Under the Sea - Aquaman (REVIEW)
written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
The DCEU is far from the cinematic powerhouse it wishes it could be, anchored by a misguided visionary who can’t seem to get his head out of his own ass (don’t at me Snyder-bros) along with questionable decisions from the upper management, I walked in to Aquaman apprehensive… something that made for a pleasant surprise once the credits began to roll.
Aquaman stars Jason Mamoa and Amber Heard reprising their roles of Arthur Curry/Aquaman and Mera from the much maligned Justin League film. Joining them is Willem Dafoe as Vulko, Patrick Wilson as Arthur’s half brother Orm, Nicole Kidman as Queen Atlanna, and Temuera Morrison as Arthur’s father Thomas. As I said before, I love Jason Mamoa in this role, his charming dude-bro persona makes for an interesting take on the character while serving the much needed purpose of adding diversity to a film genre traditionally led by white dudes.
Set after the events of Justice League, Orm is mobilizing a united force of various undersea kingdoms to band together and strike back against the surface world. Not keen on the idea of starting a war with the surface, Mera and Vulko work to have Arthur take his rightful place as the King of Atlantis. This leads Arthur and Mera on a quest to find the remains of King Atlan and his mythical trident, a weapon lost when Atlantis first sank into the sea. Weaving into the conflict are opposition from both his half brother Orm and a pirate with a grudge, Black Manta.
Alright, I need to touch on the first thing that came to mind was how similar this felt to another superhero origin story… the first Thor movie. A lost son, the heir apparent to the throne, a battle with a disgruntled sibling, all for the sake of a mythical world that stands more so as legend. The themes of family and duty are all over Aquaman. Setting it apart from the greater Snyder-infused-DCEU made for a film that felt more enjoyable that it had any right to be. While I did have fun with films like BvS and fairly enjoyed Justice League, most of that is hinged on my intense DC fanboyism than my appreciation for what Snyder has done. James Wan on the other hands proves that not only can he craft an engaging get-under-your-skin horror flick, he has the cinematic prowess to take on a big budget superhero action flick.
Unlike the darker color palette from films like Dawn of Justice and Justice League, Aquaman isn’t afraid to go bright. Colorful, bombastic, and all around fun! This is what Zack Snyder lacked trying to go all Watchmen on the DCEU, he forgot that these are superheroes and what Marvel does better than the DC films is ensuring that there is a fun factor to their movies. No amount of engaging mystery or subversive plot can make up for a film that’s just joyless and devoid of fun. Aquaman does that, it reminds us that while superhero movies are the hot ticket right now… this is a hella tough dude that talks to fish as a super power. Not everything has to be doom and gloom, and that’s one thing that gives me hope for the DCEU going forward is that they pretty much are amputating all the harm Snyder did to the universe. While it does take place after Justice League, they barely mention those events in passing that Justice League might as well have been a noir fever dream.
At the end of it all, Aquaman had more heart than much of its contemporaries. It wasn’t a perfect film by any means. The pacing was incredibly off and shoe-horning Black Manta into the narrative as aggressively as they did felt like a wasted opportunity to introduce the villain next time. This should have been solely an Arthur vs Orm conflict, a battle for the throne, and what Black Manta did was bog down the film unnecessarily.
I haven’t felt this optimistic for the DCEU since Wonder Woman, I hope they continue to make smart choices in the films they release and the directors they hire. Not everything has to be so damn serious, also… the DCEU doesn’t have to be the MCU. Marvel got where it is because they took their time, the first Avengers film was the culmination of two Iron Man films, a Hulk film, Captain America, and Thor; five films set the basis for what would become one of the best ensemble superhero movies ever… Justice League was preceded by Man of Steel, Dawn of Justice, and Wonder Woman… I won’t even count Suicide Squad since it didn’t even factor in to the plot of Justice League. The point I want to make is they don’t have to rush, I hope before they try to do another Justice League they take their damn time. Aquaman was a step in the right direction, I just hope they keep headed that way.
Fun, colorful, just what we needed