Owing to the trend of amalgamating long established comic book characters within the same films as done by Marvel Studios, DC Comics/Warner Bros took the more shorthand route of assembling its biggest assets in films via establishing glimpses in its other films within the shared universe as a way of saving the time it would take to craft several origin stories. Of these films that make up the DCEU, Batman V Superman is a flawed narrative mess but has a few great scenes; Man of Steel is three-quarters great; Wonder Woman is mostly great and Justice League is a pleasingly less dour film, but still something of a hot mess. Oh and there’s also Suicide Squad.
Having first seen a brief glimpse of Aquaman in BVS before the full reveal in Justice League, we’ve now been gifted a standalone Aquaman film, an origin story directed by James Wan. It tells the story of Arthur Curry, the “half-breed” who it’s believed will unite the world of the land dwellers and the Atlanteans and his path to destiny. It’s also a comment of what we, mankind, have shamefully done to the oceans via environmental damage and the slaughter of the creatures in the seas. And that’s pretty much it story wise because the story makes not a lick of sense. It lurches from one set-piece to another with the tiniest morsel of a vague plot link to serve the story and gets away with an awful lot mostly down to two things, the director and the charisma of the film’s main star.
James Wan is probably best known for his work in the horror genre (the wildly successful Conjuring movies and it’s associated spin-offs) and his input in the Fast and Furious franchise. But with Aquaman, it appears that Wan realised that the character is ultimately ridiculous and if Warner Bros. are going to back your vision for hundreds of millions of dollars you better be ready to see some seriously ridiculous stuff thrown on the big screen. A comic book movie this may be but it really is ridiculously ridiculous. Sharks with lasers? Check. Giant Seahorses being ridden into battle? Check. An Octopus playing the drums? Check? A fight on the rooftops of houses in Sicily for no real reason? Check. Willem Dafoe as Mr Miyagi? Check… and The Karate Kid even gets a mention too!
But what he does throw at the screen you simply have to Marvel, sorry, marvel at. There’s so much going on at points that you’re literally overwhelmed by its absolute commitment at throwning everything at you. It’s often amazing to behold but falls into cliche way too much but Wan knows he’s making a comic book movie. He’s not making a new genre but is putting his own spin on said genre and at times it works.
Wan’s tongue is placed firmly in his cheek and Jason Momoa is definitely in on the joke too. He gives Arthur Curry a firm degree of gusto with his enthusiastic shouts but also a physicality that, for the most part, you believe will enable him to pull it all off.
The supporting cast range from poor to serviceable. Amber Heard as Mera isn’t much more than a signpost to plot points but that’s not her doing. The aforementioned Willem Dafoe is definitely the tutor to Arthur Curry’s Daniel LaRusso. Dolph Lundgren is given little to do other than look cool in his armour. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Manta is given a reason to resent Arthur Curry and works it well, despite his ridiculous costume (imagine the Power Rangers robot sprayed black). And then there’s Patrick Wilson as King Orm with his desire to be Ocean Master. He’s a fine actor but he’s seriously miscast as the power hungry step-sibling, putting in an OTT performance with a side portion of ham(ing it up). Rounding things off we have Nicole Kidman and Temuera Morrison as Arthur Curry’s parents (both fine).
Aquaman borrows from so many classic films it’s exhausting to even begin to list them but the most obvious are Star Wars, Blade Runner, Indiana Jones, Flash Gordon, Jurassic Park, Batman, even John Carter are borrowed from to one extent or another rather shamelessly. It does look stunning in parts and the technology used for the underwater sequences does work even when the aforementioned sharks with lasers are snarling and growling at seahorses who do likewise (I did say it was ridiculous didn’t I).
So, is it any good? Yes and no. It’s faults are glaring but at the same time it’s to the credit of those involved that they are prepared to revel in its lunacy to somehow make it work on some level. Aquaman should be applauded for some things but also be frowned upon for the utter absurdity of some of its content.
When the inevitable sequel comes Warner Bros. and DC will really need Wan back on board because I don’t think they’ll find another film maker who has the balls to think “You know what? Fuck it, I’m shooting that.” Oh and before I forget, Julie Andrews makes an appearance as a indescribable, giant monster, something which perfectly exemplifies the general craziness of Aquaman.
Film ‘89 Verdict – 6/10.
Aquaman is on general theatrical release now.