Warner Brothers, DC Entertainment
Starring Jason Mamoa, Amber Heard, Temuera Morrison, Nicole Kidman, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Yahya Abdul Mateen II, Dolph Lundgren, Michael Beach, Randall Park and Ludi Lin
Written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall, Goeff Johns and James Wan
Directed by James Wan
Taking place after the events of Justice League, Aquaman finds Arthur Curry (Jason Mamoa) on an epic quest to claim the throne of Atlantis.
Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison) is a lighthouse keeper in Amnesty Bay, Maine. One night during a storm, he finds a woman lying unconscious on the rocks. Bandaging her wounds, he discovers that her name is Atlanna, Queen of Atlantis. Nicole Kidman does an amazing job as Atlanna and she and Tom’s journey and chemistry on-screen is believable to the point where you can understand Tom’s ritual when Atlanna is forced to leave.
Growing up with his father and only the faint memory of his mother, Arthur begins to learn more about his Atlantian heritage and also begins his training with the help Vulko (Willem Dafoe), trusted member of the Royal Court and friend of Atlanna. These moments are intercut between moments in the main plot and it’s a clever way of including back story with flashbacks by making them contextual to the moments Arthur is experiencing in the present.
In the present, Aquaman has his supervillain creation moment when he stops a group of pirates as they attempt to hijack a submarine. The hijackers include Black Manta (Yahya Abdul Mateen II) and his supervillain revenge journey begins when he is outmatched by Aquaman and Manta’s actions cause the death of someone close to him. It’s a bit of a stretch for Manta to put all the blame on Aquaman, but it’s necessary for the plot.
While Aquaman continues to be a hero on land, under the sea (don’t @ me), his half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) has decided to go to war with the surface. In order to secure the help of the remaining kingdoms and be declared Ocean Master, Orm uses diplomacy, subterfuge and outright murder to reach his goals. His plan begins with securing the help of King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren) after their meeting is attacked by a submarine. When Vulko discovers what Orm is planning, he dispatches Nereus’s daughter Mera (Amber Heard) to find Arthur and implore him to challenge Orm for the throne in order to stop the war.
Arthur reluctantly agrees to help, but has no interest in being king. His first trip to Atlantis showcases some beautiful set design and special effects. Atlantis looks beautiful on screen. In fact, all of the locations look great. I won’t spoil the circumstances that send Arthur and Mera on their quest to retrieve the trident of King Atlan (it’s the fight sequence from the trailer, but there is more to it and it happens earlier in the film.) because it’s a great sequence, but their journey becomes their romantic comedy moment. Mera doesn’t like Arthur or the surface. She thinks he’s an idiot and his goofy charm throughout the movie doesn’t dispel that belief much.
Mamoa is funny and charming as Aquaman. Amer Heard’s Mera is a little stiff throughout most of the movie which works because she’s supposed to be all business. Their chemistry comes and goes throughout the film, but the moments that they connect are great. The sequence in Italy is the bulk of their romantic journey and it was lighthearted enough to be believable that these two people would like each other at least.
Arthur’s journey becomes the crux of the film and it has shades of Indiana Jones as Arthur travels the globe following clues that lead him to his final trial to retrieve the trident and prevent Orm from attacking the surface. The finale is exciting and I found myself cheering on Arthur and Mera as they take on the armies of the deep. There’s a resolution to Tom’s story as well that is sweet and fulfills the promise of the third act reveal.
The best thing that can be said about Aquaman is that it doesn’t shy away from what it is. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it isn’t parody or comedy either. The humor is natural and not forced. The stakes are suitably huge, but the story allows Arthur to be the focus. It embraces Aquaman the character. From talking to fish to the reveal of the costume, Aquaman celebrates the comic book character and doesn’t apologize or stamp down the things that make him unique.
Aquaman is huge in both scale and story. It tries to tell an origin tale, a romantic comedy and an epic quest all at the same time. It doesn’t completely succeed with all three, but the effort is commendable with the final product being something fun to experience.