Aquaman was a pleasant surprise. It was the first good DC theatrical release that I saw in years, that was engaging and fun. Imagine Black Panther meets Asgard underwater. I know it seems cliche but the comparisons between Aquaman and the Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther are really there. All involve a prince learning whether or not he is a worthy king. All three have fantastic arena/ collisseum fights. And all three are good movies. Please do not misunderstand me. I feel that the two MCU entries are overall fun films and I think they are slightly better. However, I will say that after seeing Aquaman twice I was surprised at how I wasn’t able to nitpick more. Even Avengers Infinity war dropped a few points on a second watch. I think maybe it is because I have a soft spot for undersea adventures and wildlife. But give credit to James Wan (Insidious, Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, The Conjuring) for breathing life into Aquaman. He managed to treat one of the DC universes easiest punchlines, with the respect he deserved.
Jason Momoa (Arthur Curry/ Aquaman) is a good choice to play the lead in this film. I know that the comic version of Arthur is blond haired and blue eyed, but I always wondered why he wasn’t more designed after Poseidon of Greek Mythology. Momoa is a towering figure and brings screen presence to the role. Amber Heard costars as Mera and is a kickass female lead who can fight with the best of them. Willem Defoe is a fun addition as Bolko, the vizier of the movies antagonist King Orrin(Ocean Master played by James Wan’s good friend Patrick Wilson). Dolph Lundgren is barely recognizable as King Nereus.
James Wan is a director who I have great respect for. I enjoyed his forays into the horror genre as he has directed two of my favorite horror films (Insidious and the Conjuring). I knew he was good at small intimate films with a tight knit cast. He knows how to develop characters naturally and he clearly has a rapport with his leading actors (which is why you see Patrick Wilson as a lead in many of his films). I hadn’t seen his Fast in the Furious film before this so I had no idea whether or not he would be up to the task. However, I needn’t have worried. Aquaman is the best DC movie since Nolan’s Batman trilogy.
However, if I had to make one nitpick it would be with the scenes involving the Aquaman villain Black Manta. The hamfisted way in which the conflict was set up felt a little lazy. (Spoiler warning)
Arthur saves a submarine from pirates led by Black Manta and his father. Arthur effortlessly deals with the armed pirates with little effort. It is clear they cannot even hurt him that much. In the end, the father shoots him with a rocket while he attempts to leave them behind. Manta begs Arthur to save his father who is pinned down in the sinking sub. Arthur could easily do that and it wouldn’t really be any extra effort for him. But he doesn’t and it feels lazy. Wouldn’t being a pirate be enough of a conflict between the two? Even after he gets Atlantean tech, Arthur is able to defeat him with some effort but not much more. Call me crazy, but I didn’t feel like Manta was as big a threat to Aquaman as he should have been.
Overall tho I would give this movie a B.