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Aquaman – Review



Release Date: 12 December [UK]
Director: James Wan
Writer: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick [Screenplay] - Will Beall [Screenplay and story] - Geoff Johns - James Wan [Story]
Cast: Jason Momoa - Amber Heard - Willem Dafoe



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Posted December 17, 2018 by

Aquaman – Review

Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is a man of two worlds – the surface world, where his father, Tom (Temuera Morrison), is from, and Atlantis, where his mother, Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), was queen. When Atlanna was executed for consorting with a surface dweller, Arthur cut ties with Atlantis. But now that his exploits with the Justice League have exposed him as the mysterious Aquaman, Arthur’s Atlantean heritage has come calling.

Aquaman - Review

His half-brother, King Orm (Patrick Wilson), is planning a war with the surface world. He has made a powerful ally to help him – Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) – and brokered a political alliance with fellow Atlantean monarch, King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren).

Princess Mera (Amber Heard), who had pleaded with Arthur to take the Atlantean throne in Justice League, is even more driven to convince him now. She wants to take Orm down but she can’t do it on her own. Together, Arthur and Mera begin a quest to find the mythical trident of the first Atlantean king that will give Arthur the power to defeat Orm and convince Atlantis to make him king. On the way, they will make enemies, face death, and discover their true selves.

Aquaman - Review

Let’s face it, the DCEU has been a mess for a while. The success of 2017’s Wonder Woman was followed by the critical disaster Justice League. Aquaman had its work cut out and, astoundingly, it more than rises to the challenge.

From its opening to its post-credits scene, Aquaman is a thoroughly enjoyable experience and also completely immersive. The plot is deceptively simple – the battle between good and evil, all taking place under water – and the film never tries to over-reach its aims, nor does it feel too onerous.

Having said that, the Atlantis we see in this film is well thought out. There are hints throughout of the politics of the underwater world. These will likely pass younger viewers by, but adult audiences will appreciate the world-building.

Aquaman does deal with issues of race, but it ties it into the world-building in a very interesting way. By positioning Arthur as a person of mixed race – half human, half Atlantean – the film makes strong statements about straddling racial lines. That the protagonist is portrayed by a mixed-race actor makes this point more obvious. But viewers should be warned that there is some disturbing language used to insult Arthur which might trigger people of colour watching this film.

This is not to say that this film is overly dark. I was pleased by the humour in this film, which never seems forced but instead, underlines proceedings. The DCEU has been accused of being needlessly dark, though Justice League did try to lighten things up with some cringe-worthy humour. Momoa brings most of the humour here, as he did in Justice League, but Heard’s Mera holds her own in the comedic stakes.

Aquaman - Review

The cast seemed to be enjoying themselves in their roles and everyone does their character justice. I was surprised by the lack of diversity in a film directed by a person of colour, and I hope that will be rectified in the sequels.

Momoa shows himself to be an excellent leading man, able to balance humour with pathos. Despite his impressive physique, he also manages to feel relatable – a man who wants to know his place in the world but who is afraid of his uncertain future. We’ve all been there, even if we don’t look like Momoa.

Amber Heard is amazing in every scene, and thankfully has a great deal of screen time. Heard’s Mera is physically strong, level-headed and deeply patriotic, but she is also highly principled, which makes her act of rebellion against Orm that much harder to execute. I can’t say Mera is very well-written – she exists to further Arthur’s story rather than her own – but she is never relegated to damsel in distress, nor is she diminished as a sidekick. Mera gets her own fight scenes, quite separate from Aquaman’s, and it is in these scenes that Heard shines. She makes the fights look effortless and looks to be having an absolute blast. I honestly found myself drawn to Mera, even more so than Aquaman, throughout this film.

Aquaman - Review

Both Wilson and Abdul-Mateen II make for excellent villains. Manta had a curtailed role in this film but all signs point to him being the primary antagonist in the sequel. In the few scenes featuring Manta, Abdul-Mateen II shines as a man driven by greed, and then revenge. He’s going to be fascinating to watch whenever the sequel is released.

Wilson has struck up an excellent partnership with director James Wan, having appeared in several of Wan’s films. He does the director proud with a surprisingly nuanced portrayal of Orm. I was expecting an out and out bad guy but there’s more to Orm than we realise, and hopefully this will be explored in upcoming films.

Aquaman - Review

I find the choice of Willem Dafoe as Orm’s right-hand man, Vulko, fascinating. Many of us are old enough to remember Dafoe’s turn as the villainous Green Goblin in Spider-Man, which makes his duplicitous role here that much more interesting.

Temuera Morrison and Nicole Kidman form the heart of the film, despite their curtailed screen time, and have excellent chemistry that strengthens the foundation of the story.

There’s another aspect of the DCEU that has been surprisingly poor – it’s visual effects. Aquaman would have needed to transcend the mistakes of its predecessors, especially with its underwater setting. Well, it does that and so much more. The visual effects are astounding – from the underwater scenes that look absolutely seamless to the beautiful and colorful cityscape of Atlantis – it is a feast for the eyes. This is what superhero films are about – out-of-this-world spectacle.

Aquaman - Review

The visual effects are further enhanced by the cinematography, which is nothing short of breathtaking. There are so many scenes in this film that you will want to frame and keep on your wall; they are so artistically shot.

The costumes are another marvel to behold. Not only are they comic accurate but they are functional and gorgeous.

Director James Wan has become a well-known name by now but he had an uphill task with this film. However, he expertly combines a strong narrative with believable and exotic visuals, while using a variety of cinematography techniques to make the visual language of the film feel fresh. He creates a universe that is surreal and awe-inspiring, but close enough to our reality for it to resonate with viewers. It may seem like Wan’s work is derivative – there is always something you can compare scenes from this film to – but it still manages to be vastly imaginative nevertheless.

Aquaman could easily have been DC’s greatest disaster but instead it seems set to save the DCEU. This film is an enjoyable experience from start to finish and manages to be the complete package – great characters telling a relevant story against stunning visuals. Justice League who?


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Louis Skye
Freelance Contributor

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