The turning of the tide.
I had some pretty low expectations but was pleasantly surprised by the scope and scale of Aquaman, they aimed for epic and mostly got there.
A fun film coasting on spectacle and verve.
By Tym Stevens
The public began to sour on Zack Snyder’s grim approach to three DC films, so Patti Jenkins’ Wonder Woman (2017) and this successor shifted course into brighter horizons. Ditching most of the dour, these films are more lustrous, anthemic, romantic, and optimistic, all the qualities that the original Olympian comics pantheon truly deserves.
Created in 1941, Aquaman was a Golden Age hero who found late fame during the Silver Age in the Justice League of America team (1960). Though one of the most powerful Leaguers, his light portrayal in the “Super Friends” cartoon (1973) made him an unfair meme for weakness. DC overcompensated for this through the ’90s, butching him out with long hair, a bare chest, a harpoon arm, and royal Atlantean melodrama. But they also diversified the water cultures and rose up current with environmental concerns. The film reflects all these latter trends by degrees.
Aquaman is a solidly entertaining romp that wins on style and verve. It is essentially Return of the King (Arthur) as water capades. The change of environment to the seas immediately distinguishes it from all other hero films, a freshness that underflows its success. Likewise overcompensating, the film leans on machismo and monarchy and spectacle to a fault, but the affable beefcake Jason Momoa shoulders it breezily while Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman, and Patrick Wilson do the heavy lifting. Momoa and Temuera Morrison, especially, infuse a Pacific islander vitality to the Atlantic. The villains are nuanced and we’ve stopped murdering them, thankfully.
This upbeat turn is all the more surprising coming from James Wan, a noted horror director, who brings some of that edgy panache to the harrowing Trench sequence and the godlike Leviathan, at his most effective with suspense and implication. Less is more, but rare in a film that always does more even more. The climax is an underwater CG orgy that wins by insane grandiosity because, even when it’s too much to parse, it is still lovely to look at: gaudy and over-expensive, yet entrancing. (The film’s true underlying fault lies in flinging too much money and macho to convince us Aquaman is cool. They could have saved half that money for another film and sold it through character.) It all ends up as a rising swell that lifts any creaky boats. So the flat dialogue is offset by enthusiasm, the pinball plot outweighed by lavish production, and its swipes (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Romancing the Stone, Burrough’s “At The Earth’s Core,” etc.) play more like winks. If you can’t always feel it, it’s all easy to flow with.
Like Wonder Woman and Shazam, the film brings wider latitude and fresh depths when they were most needed.