Film Review: Aquaman

After being teased through brief cameos in the DC Extended Universe and appearances in ensemble scenes Aquaman finally gets a movie of his own in which we learn more about this cinematic version of the character's origins and see hints of where the universe's storyline will be heading next.

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 11 February 2019
Category: Reviews Comments View Comments


Aquaman posterAquaman debuted in comics in November 1941 so it's been a long, long wait to see the character star in his own film as he has mainly only previously appeared as a supporting character or prominent group member in live action and animated films and television series. (For a notable exception, where he actually was the starring character, we have to go all the way back to the Sixties for the animated series The Superman/Aquaman Hour Of Adventure.)

The DC Extended Universe film series has slowly been building to his debut on screen as the focus of his own movie through the casting of Jason Momoa as the character in 2016 for Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice and the adjusting of his heritage from a blond-haired white person to Polynesian. He since had a more prominent role in 2017's Justice League, in which I described the character as "ridiculously heavy metal and ornery and looks more suited to ruling an underground mountain kingdom or a biker gang than the oceans", and that has finally led to Aquaman.

Aquaman: Jason Momoa as Aquaman

Consequently there's been a lot of time for the development team to work on a really great origin story for the character and, unfortunately, the result of their efforts is disappointing. About the only aspect that I can appreciate now is the character's heavy metal orneriness. It makes more sense now with this movie's story placing it in context.

The plot for Aquaman, part of which (notably Ocean Master's back story) was adapted from DC Comics' The New 52 reboot of all its titles that began in 2011, is its weak point. Essentially King Orm Marius/Ocean Master (Patrick Wilson) the petulant ruler of Atlantis (and Aquaman's younger half-brother) decides he wants to be the ruler of all the underwater kingdoms so he secretly orchestrates events to try to initiate a war against the surface world that will allow him to take control of all the kingdoms as they unite to fight the common "threat". Oh, and he has mommy issues (though, thankfully, not of the Martha-Martha variety).

Aquaman: Patrick Wilson as Orm

Aquaman: Jason Momoa as Aquaman and Amber Heard as Mera

Mera (Amber Heard) therefore recruits Aquaman, who is happily living on the surface world and is not interested in the underwater politics or his right to the throne of Atlantis, to stop Orm, which includes a quest to find a mythical trident that will secure his place as the ruler.

In contrast to the badly told story, the casting was well done. I had reservations about Heard, which quickly vanished, while Willem Dafoe, as advisor Nuidis Vulko, Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus, Temuera Morrison as Aquaman's father Thomas Curry, and Nicole Kidman as Atlanna (who gets a fantastic action scene in the beginning of the movie as part of Aquaman's origin story) do great work as supporting characters even in moments in which there is very little for them to work with (for Nicole Kidman in particular). They, along with Momoa and Wilson, manage to bring depth to shallow characters and a very insipid plot and the result is a film that's still very watchable in spite of being essentially lacklustre in its storytelling abilities.

Aquaman: Nicole Kidman as Atlanna

Aquaman: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta

Aquaman's comics nemesis Black Manta/David Kane (in the film)/David Hyde (in the comics) also gets a small role in this film. He's played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and given a vengeful origin story centred around his father Jesse Kane (played by Michael Beach) that was clearly set up to be expanded to further films in the DC Extended Universe. (As an aside, the appearance of the character was one of the highlights of the film for me.)

Besides the unskilled storytelling, the film suffers from very noticeable continuity errors, bad CGI in some places, and an overall sense that a number of different genres (including a bizarre desert based Indiana Jonesesque adventure sequence in the middle that was great but completely unsuited for this movie) had been haphazardly edited together because no one could decide on what it should be.

It feels as if three different movies have been stitched together and, consequently, it also struggles with story progression or pacing. As one of my friends noted, every time the talking got to be a little too much, too heavy, or too difficult to resolve emotionally there would be an explosion and we'd be hurled into the next action sequence.

Aquaman: The Fishermen royalty

Aquaman: Atlantis

Where the movie really shines, however, and what made me reluctant to have to leave the world when the film ends, was the production design and cinematography, which is just phenomenal. The underwater worlds are absolutely magical - they're full of texture and life and bright colours (although the film, as a whole, still suffers a bit from the teal and orange colour-grading scourge, although it's occasionally ditched in favour of a teal and pink offering just to demonstrate, once again, that there are many ways to make the colour look bad in post production) - and there is so much to look at in certain scenes that you have to watch the movie more than once to appreciate the thought and effort that went into all of it.

By sheer coincidence I visited the aquarium a few hours before I saw the film so my brain was filled with images of sea life - the colours, the geometry, the biology - and it was fantastic to see the attention to detail that was presented in everything from the costumes to the prop design and the design of the interiors and vehicles. I could see what many of the inspirational sources had been, having just observed them in the aquarium, and how they were translated to a human(oid) underwater world. It was beautifully done - Oscar worthy, if I may say so - and I think those teams deserve far more credit and recognition than they are likely to receive.

Aquaman: Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus

Ultimately this film is very watchable and entertaining but offers no skill in its storytelling - it's more an inspiring visual delight that washes over you but leaves nothing of intellectual substance behind. You know exactly what's going to happen and you don't really care - it just looks very pretty in the process.

Aquaman: Royal faceoof

Aquaman was written by David Leslie, Johnson-McGoldrick, and Will Beall (screenplay), and Geoff Johns, James Wan, and Will Beall (story), was directed by James Wan, and stars Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison, and Tom Curry.

The press screening was courtesy of Empire Entertainment and Ster-Kinekor. Rating


Tags: Comics, Screen, Speculative Fiction

This trailer contains minor spoilers.

[ YouTube link ]

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