It’s weird that the DC movie that hit home for me the most is based around a character that I’ve never had a lot of time for. Perhaps it’s the talking to fish thing, or the orange and green colour scheme, but Aquaman has always been the butt of plenty of jokes and is possibly the lamest of DC’s big 7 (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, The Flash and Green Lantern being the other six).
What this movie does well is lean into the goofiness and absurdity, eschewing traditional superheroism and opting for more of a fantasy movie vibe, and sheds the moody, brooding style of the DCEU so far. This is a film that is unapologetically fun, and all the better for it.
We get the backstory of Arthur Curry (Jason Mamoa), the child of two star crossed lovers, the Atlantean Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) and lighthouse keeper, Tom (Temuera Morrison). Gifted with the ability to breathe underwater along with increased strength, using his powers for good.
When a submarine is attacked he stops the pirates, but leaves the leader to die. The captain’s son, David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen III) vows revenge and escapes to his stealth submarine.
Back on land Arthur drinks with his father and questions what his role in the world is, as he feels apart from the regular people on the surface and harbours ill will for his underwater kin after they executed his mother because of her relationship with his father, Arthur feeling guilty for this.
Arthur’s half brother, King Orm (Patrick Wilson) plans to wage war on the surface dwellers, but needs to get four of the other underwater kingdoms to back his play. The first leader he approaches is Nereus (Dolph Lundgren), who commands the biggest army, Nereus is reluctant but their meeting is attacked by a submarine, and Orm convinces him that war is inevitable.
Orm attacks the surface, almost killing Tom. Arthur rescues him thanks to the aid of Mera (Amber Heard), Nereus’ daughter and Orm’s betrothed. Mera, who knew Atlanna, doesn’t want war and believes that Arthur’s claim to the throne is strong, but as an outsider Arthur may not be accepted. To win their acceptance he must retrieve the legendary Trident of Atlan, the first king of Atlantis.
And so, Arthur and Mera head off on a treasure hunt, while Orm recruits Kane, aka Black Manta, to hunt them down and keeps trying to recruit the other nations. Can Arthur find the Trident? Can he find his place in the world and overcome his doubts? Is war between Atlantis and the surface inevitable?
As you can see from the synopsis, this is a traditional fantasy quest adventure, the Trident standing in for Excalibur. The story moves along at a decent pace, with some well executed action sequences, particularly a scrap in Sicily.
The climactic battle is suitably epic, and the Orm vs Arthur smackdowns are handled very well, and I really liked some of the nice touches like the differences between the undersea realms- we get super evolved mermen, weird crab men and some creepy creatures that live in the dark depths. Not being a massive comic book fan I’m not sure how much of this is in the books or newly invented, it doesn’t matter, because it’s a wonderful colourful world of rival factions.
You know what it reminded me of? Flash Gordon. And I love that flick.
There’s the same vibe of a world made up of distinct and interesting peoples, and a playful, slightly tongue in cheek tone. It doesn’t go all out camp, and it could do with a few more Queen songs, but that’s the film it reminded to me the most.
It also has a similar hero. Arthur isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, more of a brawler than a strategic genius, and the film gets plenty of humour from the fact that half the time he’s just winging it. This impetuous nature and quick temper is contrasted nicely with Heard’s Mera, who is more thoughtful and knowledgeable. Heard is really good, carrying herself with a regal air, but with softer touches and a sense of fun.
In fact the whole cast are great, especially Patrick Wilson as the villain, who is humanised just enough to give depth without going too far and making it difficult to really root against him (see: Ant-Man and the Wasp). Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Black Manta because, frankly, I get why he’s got it in for Arthur, who could have easily rescued his dad.
It’s weird seeing Nicole Kidman in such a small role, but she does it well, although part of me couldn’t shake the fact that they should have gone for Daryl Hannah.
And I loved seeing Dolph Lundgren back on the big screen again. Dolph Lundgren is awesome.
But the film belongs to Jason Momoa, who carries himself with real swagger and charisma, making Arthur a very likeable and watchable presence on screen. WoM says “extremely watchable” and I suspect that there are plenty of viewers who will enjoy purely because he spends quite a lot of the film with his shirt off.
This will hopefully be the big breakthrough for Mamoa, who has the makings of the next big action hero. I’ve enjoyed his work before, but it never really landed, but here he knocks it out of the park. He embraces the silliness without lurching into parody, and shows good comic timing along with his physical attributes.
For the first time in the current cycle of DC films I’ve actually come out really wanting to see more, for me this is the strongest film they’ve made and I hope we get more of Arthur’s adventures in the future.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.