Underwater adventures are some of the best stories to put to film. They are right here on earth, but they feel like a different world. Movies like The Abyss and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea provide some amazing backdrops, with characters subjected to unfathomable mysteries and dangers around every corner. The creatures that dwell below can conjure up all sorts of fantasies and nightmares. Some are real and some are the product of our imagination. Because of how vast the ocean is, there is no limit to what we can imagine lives down there. We could envision entire civilizations existing deep beneath the surface, species of life that have gone undiscovered for eons, and more. It certainly made for a good comic book. Now we can say that it made for a pretty good movie as well.
In Aquaman, directed by James Wan, Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is born to the queen of Atlantis, Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), and a lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison). Atlanna fled an arranged marriage, but was forced to return to Atlantis to keep her new above water family safe. Arthur is raised by his father and grows up to become the famous Aquaman, the mysterious hero who rescues fishermen and protects the seas. He resents Atlantis after learning his mother died when the king found out about an illegitimate offspring.
After the events of Justice League, Arthur’s half-brother Orm, now assuming the throne of Atlantis, is convinced they must protect their world by destroying the surface. Mera (Amber Heard), a woman from a neighboring kingdom and the daughter of King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren), reaches out to Arthur to persuade him to challenge Orm and become the king he was meant to be. She receives help from Orm’s trusted adviser Vulko (Willem Dafoe).
Mera knows that in order to defeat Orm, Arthur must seek out King Atlan’s Trident, a fabled weapon that can command all sea life and unite the seven seas and its kingdoms. It’s up to Arthur and Mera to travel the globe and decipher ancient clues before time runs out. Meanwhile, a sea pirate named David Hyde, a.k.a. Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), is out for revenge against the elusive superhero. He will stop at nothing and kill anyone who gets in his way.
Any previous ideas about who Aquaman is were properly squashed after Jason Momoa’s appearance in Justice League. No longer just some guy who talks to fish, he shows up as this muscular, tattooed islander who enjoys a drink with his old man and doesn’t mince words. He’s blunt and isn’t afraid to take out a few bad guys or solve a dangerous problem with his fists. Even though he does it without much forethought, things have worked out well for him until now. The challenges he currently faces may be too big for strength and courage alone. Luckily, he has Mera and Vulko to guide him on his path to discovering his call to lead.
The most obvious part of this film that stands out are the visuals and special effects. The kingdoms are beautiful. The creatures swimming around and going into battle are remarkable to watch, and sometimes terrifying. The technology reminds me of The Abyss, but it goes into even more science fiction territory with water-based laser weapons and holographic devices. The action scenes are so well executed, considering most of it is underwater, and it really keeps the momentum moving. James Wan certainly gives you plenty of things to stare at besides Momoa’s abs.
Another aspect of this film that is done well is the world building. Arthur and Mera have to travel to multiple kingdoms above and below the sea. Mera is the voice of exposition, but Arthur is the history professor, courtesy of his father. He explains some of the things they come across and also teaches Mera about the surface world, which she is reluctant to embrace. Nothing about this movie is small and it can be overwhelming to absorb it all; so take a breathe and enjoy the ride.
Jason Momoa’s portrayal of Arthur as this rough-around-the-edges guy with a heart of gold is enjoyable. His chemistry with Amber Heard’s Mera is good and they reminded me of Indiana Jones and Marion from time to time. If Indiana Jones had the body of a pro wrestler and Marion could control water with her hands.
Where the movie may lose people is how much it tries to accomplish. There are multiple stories running congruently, and at almost two and a half hours it can feel like more time is needed to cover it all. I certainly enjoyed the action sequences, but I would have preferred they were spread out and maybe more elegantly initiated. You will notice a moment is repeated where silence is immediately interrupted by extreme violence and it’s only effective the first time. Also the tone of the film resembles an 80’s sci-fi fantasy epic, like Krull or Beastmaster. It’s important to note this because the humor can be silly at times. Still the heart of the story is never compromised and Arthur’s journey remains powerful and exciting.
Aquaman is an excellent swashbuckling adventure and above all else a relief. After so much bad news regarding the DCEU, Warner Brothers needed this to work, and hopefully audiences will respond in kind. Jason Momoa is terrific as Arthur a.k.a. Aquaman. Amber Heard is brilliant as his co-star and doesn’t hide in his shadow. Amber Heard and Nicole Kidman’s characters give this film its emotional and moral center. They are also badass in their own right. Both physically and mentally. Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, and Dolph Lundgren also give strong performances. The fight sequences are spectacular and I was impressed with how it all came together at the end. The score is epic in scale and switches between retro synth and modern symphony with ease. It certainly isn’t the flawless victory fans wanted from James Wan, but it is a step in the right direction. See this on a very large screen with friends.
Synopsis: Arthur Curry learns that he is the heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, and must step forward to lead his people and be a hero to the world.
Director: James Wan
Writer: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall,
Stars: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison
Runtime: 2 Hour, 23 Minutes