Arthur Curry, known to the mortal world as the Aquaman, goes to Atlantis to claim his birthright of the throne and prevent his half-brother Orm from waging war against the surface.
Visually stunning with its immense use of CGI for its gorgeous setting of Atlantis, Aquaman stands out from the rest of the DC Extended Universe because of its engaging action and splendid visuals brought very well to the screen by James Wan. His action scenes feel inventive and the style feels very ambitious. The way he immerses you into this vast underwater kingdom looks great and the VFX are very appealing to the eye, with the exception of one desert scene which did not look authentic. James Wan experiments with long takes and creates very fun set pieces including a submarine battle, a fight on the streets of Sicily, and a giant underwater battle the size of the third act of a Star Wars movie. The sets and costumes blend in with the visuals to create a lively mood that feels huge in scale and does not hold back on feeling like an epic, crafting some of the best DC fights and settings yet. Unlike Batman v Superman and Justice League, this installment actually has a thoughtful emotional arc for its characters, including its lead, even thought not all the performances hit home. Nicole Kidman is always fantastic, so it’s no surprise that she’s the highlight of the cast as Arthur’s mother, and Willem Dafoe is also great as an Atlantean who trains Arthur as a young boy and allies with him throughout the movie. Other than that, none of the performances were noteworthy enough to remember their characters as unique comic-book characters. Despite Arthur and Orm’s strong motivations, Patrick Wilson’s acting isn’t strong enough to really hate his villain and even though Jason Momoa has some humor as well as heart, he doesn’t deliver a complex character that embrace the audience as human beings, like actors such as Chadwick Boseman and Chris Hemsworth have done in the past. As for Amber Heard, she isn’t boring to watch on screen but she really is just a female sidekick/badass that helps Arthur on his journey, and there’s an unnecessary romance between them thrown in at one point too. There’s also a character named Black Manta who feels like a justifiably fueled character but ends up being unneeded to the rest of the film and only there to throw punches in a great action scene set in Sicily.
Aquaman has a lot of great things going for it, but it ultimately feels like a bit much. There’s a lot of aspects about this film that could’ve worked but don’t get the focus they need — a mature tale of Aquaman learning what being a hero means, a duel between two brothers longing for their mother’s love and the worthiness of the throne, a Raiders of the Lost Ark-style adventure across the globe in search for an ancient artifact. So much is explored that had potential but it feels like the film only needed one or two of these elements to work as it did. James Wan experiences with different shots and editing techniques, and some hit home while others do not, and some of the dialogue needed improvement. The overall writing for these conflicts is solid but ultimately this family rivalry between Arthur and Orm doesn’t feel as potent as Black Panther and Killmonger’s relationship earlier this year. Aquaman at times wants to be more than it is, and it ultimately won’t spark any conversations like a few lines try to or hit that mark where you’ll embrace all these characters as family like you would in a Marvel movie, but Aquaman ultimately does its job, which is to entertain, and thankfully feels more coherent than DC’s past failures like Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. Entertaining and stylish action let this feel like a standalone film and not just a studio exploitation, and it went above my expectations by making an immersive and exceptional world in Atlantis and building on the mythology of the DC universe. Ultimately, those with high hopes for Aquaman or average action moviegoers will find themselves cheering for the titular hero by the end.