So here’s the thing, DC and Marvel have been competing for almost 80 years. Needless to say it’s not going away anytime soon, so the fact that both are striving to be the best on film as well is also not about to vanish. Even though Marvel had the huge head-start and clearly the more successful run of films, DC is continuing to keep moving forward, or in the case of their latest Aquaman they just keep swimming.
Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) has grown up with a slightly fairy tale version of how his parents a lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and a warrior princess (Nicole Kidman) from under the sea met and fell in love. As he grows to manhood a child of both worlds he has grown to hate the city of Atlantis for taking his mother away and becoming a protector of his home on land. When the military of the surface world attacks Atlantis a pair of their rulers King Orm (Patrick Wilson) and King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren) join forces and attempt to take over the other realms and the rest of the world as well. As they begin their assault, a secret resistance builds in the form of Arthur’s former trainer Vulko (Willem Dafoe) and the daughter of Nereus, Princess Mera (Amber Heard) as they enlist the help of Arthur to try so save the land and the sea from the wrath of Orm. Also on his own personal mission to take out the Aquaman is Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) a former pirate who utilizes Atlantian tech to become the dreaded Black Manta.
As mentioned before DC has not gone the Marvel route instead making three films before their big team up in Justice League unlike Marvel who had five films leading up to the Avengers. So going slightly backwards by telling Aquaman’s origin as their fifth film turned out to work in their favor, though not by much. Director James Wan who had a string of horror hits in Saw, Dead Silence, Insidious, and The Conjuring and one of the 37 Fast & Furious movies brings all his experience to the table with Aquaman and most of it lands, or floats, whatever.
The action in the film is pretty great, every one of the set pieces in fact is unique, kinetic and is shot extremely well, especially a fight between Black Manta and Aquaman that takes place on land, along the rooftops in Sicily. As for the underwater battles, they work out well enough as the choice was made to not show actual water physics, but an exaggerated version because, hey, comic book movie. And Momoa is as fun to watch here as he was in Justice League, only it’s very apparent that he is not ready to carry an entire film on his shoulders. There are times where he seems to shift from carefree to angry and brooding, sometimes in the same scene. He’s helped by the supporting cast but just barely as most like Dafoe and Wilson bring their B-game. Amber Heard is the brightest spot in the cast, I would have much rather see her origin than Aquaman’s, but there is sure to be a sequel for this if it makes enough money.
The story is both big and small enough to keep its focus on its hero as he seeks to find his destiny which we all know is to eventually be king of the sea. As a comic fan you can see the fingerprints of comic scribe Geoff Johns all over this, as he shares a story credit which for me was refreshing considering the gloomy nature of the first few DC films. What is unfortunate is you also see the lackluster script and poor decisions as I slightly spoil the film by saying they pull a “Martha” in this one too, which most fans know what that means and it is just as unforgivable here as it was in Batman v. Superman. But in closing, I have to say I enjoyed a lot of Aquaman despite its many flaws, I’m just glad that DC is righting itself with their solo films and with enough practice I’m sure they got a better team-up film on their horizon. All they need to do is look in the pages these heroes were born on. It’s all right there waiting to be re-discovered.