In a year that was bursting at the seams with superhero movies – and some pretty fine ones, at that – it’s hard to imagine another release making an impact on the genre. The DC universe thought it could do so with one of their own franchises late in 2018, and although the final product isn’t a resounding success, its attempts are somewhat admirable.
Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is the son of Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), a goddess hailing from the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, and Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison), a lighthouse keeper living in Maine. His half-Atlantean parentage has gifted him with numerous abilities, including superhuman strength, the ability to talk and breathe underwater, and being able to communicate with sea-life, powers he utilises to counteract those who threaten peace in Earth’s oceans.
The most recent threat to emerge is Orm (Patrick Wilson), heir to the throne of Atlantis and a half-brother of Arthur, who seeks to wage conflict with the surface world – or humanity, more precisely – as retribution for polluting the oceans. Knowing such an act will lead to the destruction of the underwater kingdoms, a princess of Atlanta, Mera (Amber Heard) travels to dry land and warns Arthur of the impending war, just moments before Orm unleashes the first of his attacks.
Aquaman is the third appearance of Jason Momoa’s sea-faring DC superhero in a feature-length blockbuster, having first made a cameo appearance in the haphazard Batman v Superman, before gaining a speaking role in the much-maligned Justice League. His standalone outing is easily the best of the three, emulating the style of Wonder Woman by possessing more fun and brightness than its counterparts, rather than the dark, gritty approach once associated with DC films.
This tone is most noticeable in the fight sequences, which are more comical than usual for a superhero flick. Footage of the action is sped-up, enemies are launched a great horizontal distance and the sound effects that accompany a hit are loud and cartoonish, all of which result in a blockbuster more akin to a slapstick comedy than a superhero movie. These fights aren’t what one could call revolutionary, but the added elements ensure they are somewhat entertaining.
Aquaman’s flair extends to the underwater worlds that Arthur Curry visits, being more creative than one might anticipate. Atlantis is prettiest of all, with its architecture and infrastructure morphing the aesthetics of Blade Runner and The Little Mermaid to create a futuristic, aquatic metropolis. There are occasions when the visuals become overwhelming, with too many objects and loud colours being thrown at the screen, but other than that, Aquaman’s ocean is a pleasant place to be.
One of the bigger surprises with Aquaman is who has been cast, and how well they do. Two names not mentioned above are Willem Dafoe, who plays another of Arthur’s allies, Vulko; and Dolph “Drago” Lundgren as King Nereus – both stars provide serviceable performances, at best. One actor who does better than expected is Amber Heard, who proves a convincing and likeable heroine as Mera, almost taking the spotlight away from the ultra-charismatic Jason Momoa.
Kiwi thespian Temuera Morrision is also a welcome addition, yet unfortunately, his appearance is marred by some shockingly bad special effects, utilised to de-age his character in flashback sequences. Rather than make him look younger, these CGI visuals serve only to make Tom Curry look like a Ken doll, rubber-faced, plasticky and unnatural. Similar effects are utilised on Willem Dafoe, whose fate isn’t quite as bad, but he too ought to be embarrassed by his craniofacial touch-ups.
The so-so writing is another fault of Aquaman. Although not without its qualities, such as the development of an antagonist and a mature resolution to the conflict, the screenplay’s lack of originality makes it one of the lesser superhero flicks. Furthermore, the movie appears to have ripped-off, weirdly, Ant-Man and the Wasp – similarities between the two include a female hero of equal strength, a hero being saved by a person thought lost, the use of miniature figures in the credits and the casting of Randall Park in a supporting role.
Aquaman is something of an anomaly– a 2018 superhero film that doesn’t so much redefine the genre as it does adhere to it. Despite this fact, Arthur Curry’s solo adventure is not without its charms, those being a talented cast, artistic visuals and fun action sequences. Hopefully DC only improves from here.