Dan's Review: "Aquaman" is fun, but doesn't really help the DC Universe
Dec 20, 2018 05:49PM
● By Dan Metcalf
Jason Momoa in Aquaman - © 2018 Warner Bros.
Aquaman (Warner Bros./DC Films)
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.
Starring Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman, Graham McTavish, Temuera Morrison, Ludi Lin, Randall Park, Michael Beach, Djimon Hounsou, Natalia Safran, Sophia Forrest, Kaan Guldur, Otis Dhanji, Leigh Whannell, Julie Andrews (voice).
Written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall, Geoff Johns, and James Wan, based on Aquaman comic books by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris.
Directed by James Wan.
DC has been trying hard lately. Always operating in the shadow of their bigger, stronger cousin Marvel, the DC/Warner Bros. folks have experienced moderate success (and one Dark Knight triumph outlier) as they struggle to find the same foothold on a “cinematic universe” brand with any kind of staying power. The 2013 release of Man of Steel was supposed to usher in a new era of Justice League dominance. Instead, there have been a few hits and a few misses as the Justice League teeters on the brink of existence. The (Affleck) Batman versus Superman entry into the series was a little disappointing, followed by a much worse attempt to build an “evil twin” supervillain team through the Suicide Squad. In the middle of these assorted missteps, Wonder Woman showed up and claimed “alpha female” status of the group as Affleck and Henry Cavill (Superman) contemplate their futures in the League. Another new entry to the team is Jason Momoa as Aquaman, now appearing in his own origin story this holiday season.
The story of Aquaman is nothing particularly original, using the tried and true plot of an exiled prince rising to power. It goes something like this: Princess Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) from the hidden underwater kingdom of Atlantis washes up on the shores near a lighthouse, where she meets, falls in love with, and bears a child with lighthouse keeper Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison). Their child grows up to become Arthur Curry (Momoa), A.K.A. Aquaman. Fearing for her husband and her half-breed son’s safety, Atlanna returns to the deep to face the consequences of leaving the kingdom. She remarries into the royal family, bears another son named Orm (Patrick Wilson) and is quickly executed for bearing a child with a human. During childhood, Arthur is trained to use his Atlantean powers by Nuidos Vulko (Willem Dafoe), one of Atlanna’s advisors. Fast forward to present day, and Orm is using an angry pirate named David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) to stage an attack from surface dwellers in order to provoke a war with the land folk. Kane believes is responsible for his father’s death (he eventually becomes “Black Manta”). Orm’s forces attack the surface, prompting Arthur to confront his half-brother. He is escorted to Atlantis by Mera (Amber Heard), the daughter King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren). Things don’t well as Arthur challenges Orm for the throne, and he sets off with Mera to find the Trident of Atlan, an all-powerful spear once wielded by the founding king of the underwater kingdoms. Their quest leads them to the Sahara Desert, Sicily, and finally a vast oceanic trench where Arthur’s mother was sacrificed to a horde of monster mermaids. They eventually find the hidden core of the Earth where Arthur is able to commandeer the trident and return to Atlantis and face Orm in a great battle.
Aquaman isn’t a bad film, but it’s not quite on par with any of its Marvel cousins. On a scale between the best and worst DC Universe films, I’d say it ranks somewhere in the middle of Wonder Woman and Suicide Squad. The dazzling computer-generated effects and fast-paced action sequences are sufficient enough for a basic superhero movie excitement, but they don’t make up for the overused plot, sketchy writing, and underdeveloped supporting characters.
Momoa’s characterization of Aquaman is fun when he’s playing the rogue, but less believable when he’s a benevolent ruler. Amber Heard is a welcome inclusion but feels minimalized in the grand scheme of things, especially as Aquaman’s love interest.
A bigger problem is trying to figure out where Aquaman fits into the DC Universe and Justice League, now that he’s <spoiler alert> king of the world. It feels like the Warner Bros./DC/Zack Snyder team really don’t have a plan for the franchise, other than throwing up movies like darts and hoping they reach the target.
Plans matter, and it doesn’t seem like the DC folks have one. In the meantime, you may or may not get a few good films, along with a fun but incohesive film like Aquaman.