Starring: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman
Director: James Wan
Running Time: 143 mins
Aquaman is an American film about the story of Arthur Curry, the son of the former queen of Atlantis and a humble land-dwelling lighthouse keeper, who finds himself called to take his place as the rightful king of Atlantis as the current leaders threaten the long-held peace between the land and the sea.
The DCEU has been all over the place over the past few years as it tries to catch up to Marvel with its building of a cinematic universe. Aquaman, while not the greatest superhero film you’ll see this year, is at least a small step in the right direction of what the studio should be aiming for: fun, big-scale blockbuster entertainment. In that, it’s still not a particularly inspiring film when it comes to originality from the genre, but it’s still more enjoyable than some of the more pretentious and tedious entries in the DCEU.
Let’s start on the bright side, with the lead performance from Jason Momoa, who is easily the stand-out in this film. While his turn as Aquaman in Justice League was effectively limited to the odd quip here and there, he’s able to use his charisma far more effectively in the starring role, and as such proves a hugely entertaining lead who’s both funny and thoroughly enjoyable to follow throughout. Although some of his co-stars may lack that same light-hearted and effortless charisma, it’s something very refreshing to see from DC, and is arguably the best performance for a lead hero that we’ve seen so far from the studio.
Secondly, the film’s saving grace is that it is, for the most part, a light-hearted and easy-going blockbuster, and it never really takes itself too seriously, even though there is still room for improvement in that regard. In comparison to Zack Snyder’s three rather over-indulgent entries in the cinematic universe, Man Of Steel, Batman v Superman and Justice League, the film gets the basics of what a good, entertaining superhero movie should be, and as such there’s never a point where you get fed up with forced attempts to create an overly intricate cinematic universe in such a short space of time as those three films were painfully guilty of.
As a result, if you like the barebones formula of the superhero genre, then this film will give you a good time, with the added bonus of Jason Momoa’s thoroughly entertaining lead performance, and the odd bit of good action that makes the film feel fun-loving enough to just sit back and enjoy.
Having said all that, however, I still feel that there’s a lot lacking from Aquaman in the wider context of the modern superhero genre. Sure, at its core, it doesn’t do all that much wrong, but that doesn’t help it stand out in the ever more crowded scope of the box office, and it in fact feels a little outdated with its rather basic premise throughout, particularly in comparison to the growing range of originality that we’ve seen from the likes of Deadpool, Logan and Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse.
So, while it may have the core formula to prove an enjoyable watch, Aquaman still doesn’t do enough to really thrill you, instead sticking with often frustratingly basic and clichéd genre tropes that really do feel behind the times, never really pushing the boundaries to surprise or thoroughly excite you at any point.
As much as people righly bemoan Batman v Superman for the glum mess that it was, it did at least have a lot of interesting and different ideas, even if it couldn’t string them all together effectively. Aquaman sits at the other end of the spectrum, with a fun and solid foundation, but little more on top of that.
It’s difficult for DC to strike that perfect balance between solid blockbuster entertainment and pushing the boundaries with new ideas, and they haven’t really managed to hit that sweet spot as of yet, getting closest with Wonder Woman in 2017. We criticise DC for their seeming inability to produce films on a par with Marvel at the moment, but don’t forget that many of Marvel’s films in the first phase of their cinematic universe were just as underwhelming as – if not worse than what DC are making now.
So, with time and patience, this universe can evolve into something successful, and I feel that the studio is on the right track with films like Aquaman, starting from the ground up and getting the basics right, before getting into the intricacies of the cinematic universe that can eventually make the franchise really outstanding.
Finally, a word on the film’s visuals, which is another element of DC movies that has often come in for a lot of criticism over the years. The biggest positive about Aquaman in this regard is that it’s a very bright, colourful and overall vibrant film, moving away from Snyder’s glum and moody cinematography to something a lot more exciting and enjoyable to look at for two and a half hours, something that I was delighted to see.
On the other hand, however, it’s a film that still struggles to use its special effects well, with somewhat of an overload of CGI in its underwater settings, occasionally coming across like that lake at the beginning of The Phantom Menace, not really utilising the advances in CGI over the last 19 years to make things more spectacular. Couple that with some god-awful, Suicide Squad-levels of CGI animation, and you have a film that looks fairly pretty throughout, but is still a bit of a mess with special effects that are far below the standard that is expected of big-budget movies like this, proving an unnecessary point of frustration once again.
Overall, then, I liked Aquaman. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but its core entertainment value is undeniable, and coupled with a brilliantly charismatic lead performance from Jason Momoa, it makes for an enjoyable, if not still somewhat uninspiring watch. It’s not the best that DC can do by any means, and its visual effects still leave a lot to be desired, but it is yet another small step in the right direction for a franchise that got off to such a rough start a couple of years ago, and that’s why I’m giving Aquaman a 7.3.