The DC cinematic universe, thus far, has been compared unfavorably to Marvel. With the exception of Patty Jenkins’ transcendent Wonder Woman, we’ve had one dud after another. Films such as Suicide Squad and Justice League have turned a profit, but at the control of director Zack Snyder, these films have screeched to a creative halt. Nevertheless, Warner Bros. hasn’t stopped trying yet. After the studio’s success with director James Wan’s The Conjuring films, they brought him on to direct the Aquaman movie. I’m pleased to report that while Aquaman is dumb fun, it’s light-hearted and monstrously entertaining.
Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is the son of Atlanna (Nicole Kidman,) Queen of sea-kingdom Atlantis, and Thomas (Temuera Morrison,) a lighthouse keeper. He is looked at as an outsider, or a ‘half-breed,’ by the people of the undersea world, and is feared by those on land. What we have here is a half origin-story, where we see teen Arthur’s training with Nuidis Vulko (Willem Dafoe,) and half superhero save-the-world story where Arthur and Mera (Amber Heard) must travel the globe and find the object that saves everyone.
It’s as dumb as it sounds, but it’s got a cheerful and whimsical nature that takes it a long way. It’s full of exposition, and sometimes gets bogged down in its own extensive mythology, but it always knows when it has to pull the casual viewer back in. This is a two-and-a-half-hour-long movie that flew by. Momoa is wildly charismatic in a role that feels like it was made for him. While Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck, as the other DC heroes, feel regretful, grave and downcast, Momoa is having a great time. He’s doing a lot of the heavy lifting to make sure the audience is having as much fun as he is. He’s got a screen presence that truly dominates everything happening around it, and he’s a hoot to watch.
The entire cast of this movie seems to know exactly how absurd this entire thing is, and they’re running with it and having fun. Amber Heard is better than anything I’ve seen her in (which isn’t saying much) and Nicole Kidman is basically playing the Michelle Pfeiffer role from Ant-Man and the Wasp. She seems to be playing it very seriously, but in other moments, it’s clear she’s in on the absurdity of the whole thing. Patrick Wilson, as Arthur’s evil brother, is giving a delightfully campy performance, and a lot of what his character says is met with a laugh.
James Wan directs this absurd saga with precision and attention to detail. All of his movies are taut, tightly plotted and well-paced. And this is a long movie that never feels as long as it is. For a film that is roughly 80-90% CGI, it’s impressive how polished and beautiful everything looks. The undersea world rivals the beauty of something from Avatar. The film kind of ignores its own rules, however, about who can breathe above and below water, and sometimes, a character’s hair is flowing around in the water, and sometimes it remains neatly in place the entire time. It’s a weird inconsistency, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter.
The screenplay that Wan co-wrote with Geoff Johns and Will Beall, is, at times, ludicrously stupid, but then it does something pointed and self-aware. This is ultimately a very expensive B-movie. Nothing about the storytelling is breaking new ground, but don’t go in expecting that. This is very much a ‘check your brain at the door’ type movie, and Aquaman is out to prove that isn’t always a bad thing. The action scenes are absolutely thrilling, but that’s not why you should go. This is a superhero movie that’s full of heart and works in a surprising amount of pathos that you wouldn’t expect. It’s a zany, preposterous, bewildering and ultimately delightful undersea extravaganza.