‘Aquaman’ Rises to a New Level [Review]
Aquaman has just surpassed Batman v Superman as the DC Extended Universe’s highest grossing movie to date, but even more impressive than the numbers is how the film, a transportive visual feast, raises the historically most laughed at superhero to his rightful place among the greatest icons in the history of comic books.
Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring, Furious 7) delivers an awe-inspiring adventure that spans the high seas to the seven underwater kingdoms of Atlantis, vibrantly depicted with black-lit glowing colors, where soldiers ride sharks that are outfitted with with weapons. And don’t miss the cameo appearance by Wan’s killer doll from The Conjuring, Annabelle!
Jason Momoa is Arthur Curry, the titular hero first teased with a quick cameo in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and officially introduced in 2017’s Justice League. He is the son of a lighthouse keeper and Atlanna (played by Nicole Kidman), the former queen of Atlantis, which makes him half-Atlantean and the rightful heir to the throne, but he wants none of that place or its varied races of people. He holds a lot of resentment over the fact that his mom left when he was a little boy for reasons he doesn’t understand, leaving his dad to lovingly look for her to return with the sunrise every single morning.
Momoa relishes the role, delivering even the corniest one-liners with winking charisma to spare, and it’s nice to watch a superhero crack a smile and have a little fun once in a while, whether he’s beating up pirates invading a submarine or engaging in epic trident battles, or taming the biggest, baddest, most legendary beasts of the deep, unexplored regions of the sea.
Arthur is bitter toward his mom, and therefore toward his Atantean side of himself, and thus his legacy as the rightful king. He’s never been to Atlantis, or met his half-brother, Orm, who has claimed the king’s throne in his absence and is working to unite the other six kingdoms under him as the self-appointed Ocean Master. Played by Wan’s most frequent on-screen collaborator, Patrick Wilson, Orm’s ultimate goal is bring Atlantis back to the surface and then rule the planet.
As with DC’s other recent superhero milestones, Wonder Woman and Man of Steel, Aquaman’s origin story is told through flashbacks that start before his birth and include bits of him as a boy beginning to learn how to communicate with fish during a school field trip to an aquarium, and being trained to use his uniquely Atlantean abilities by a mentor he trusts from Atlantis, Vulko.
Played by Willem Defoe, Vulko is simultaneously advising Arthur on how to save Atlantis (and the world) from Orm while also serving as Orm’s number one adviser, and I just kept expecting Dafoe to suddenly become the Green Goblin villain he played in three Spider-Man movies over a decade ago.
Amber Heard, who was also introduced briefly in Justice League, plays the righteous warrior Mera, who is betrothed to Orm but clearly has eyes for big brother Arthur, if only he would trust her to “come home” and claim his destiny. Mera can control water, which comes in handy quite a bit throughout the film, but Arthur’s big super power, his ability to communicate with all of the living creatures in the ocean, is not something that anyone else from Atlantis can do. With flaming red hair and a green-scaled, skintight outfit, Mera is like an ass-kicking version of the Little Mermaid, only she’s not on land looking for love; she’s looking for a hero.
In an engagingly memorable performance as Aquaman’s archenemy from the comic books, the Black Manta, newcomer Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays the best kind of villain, one that is on a completely understandable quest, in this case for vengeance against Arthur for killing his pirate father.
Though it is sometimes tonally uneven, such as during Arthur and Mera’s romp through the Sahara Desert when the action feels more like a slapstick romantic comedy, there is a lot of heart to the story of a man of two worlds who doesn’t quite fit in at either, but who comes to realize he is the only one, due to his unique crossbreeding, capable of bridging both worlds.
The biggest, most pleasant surprise is how much of the film is inspired by the works of renowned horror author H.R. Lovecraft, who often spoke of giant, nightmarish monsters lurking just beneath the surface, heavily referencing his collection The Dunwich Horror and Others in particular, as it is seen in opening prologue. Of course Lovecraft was also a racist who saw terror in interracial relationships, while this movie celebrates such unions as the only answer for any future in which humans are to survive.
Arthur is a biracial outcast who finds his place among more than just one group of “his people” and rather than fighting his way to a climactic victory, it’s his ability to “talk” to those that on one else is listening to that truly proves his worth, to his friends and family but more importantly to himself.
Loud, rowdy, and unorthodox, Momoa is a crowd pleaser, and so is Aquaman.
Reviewed by: Matt Artz
What did YOU think of this movie? Write your own review in the comments below!
Aquaman (rated PG13) is playing locally at RC Theatres in Kill Devil Hills.
Click here for more movie reviews!