Describe This Movie In One (Obvious) Simpsons Quote:
COMIC BOOK GUY: But Aquaman, you cannot marry a woman without gills! You're from two different worlds!
Brief Plot Synopsis: Beefy bro becomes briny badass, battles bathymetric brigands.
Rating Using Random Objects Related To The Film: 3 Krakens out of 5.
Tagline: "Home is calling."
Better Tagline: "I like 'em big and stupid."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Born of surface man (Temuera Morrison) and water woman (Nicole Kidman), Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is a dude without a continent. Ostracized for his fishy otherness on land, and considered a half-breed by his mother's people (who also sacrificed her), he is understandably reluctant when Mera (Amber Heard) approaches him to claim the title KIng of Atlantis and head off the warlike ambitions of his half-brother (and Mera's betrothed), King Orm (Patrick Wilson).
"Critical" Analysis: Can we just admit it's pretty nuts there's an honest-to-Poseidon Aquaman movie barely a decade after the very concept was parodied on Entourage? Credit (or blame) can be laid at various feet. There's Warner Bros.: whose hand was forced when they failed to make anybody give a shit about Superman or Batman, Patty Jenkins: who did the opposite with Wonder Woman, and Marvel: who demonstrated the commercial viability of tertiary comic properties (Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man).
Director James Wan, previously known for Saw and the Insidious and Conjuring franchises, never lets Aquaman fall prey to the navel-gazing mopery of rest of the DCEU, keeping the action flowing throughout. The result is a better-than-average mix of the expected comic movie cliches (there are at least eight "superhero landings," for example) and some truly bananas visuals. The undersea realm here is, ironically, more vibrant and colorful than anything in the Snyderverse, and Arthur's big epiphany moment is delivered to a sea monster living at the Earth's core voiced by Julie Andrews.
If that isn't reason enough not to have a cameo in Mary Poppins Returns, what is?
As Arthur Curry, Momoa is best when he leans hard into his aquatic alpha persona, and less convincing when forced to project gravitas. He's still more entertaining than either Henry Cavill's Man of Sulk or Ben Affleck's BatMurderer, which speaks to DC's continuing dilemma: keep trying to build an extended universe around unsympathetic primary characters, or go full JLA and focus on Aquaman, Wondy, and the Flash? How about taking it a step further and deposing Zack Snyder in favor of Wan and Jenkins?
Unfortunately, Aquaman still has something of a supervillain problem. It's no secret that movie bad guys are more compelling characters. Their backstories are more interesting, and the opportunities for scenery chewing are hard to pass up. So when a supervillain role is paired with a good actor (Heath Ledger as the Joker, Terence Stamp as Zod), the results can be unforgettable.
But what we've seen in recent comic book adaptations are villains whose motivations are, frankly, more relatable than those of their relatively bland opponents. Erik Killmonger argued that the Wakandans in Black Panther had failed their people by not using their technology to ease centuries of oppression, and he wasn't wrong, while Adrian Toomes in Spider-Man: Homecoming embarked on his criminal career after the government threatened his livelihood.
Hell, even Thanos just wanted to relieve the pressures of universal overpopulation. His answer, sad to say, was the epitome of "blunt force solution."
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Which brings us Orm, who's pissed that the surface world continues to use the oceans as a toilet, and wants to wage war on them. His opening move, sending tidal waves to deposit garbage and warships on beaches across the globe, is pretty damn effective. Or so you'd think, because we never get any reaction from the drylanders except for an "Atlantean conspiracy theorist" (a wasted Randall Park) and Aquaman's own mealy-mouthed assertions that he'll "do something." At least T'challa had a change of heart at the end of BP and agreed to start sharing Wakandan tech. All we get from the new King of Atlantis at the end of Aquaman is a superhero freeze-frame.
And a mid-credits sequence involving Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), whose presence in the film otherwise serves no purpose.
If Aquaman breezes past philosophical dilemmas to get right to the mayhem, at least Wan and company commit to said mayhem 100 percent. The third act is another superhero CGI melee, yes, but the scale of it dwarfs even that of Avengers: Infinity War. The climactic battle of the
Five Armies Seven Kingdoms showcases a dizzying array of combatants, including fish folk, aggro sea horses, Mosasaurs(?), and the Brine Nation, a race of crab dudes who mock the soft underbellies of the Atlanteans.
It'd be hard to recommend Aquaman if everyone wasn't so clearly committed to it (except maybe Amber Heard's Mera, whose irritation might be directed to Arthur or the enterprise as a whole), and if Wan didn't keep introspection at bay by making something blow up every 10 minutes. It's the perfect vehicle for Momoa, and a perfectly adequate palate cleanser before Superman comes back and tells everyone to grow up.