In a world full of superhero movies, going to see the monthly flick has become a kind of routine. We’ve been drilled with the “superhero formula” so many times that we’ve become numb to it, and yet our sense of tradition has us pay up at the box office. Thus the new Aquaman needed to only play it safe and stick to the formula, the masses will come.
Aquaman is the sixth movie in the DC Extended Universe, which includes the likes of Batman and Superman. In this stand-alone feature we don’t see any of the other members of the Justice League; instead we get the origin story of Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), the Aquaman. This film focuses on the battle for the throne of the underwater world of Atlantis of which Curry has a claim to, but to which his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) has already taken. Orm is disgusted with the “human world” which has polluted the oceans, and thus wants to declare war on them. Curry is pushed by an old acquaintance named Mera (Amber Heard) to stake his claim for the throne and thus avoid bloodshed.
As mentioned before, this film plays it largely safe and delivers a very generic origin story. But for the goofy character that Aquaman is in the comics, having a typical superhero movie about him where people can take him seriously is quite a feat. This is thanks to an adept director: James Wan, who has honed his skills in the horror genre with the Insidious and Conjuring movies, and who has handled big budgets before, as in Furious 7. But his success at steering the film clear of ridicule doesn’t make Aquaman a good movie. Sure it’s fun, but there are many glaring flaws.
Jason Momoa’s charm as Arthur Curry makes the main character likeable. However, Momoa brought a conflicting tone to his character by taking the story seriously in some scenes, and in others clearly not caring at all. You can tell he had a blast making this film, but for narrative purposes his character’s motivations are all over the place. There is also the cringy dialogue that is so blatantly expository, you feel like it is shown at film schools as an example of what NOT to do. Finally, there were two problems with the villains of the film. The main one in Aquaman is Orm, and he is overacted by a screaming Patrick Wilson that makes viewers want to laugh rather than take him seriously. Then there’s Black Manta (played by Yayha Abdul-Mateen II) who is shoehorned into this film as a secondary villain for no reason whatsoever; if one shaved off all the scenes he was in, the plot and story would not change one bit (and it would save viewers 30 minutes of their time).
But seeing an underwater world rendered on screen was truly breathtaking. With a $200 million budget, you do get your money’s worth for the visual effects. The world-building of Atlantis and the underwater kingdoms is original and colorful. There is also the small role of Arthur’s mother played by Nicole Kidman; in the opening scenes she gives an incredible wordless performance, at points you feel like you’re watching a different film. By the end of the runtime you feel like the actress is too good for such flicks. But hey, everyone’s gotta eat.
Overall, Aquaman holds no surprises. There are splendid visual effects, but a bland and predictable story with the typical genre flaws blend this film amongst its interchangeable siblings. Before you buy your ticket you know what you’re getting, and for some viewers that’s enough.