I have to assume that when Warner Bros. and other fans of the very unstable foundation the DCEU was built on looks back and decides which movie was the make or break point of the franchise, they are going to look back to AQUAMAN. Shazam and Wonder Woman 1984 are still in development and will still release in theaters regardless of what this film does, but whether they put the breaks on everything I think will depend on how this well this film does both critically and financially. Critically, right now, the movie is doing better than most of the others, casual moviegoers an even more positive reaction. We’ll have to wait a month to see what it makes during the busy box office holiday season to whether the DCEU is truly going to be okay. For me? I went in with medium expectations. The last movie in the DCEU, Justice League, was not what it should have been, being more of a mix of really good scenes, with really bad scenes, all wrapped around stupid mother boxes and one of the worst CGI villains in cinematic history. But after the credits rolled on Aquaman (and be sure to just stay for one mid credits scene), I was surprised about how much I enjoyed it, how much it kept my attention the whole way through, and admired how the DCEU is trying to course correct itself.
Tone wise the movie is closer to Wonder Woman more than anything, with just a dash or two of more weirdness thrown in (and no, not copying Guardians of the Galaxy weirdness, this is its own thing). And I am proud to also report that this is in no way is a rip off of Black Panther that many were assuming it was when people watched the trailer. Aquaman is its own tone, its own product, its own entity, its own existence, its own thing. It isn’t really trying to set up other future DCEU movies (other than maybe a sequel to itself) and only connection to the other films is a quick throwaway line to Justice League and the fact that Amber Heard comes back for her 2 minute part in Justice League to play a much bigger, and better role.
Getting into plot details won’t help any one with this review. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know the plot. Arthur Curry doesn’t really want to be king, he is more of a “land dweller” and just fights for what’s right. When Mera (Heard), comes to him, telling him that his half brother who he has never met before, is going to force all the sea kingdoms to unite and start a war with everyone on land, and the fate of all kind is in the balance, he reluctantly goes, eager to come back when all is said and done and not rule.
Really the only problem I had with this movie was some of the CGI, but I do realize the fact with a film that takes place underwater with real human beings talking, and interacting with sea creatures and other weird entities under the sea, the people involved did do the best job they could with the technology they had. So some of the very shaky CGI is forgivable if you think about it. But some of the CGI is pretty bad ass, especially the big battle near the end of the film, and a big action fight sequence with Aquaman, Mera, and Black Manta in Italy.
Jason Mamoa is a fantastic Aquaman. I know he really looks nothing like what he does in the comics, but Mamoa brings a cool slacker charm to the role, and can actually act when he needs to. Plus, you can tell he had so much fun making the film, and when you actually want to be there, your performance comes natural. And he’s a natural in this. What I was most surprised by was Amber Heard. Amber Heard has mostly been just eye candy in films that I’ve seen her in, but in this, she actually shines and shows she is so much more than that. Patrick Wilson actually makes for a pretty good villain as Ocean Master, just wish they’d develop his character a little bit more, Willem Dafoe as Vulko is good for the short amount of screen time he has, Nicole Kidman is fine but de-aged/under the knife as fuck, and Dolph Lundgren gives his best performance in the 10 minutes he’s in as Mera’s father. I know that Black Manta is in the film as well, and while I initially thought that his introduction and part was going to be wasted, in the end I was pleasantly surprised by his origin and his ultimate role in the film. Don’t want to give too much away on that.
Some of the dialogue is cringe-worthy, but I mean, have you ever read a comic book recently? And the actors saying that dialogue are good enough to make it work. The story beats are fast and furious, are all there and well managed, and click together perfectly. Director James Wan, who is known more for the Saw movies, the Conjuring films, and only directed Furious 7 in terms of not being stuck in the horror genre, does a good job here. He didn’t half ass anything and his vision went all in, which I appreciated. Just so you know, I don’t think I have ever read a solo Aquaman comic. I read some Justice League when I was younger, and from what I remember, Aquaman was kind of shoved to the side. But maybe the DCEU can finally give the character his due and bring him to the forefront as a serious, bad ass hero. As long as Warner Bros. isn’t stupid and signs Jason Mamoa to a bazillion more films.
Rank of DCEU Films:
1. Wonder Woman
2. Man of Steel
4. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
5. Justice League
6. Suicide Squad