It’s no secret that the DCEU hasn’t been hitting all of their marks lately. It’s also no secret that their films haven’t really stacked up to most of the MCU’s films, especially of late. Aquaman, however, is definitely a step toward the right direction in DC’s recent movie lineup and does offer a possibility of a bright future for the franchise. The movie, though, does fall short on a few fronts and fails to deliver all that was promised, despite all the time and energy put into its production. It’s one of those movies where, depending on the viewer, it could either be seen as a fun and awesome thrill ride, or it could be seen as a bombastic and frivolous mess of a movie. My stance on the movie is pretty neutral, and in the following paragraphs, I’ll explain why.
Aquaman, adapted from the DC comics of the same name, is the story of Arthur Curry (played by Jason Momoa), a half-human and half-Atlantean, as he goes on a journey spanning the globe to uncover his destiny and prevent his half-brother Orm (played by Patrick Wilson) from waging war against the surface world. Arthur (a.k.a. Aquaman) is accompanied by Princess Mera (played by Amber Heard), who serves as his love interest, as they travel the seven seas in their quest to find a mythical trident, so Arthur can claim the title of Ocean Master and rule as the rightful king of Atlantis. Along the way they come across a few obstacles, one of which being Aquaman’s comic book arch-rival, Black Manta.
The premise seems simple enough, and all of the pieces seem to be in place for a solid movie to unfold. Unfortunately, the plot doesn’t play out as smoothly as it should. While all of the story beats are there, and all of the plot points are hit, it just all comes off as a little boring, which is a funny thing to say, given how loud, flashy, and colorful the film is. The characters were difficult to sympathize with, and their interactions seemed unnatural to a degree. It was as if everyone was forced to follow the provided narrative, and this can be seen in a few places. Aquaman, while overcoming his enemies, seems to do so with relative ease, and I didn’t get the sense that he truly deserves the title of “Ocean Master.” The chemistry between Aquaman and Mera was practically nonexistent, and it would have been wiser to cut out the love story altogether or just save it for a later Aquaman movie. Momoa, Heard, and the rest of the cast honestly did as best they could, but the writing and the heart just wasn’t there. If anything, this story would have worked really well as a prologue scene in a more grounded Aquaman movie.
Nonetheless, there were plenty of redeeming qualities in the film. Aquaman is, without a doubt, the lightest (tone-wise) movie in this current Justice League-based franchise; which is no surprise, considering the whole fish-man concept. Director James Wan, accomplishes this by imbuing plenty of humor in the script. Unfortunately, while the jokes aren’t the worst, they definitely aren’t as funny as they could be, and a lot of them don’t stick; many of the laughs in the theater sounded forced (which in turn was actually kind of funny).
Aquaman’s best redeemer though, are the visuals and effects, and this was probably one of the best-looking movies I’ve seen to date. Of course, much of the movie takes place underwater, and has creatures that obviously cannot be filmed normally, therefore special effects have to play a huge role in this movie. While the effects were thunderous and boisterous, as you would expect with a major studio production with such a large budget, the film doesn’t reach Michael Bay-status in terms of frivolous action. Aquaman is a war movie and unquestionably proves itself to be one with breathtaking Lord of the Rings-sized battles, excellently-shot duels between heroes and villains, and quite a few explosions (a tad too many explosions actually). All of these certainly make the film watchable, and for some people, may be all they need to constitute Aquaman as a great movie. Regardless of how much effort James Wan and the rest of Aquaman’s producers put into the script, they did not hold back in making a visually spectacular piece of cinema.
My last point with Aquaman is something that I never thought I’d criticize in a movie: it’s run-time. Personally, as a Lord of the Rings fan, I’m not opposed to long run-times; and in fact, I welcome them, I feel like I get my money’s worth. As long as the story can support a lengthy run-time, and there’s no unnecessary footage, the longer, the better. However, Aquaman unfortunately does not have the story to support its lengthy run-time, and the movie does seem to drag on at times. Luckily, the noisy and awe-inspiring action scenes should be enough to keep most viewers entranced. However, if flashy visuals aren’t enough to keep you invested in a film, you might find yourself struggling to stay awake in the film’s seconds half.
Aquaman isn’t anywhere near a perfect film, but it isn’t anywhere near a bad film either. In regards of DCEU’s lineup, many will probably regard it as the second best after Wonder Woman. Everyone involved in the film did a well enough job, and the end result is something that they should be proud of for the time being. Every time I feel the movie slipped up in a way, it does seem to redeem itself either later in the scene, or in the one immediately following. I think as the franchise continues with the next Aquaman, they really need to look at ways to dynamize what they’ve laid out; and they really did a lot with this film to set up future plots and conflicts. Hopefully, DCEU’s producers can identify what worked and what didn’t in this movie to make the film that this could have been the next time around.
Review Score: 7/10
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