As film fans, there’s always a handful of films that we allow to pass us by. This isn’t usually a comment on their quality or our willingness to enjoy them – sometimes, we’re just a little late to the party.
Though Aquaman isn’t considered a great film by any stretch of the imagination, it’s still important. Its place in the DCEU – and its status as one of the franchise’s most successful films – makes it particularly interesting, and offers it a certain value that probably totals far more than the sum of its parts. It also massively expands the scope of the franchise, properly introducing a number of important characters and, quite literally, a whole new world of narrative opportunities.
Jason Momoa is a charming man, and that charisma is put to some use for his role in Aquaman. Though it doesn’t shine through in quite the same way as Robert Downey Jr.’s in Iron Man, it does set Aquaman apart from other DCEU heroes, who all feel somewhat rigid and formulaic. Momoa brings an aloof sense of chaos to his role that works well for the character, and it also helps Aquaman stand out from the pack.
Though Momoa’s performance is generally good, Aquaman‘s acting talent is spotty at best. Amber Heard’s flat performance as Mera elicits very little response, and (as Walter Hamada how now testified) she shares very little actual chemistry with Momoa. That said, the character is also underwritten, although she is decidedly more interesting than many other characters in the film. Sadly, Willem Dafoe’s performance is on similar footing: it simply seems as though he would rather have been anyone other than Aquaman‘s resident source of convenient exposition.
Black Manta is a fascinating character with far too little screen time, and Patrick Wilson’s Orm/Ocean Master simply reeks of wasted opportunity. Though Wilson is a brilliant actor, Orm is a fairly two-dimensional villain, and that’s just another way that Aquaman fails to achieve its potential. Though there are a number of reasonably sound performances, each is let down in one way or another.
Aquaman‘s action sequences are fresh enough to be interesting even when there’s very little happening. They make the film feel a little too much like Man of Steel all over again, albeit with much more color and humor. The stakes never feel overly high, and Aquaman‘s plot is predictable (find the McGuffin, overthrow the evil monarch, save the world), but its stylistic flair makes it much more interesting than previous DCEU movies.
The film’s design is significantly more colorful and awe-inspiring than the bleak, washed-out palettes of Snyder’s movies. James Wan’s direction helps bring the film to life, really highlighting the mystery and the allure of Atlantis while still giving appropriate focus to Aquaman’s journey. In this, Aquaman succeeds in what it set out to do: deliver an origin story that doesn’t revolve around the discovery of power.
Though it’s far from perfect, Aquaman does a serviceable job. Despite a wooden script and a predictable story, it manages to thoroughly entertain, as well as build hope that the franchise’s future will be more colorful and less gritty. In that sense, it’s an improvement upon some of the DCEU’s weaker points, even if it’s not quite as good as its excellent visuals seem to indicate.
Summary: Aquaman improves on some aspects of the DCEU, while failing to live up to others. It’s far from a perfect film, but it’s fun, action-packed, and well-paced, and it delivers genuine hope for the franchise’s future.
Highlight: The cheesy but distinctly triumphant moment of Aquaman using his powers to control the entire ocean is simultaneously epic and ridiculous, and is achieved in a way that only Jason Momoa could pull off.