James Wan’s Aquaman is long awaited for many reasons. After a heartening Wonder Woman, DCEU has raised the expectations to deliver a fun solo superhero film. Jason Mamoa’s somewhat decent fan following, Wan’s horror expertise, the epic scale, Geoff Johns’ association, Justice League’s underwhelming performance. All of these things made Aquaman a hugely anticipated film, for reasons good and bad.
And the film delivers, despite challenges with tone.
The world of Atlantis is beautiful and is tastefully presented after some amount of build up. The mood is very 80’s deep sea adventure, which brings with it some amount of drama and exposition heavy dialog. Patrick Wilson sadly gets the most boring part(King Orm/Ocean Master), he is like Loki if Loki was boring, finny head do in place. Willem Dafoe can rise above any role and gets to do a cool Vulko here. Among the many cool lines in the film , Dafoe’s “The king has risen” stands tall. Though his chemistry with Arthur isn’t exactly convincing, partly due to Mamoa’s consistent goofy expression throughout the film. It looks like he is still sitting in an interview, but it’s not really a bad thing either. He brings in a levity to the DCEU films.
It takes a while to adjust to the Shakespearean machinations of the Atlantean world. And this does make the first half a bit overlong. Only when Mera takes Arthur on an adventure to the Sahara, the film picks pace, and finds its adventure/fantasy movie rhythm. The film does a perfect mix of pathos, humor, adventure and large action sequences which are ambitious, demanding and rewarding. There are no efforts spared to make things as grand as possible, yet there is an underlying vulnerability to it all that doesn’t make it arrogant or the typical smirkiness we have come to see in DC films.
And the good thing is the film is in no rush to reach the climax. It allows for the humor to build. There are glorious actions pieces, set on land and in the sea. There is also one lazy sequence in Sicily, wish fountain, ruminations of Earth being not all that bad, and all. Black Manta is fun and even has a montage sequence of the mask being made. The Manta fight is one of the highlights of the film. The more I think about the film, the more I am convinced it is more an action film than a superhero film per se, and a great one at that. Be it the Manta fight in Sicily, or the opening Submarine sequence, or the two battles in the sea, it is a riptide of finely orchestrated set pieces with a soul.
I found the rebooted Aquaman comic book post-2011 endearing because of the life Geoff Johns infused in Aquaman’s character, with some fine writing underlining a world of adventure and intrigue, and he has been a great force in the Justice League books as well. The same quality is attributed to this film(a fresh take on the character, a dexterous world-building with all the Kingdoms visited and linked back in a proper linear story).
Another commendable aspect is that Aquaman stands on his own, there are no JL references. Amber Heard’s Mera is well written and performed. She is not a cardboard character, and you feel for her pain and laugh with her in her adventures.
Aquaman is quite the achievement, considering the hundreds of things it balances on a shaky trident. It takes quite a while before the real Aquaman stands up, but it is a fun ride all the time. It makes you enjoy the goofy retro elements and yet respect the DCEU a little more. It’s the best written DC film yet, which enjoys itself and doesn’t shy away from portraying a superhero who is imperfect. And yes, there is a Kaiju, you do hear Toto’s Africa at one point, and the octopus plays the drums!