure standpoint, the script proves rather deft considering how much (literal and figurative) ground it needs to cover. A movie with this many locales and CGI action fests can often feel bloated long before it completes it’s over two-hour running time but the screenplay keeps its running quick. Beyond a moment early on, it largely did not feel as though things were missing either, a problem that had plagued some other films in this universe.

AQUAMAN: Mera
Amber Heard rules the docks now in a moment from AQUAMAN. (Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures)

Casting The Leads of AQUAMAN

Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is not exactly recognizable as any prior comic book version or animated series incarnation. However, Momoa borrows elements from several to create a version of the hero that still feels like it has roots in those camps. Borrowing some of the attitude (and hair) of the Peter David era, mixing in some BRAVE AND THE BOLD unbridled enthusiasm, and sprinkling in the occasional bit of the more philosophical King of the Seven Seas from several sources — JLA: YEAR ONE, late 80’s Neal Pozner “blue” era, for two — gives you something close to how Momoa plays Arthur.

I can’t say he makes you feel Arthur’s evolution, but he is having so much fun his zest is contagious. Patrick Wilson starts big and keeps growing with every subsequent appearance in the film. Letting his voice boom and his arrogance flow, Wilson gives the “full-blood” Atlantean Orm a superiority streak almost wide enough to conceal his inferiority complex. He does not have a lot to do, but he hits the available notes hard.

“Not a lot to do” applies even more to Amber Heard’s Mera. On the positive side, but for a brief moment, she is never a damsel. On the negative side, her characterization is pretty much entirely summed up by two traits, “competent” and “stubborn.” What serves her the worst, however, is the romance angle. It develops in wide lurching jumps with no supporting evidence. It is clear the movie intended for she and Aquaman to be romantic partners by the end but were not really interested in giving us much by way of how they got there.

AQUAMAN: Manta helmet
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II meets his Manta helmet in AQUAMAN (Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures)

Casting The Rest of the AQUAMAN Call Sheet

While this is Momoa’s show, there are some strong supporting players on the roster. Nicole Kidman, like Heard, is underused. Dafoe fares only slightly better, much of that having to do with more screentime.

I liked Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Manta quite a bit. Enough that part of me thinks the movie should have just had him as the only villain. Of course, that would violate my own edict about taking your swings when you know you have them. Abdul-Mateen hits notes of familial love, entitlement, terror, and revenge thirst so well, I did wish for a loophole in my own rule. Temuera Morrison is another strong presence as Tom Curry. You can feel the bond between father and son between him and Momoa. The chemistry is strong enough to excuse a little day drinking from the duo. Sure, the elder Curry seems to have become something of a functional alcoholic since his son grew up if not, perhaps, earlier. But they’re so much fun!

AQUAMAN: Crustaceans
Ride the crab in AQUAMAN. (Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures)

Filming of AQUAMAN

James Wan has proven himself an adept director who can rise to most occasions. Whether it is drawing every scare out of a creaky old haunted house plot in THE CONJURING or finding new muscle car beats in THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS franchise, he does it with aplomb. It should not come as a surprise, therefore, that Wan seems largely up to the task here. There are moments where he teeters on the edge of being undone. The first fight sequence that unfolds entirely underwater will leave viewers, more often than not, wondering which combatant is which. Later, a LORD OF THE RINGS style massive army engagement starts to grow stale, but Wan adjusts the scale and comes out unscathed.

On the other hand, he has some truly excellent moments. The entirety of the sequence where Mera and Aquaman are attacked The Trench sticks out, for instance. These devolved former Atlanteans who now look and act quite a bit like the light-sensitive aliens of PITCH BLACK. They ambush and inundate the protagonists in a sequence that starts on the ocean’s surface and ends in, well, the core of the Earth. Wan’s use of light and space gives us the personal and the massive scale of the threat. It kicks off the aforementioned last section of the movie that is really just excellent.

AQUAMAN: Fishermen
The Fishermen, played by Djimon Hounsou, Natalia Safran, and Sophia Forrest, are members of a sect of Atlantis in AQUAMAN. (Courtesy of Warner Bros)

The Music of AQUAMAN

There are some very strange choices being made with both the scores and songs of AQUAMAN. Among the songs, there is “Ocean to Ocean,” the already infamous Pitbull song that samples Toto’s “Africa” heavily. That plays when our heroes arrive at the Sahara as a geographical reminder. Elsewhere in the film, we are treated to Depeche Mode’s “It’s No Good” over an armor building sequence, Greta Van Fleet’s “Safari Song” during a very funny bar sequence, and a Skylar Grey love ballad to pull the whole thing together. However, their disparity is nothing compared to the score. It bounces from typical orchestral heroics odes to TRON-like synth heavy twinkling, to big flat guitar licks. The oddest moment has to be the three-note bass heavy bit that punctuates the first mention of “Ocean Master”. Going with “dun dun DUNNNNNNN!” honestly would have been subtler.

AQUAMAN: Father Son
Temuera Morrison and Jason Momoa enjoy a perfectly normal father-son beer breakfast in a scene from AQUAMAN. (Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures)

That’s a Wrap!

Obviously, there are some negatives above. Still, AQUAMAN is a hard movie not to recommend. It is often funny, has a good heart, and its star — whatever his off-screen shortcomings — proves incredibly endearing. It feels good to have the second — after WONDER WOMAN — recommendable DCEU film.

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  2. […] AQUAMAN: Goofy, Fun, Surprising, Like Its Titular Hero […]

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