With the release of Justice League, Warner Bros. ended the first ‘phase’ of movies in their cinematic universe. Now, a year on, it’s time to take a look at the first film in ‘phase two’ of the rebranded ‘Worlds of DC’…
RELEASED: December 12th 2018
DIRECTED BY: James Wan
WRITTEN BY: James Wan, Geoff Johns, Will Beall & David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick
PRODUCED BY: Peter Safran & Rob Cowan
MUSIC BY: Rupert Gregson-Williams
STARRING: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison & Nicole Kidman
In an age where comic book adaptations are in part rated on how much of that magically zany comic tone they can cram in, Aquaman may not just be King of the Oceans, but King of the Comic Book Movies too.
The film follows Arthur Curry, the son of a lighthouse keeper and the Queen of Atlantis, who is called upon by his ally Mera to help depose his half-brother, King Orm, who hopes to unite the remaining undersea kingdoms and wage war on the surface world.
While that may sound like a fairly simple story, there’s a lot happening in Aquaman, with a globe-trotting adventure, romance, revenge, flashbacks and a whole ton of lore thrown in on top of the brotherly dispute. As such, the film seems oddly paced, moving between plot points swiftly as it tries to hit all the beats. In a way, it kind of feels like the production was worried they might not get another chance at an Aquaman movie. Not because it’s bad by any stretch, but because it’s, y’know, an Aquaman movie. So they throw in everything: superheroics, a villain origin, a fantasy tale, Atlantis, mermaids (like, proper fish-tailed mermaids separate from the Atlanteans), horror-esque monsters, kaiju and even dinosaurs.
But the film is just so much fun. So when something new and wacky shows up on screen, you just roll with it, despite the fact that the pacing and tone of the move is slightly bent out of shape (kind of like Venom, but actually good). Sometimes, this works in the movies favour, like when horror-master director James Wan gets to direct a scene that feels like it’s actually been plucked right out of a horror movie. Other times, not so much, as the film seems to be trying to emulate the wacky banter-filled tone of Thor: Ragnarok, and in that regard, it fails just as often as it succeeds. Fortunately, it’s the moments that matter that land the best, both in terms of comedy and the more dramatic moments.
However, throughout the film, I felt like there was one thing really working against it, and that was the soundtrack. Like the tone, it has a tendancy to bounce around, sometimes delivering TRON-esque music that fits the glory of the underseas kingdoms, and other times giving you really weird and awkward beats that sound like they’ve been plucked from a shit, very dated comedy. Unfortunately, unlike the tone, the soundtrack is not easy to push past and appreciate, and is easily the worst part of the movie.
Conversely, the best is the world-building, and the visuals that come with it. It’s rare to see a superhero film create such a majestic and varied world in just one film – even more general science-fiction like Star Wars is given a run for its money. Throughout the film, James Wan, Aquaman and the audience get to explore the various underseas Kingdoms of Atlantis, and it is truly a delight – each feels like its own unique entity, yet meshes perfectly with the others, and it’s all rendered beautifully by the production, special effects teams, costume and make-up teams. Honestly, so much of this film is just so gorgeous that you wouldn’t believe it came from the same studio that gave you Man of Steel, Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Justice League or even Wonder Woman.
And getting to explore this world with Aquaman and the gang isn’t just a pleasure because of the visuals and the construction of this magnificent undersea world, but also because of the characters that inhabit it. It features a great cast, and a very enjoyable performance from Jason Momoa, who, while he may not be as strong an actor as say Nicole Kidman or Temuera Morrison, exudes likeability and a real passion for both this character and his story (Momoa recently said in an interview that the story of being an outcast spoke to him, and it really shines through here in a way that makes him feel very relatable). And while not all of the cast give their best performances, like with the tone, they really knock it out of the park when it counts. Alongside the various goofs and slip-ups, this film also managed to be funny, scary and heart-wrenchingly emotional.
Honestly, while there were some bumps in the journey (I was trying to think of an appropriate ocean-related pun there but my mind is just blanking and I need to go to work), overall I had so much fun with this film. This is getting batted around a lot recently, but this movie really captures the tone of a comic book, and I love it.
All-in-all, I give it: