Director: James Wan
Starring: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman
Run Time: 143 mins
The DCEU has had a very rocky ride to date and for every glimmer of success that some of the films have hinted at, they then take a regressive step backward. Aquaman is the first film post-Justice League, the long-awaited team up which ended up being a disappointment that was pulled in many different directions by its authors. Having James Wan in the director’s chair is a good sign, an individual who has gone from strength to strength in his career and has been a key figure in revitalising the horror genre. As a character, Aquaman has never really appealed to film audiences through his ability to communicate to fish which isn’t exactly a superpower. Certainly, his character introduction in Justice League left a lot to be desired.
Aquaman just about works as a film and it is a largely entertaining underwater extravaganza that is consistently visually stunning. I was frequently in awe witnessing the underwater world Wan created and there are many shots in the film that are wonderfully crafted. Even when the characters on land, the visuals are excellent and a chase scene in a Sicilian setting is choreographed particularly well. As for Aquaman himself, James Wan certainly embraces the more corny aspects of the character but manages to inject a lot of heart and development to make him more likeable which is a relief. This cheesy tone Wan goes for isn’t entirely successful and the film is stuffed with formulaic dialogue and plot points. It’s also overlong at a whopping 143 minutes and although not to as bad an extent as other films, it does succumb to a CGI-fest in its final act.
The cast all mostly coast along and embrace the silliness of it all. Jason Momoa has clearly settled into the role enough to successfully carry his own film and won me over early on. Momoa has good chemsitry with Amber Heard and it’s good to see stalwarts like Willem Dafoe having fun. Patrick Wilson’s villain is a little disappointing due to a general lack of character development, even if the actor gives it his best effort. That said, Yahya Abdul Mateen II’s portrayal of the secondary villain, Black Manta is excellent and there is certainly potential in a future film for him to be a bigger bright spot.
Rupert Gregson-William’s score is worthy of mention and he crafts some memorable themes for the character. It’s good to see that he has experimented a lot more compared to his score for Wonder Woman which was unfortunately not memorable.
Overall, Aquaman is a serviceable entry in the DCEU that succeeds more on the strength of its visual effects. Its function as a film is mixed in its shabby construction and corny tone. The general likening of this film to Phase 1 Marvel films is an astute comparison – that it’s entertaining but doesn’t really have much depth. Regardless, it’s a step in the right direction for the DCEU and one would hope this success can continue.