Directed by: James Wan
Written by: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick & Will Beall (screenplay), Geoff Johns, James Wan & Will Beal (story); Aquaman created by Mort Weisinger & Paul Norris
Starring: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Defoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman
It’s fair to say that any new movie in the DC Extended Universe both suffers and benefits from lowered expectations at this point. As such, I went into the cinema feeling that Aquaman could be an enjoyable popcorn romp or a frustrating, overexposed CGI mess.
Fortunately, we got the former.
Let’s set the scene. Born of a human father and Atlantean mother, Arthur Curry is now known to the world as Aquaman. He receives an appeal from Princess Mera of Atlantis to take up his birthright and stop his half brother from waging war on the surface.
Jason Momoa’s brash appeal as Aquaman (and just in general) is well established at this point after his devil-may-care turn in Justice League. While it’s lots of fun to see him toss bad guys around, the real core of the character is revealed here as he is shown in moments of fragility, as the butt of the joke, getting his ass kicked, in his rage and self doubt. Momoa presents these different facets without mawkishness and shows genuine leading man chops in doing so.
Amber Heard is largely the driving force of the movie as Mera, pushing a truculent Arthur to face up to his destiny and she’s presented as every bit the equal of the lead.
Patrick Wilson does his familiar turn as a sneering, sleekit villain, although there is a germ of insecurity and longing in his portrayal of Orm that adds welcome depth to what could have been a paint by numbers baddie.
Willem Defoe brings his usual pathos to the role of Arthur’s mentor but isn’t used enough to steal the movie as he’s prone to do.
Best of the supporting cast is Nicole Kidman who is the only Atlantean to actually present a somewhat otherworldly character in her facial expressions and movements, only really softening around her son and his father.
Yahya Abdul-Mahteen II is a muscular precense as secondary bad guy Manta although his story arc is cut short by the needs of the film’s greater narrative.
The story is pretty much a stock heroic journey with the call to destiny, meeting adversity, finding the MacGuffin, overcoming obstacles and winning in the end. The writing isn’t groundbreaking and the jokes aren’t memorable but the characterisation is fine and the film chugs along at a pleasing enough pace.
For the most part, the film looks great (although some of the Atlantean outfits look a bit cheap on the surface while looking awesome underwater.) Atlantis is a visual treat and the contrast of bright colours and the ocean deeps is very cool, although arguably the best shot in the movie narrows the vibrant palette down to deepest blues and a spark of red.
The computer generated effects are pretty good although the final battle does devolve into a bit of a Justice League style rush through a thousand unidentifiable baddies, but it’s not as long or convoluted as that contest and does resolve into a nice straight up duel.
All in all, I went in with low expectations and was rewarded with a fun action movie but not one that we’ll be reminiscing about fondly in ten years time. Check it out if you’re after some popcorn fodder and like this kind of thing.