‘Aquaman’ Review: Warner Bros. & DC Have Found Their Sea Legs

Aquaman DC ComicsLet me just get the pun out of the way quick here and say that Aquaman is a triumphant breath of fresh air for DC Entertainment. After Justice League failed to maintain the momentum established by director Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, James Wan delivers a swash-buckling adventure story that kicks things back into gear for DC’s cinematic universe.

Wan has repeatedly said Aquaman is closer to a fantasy/adventure film than a traditional superhero story, and that sensibility rings true throughout the movie. Starring Jason Mamoa as Arthur Curry, Aquaman tracks the character’s transformation from a grizzly, spiteful hero who hates missing happy hour and wants nothing to do with Atlantis due to the disappearance of his mother (Nicole Kidman) into a confident King who’s proud of his ancestry. With the help of Princess Mera (Amber Heard), Arthur has to discover the lost trident of Atlantis to save the world from total war. As Arthur aimlessly fights pirates and hits the pub with his human father, his half brother Orm, played by Wan’s The Conjuring star Patrick Wilson, plots to crown himself Ocean Master and wage war on the surface. Orm may be somewhat misguided and hungry for power, but at the same time, he’s understandably motivated to reverse decades of environmental damage caused by humans, giving the antagonist a somewhat empathetic cause.

From a structural standpoint, Aquaman closely follows Joseph Campbell’s concept of the hero’s journey. Arthur Curry starts the movie with a chip on his shoulder, and by overcoming a number of stressful situations, comes into his own and embodies the heroic role he was destined to play. All the classic hallmarks are there: a loving partner, an evil brother, an older mentor who serves as a connection to another world, and yet, the movie still feels fresh. Aquaman is full of tropes, but Mamoa’s charisma carries audiences through the film, even when it gets bogged down in predictable and cheesy moments.

Aquaman Jason Momoa Patrick Wilson King Orm DC Comics

Aquaman touches on important environmental messages, mainly the destruction of our oceans and atmosphere by humans, but it is also a DC Comics movie, so naturally there are a few massive CGI brawls. Each fight scene had a different style and approach with a unique sense of danger and personality. During the film’s prologue, an intimate action scene takes place where Nicole Kidman’s Atlanna defends her family. Not only was it expertly choreographed and performed, with much of the scene appearing to be a singular shot as she zips around the room, but the sense of rushed closeness to the fight helps the audience get into Atlanna’s mind as she desperately fights to keep her loved ones safe. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the movie is also filled with grand battles between armies with varying aesthetics and fighting styles that feels ripped straight out of Lord of the Rings. Not only does each Atlantean kingdom have a distinct combat style, but they all utilize different creatures in battle so the audience can internalize even more characteristics from each group.

The movie goes out of its way to weave in a bunch of interesting figures from each of Atlantis’ seven distinct kingdoms, but all of the characters fall flat compared to Mamoa’s boisterous Aquaman. Mera is an interesting individual who finds herself in a dangerous situation, torn between doing what’s right and defending her family, but unfortunately, Heard’s performance doesn’t quite bring the level of emotional vulnerability and intensity needed for the complex role. Willem Dafoe turns in his best Willem Dafoe impression as Vulko, a long-term mentor and ally of Arthur’s who fortunately gets more screen time than Robin Wright’s comparable character in Wonder Woman.

Before Justice League introduced mainstream audiences to a more hard-core version of Atlantis’ King, Aquaman was considered somewhat of a joke by mainstream audiences. To circumvent that situation, this movie dials up Arthur Curry’s no-nonsense antics, essentially embedding the character with Mamoa’s larger-than-life personality. He’s more than just someone who talks to fish. He’s the type of guy who gets along with bikers and doesn’t know that Pinocchio was a book first. Whereas the quips and humor may seem out of place in other superhero movies, they are the perfect match for Aquaman’s gruff, sarcastic behavior. Not only does his comedy serve as a nice palette cleanser throughout the film, but it also allows viewers to delve deeper into the character’s psyche. Curry isn’t just cracking jokes and scowling at others for no reason. He’s still pained by the loss of his mother as a child and coping to the best of his abilities.

Unfortunately, one of the funniest aspects of Aquaman was probably an accident. While Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Black Manta certainly appears formidable and deadly in his armor, the character comes across as one-dimensional instead of the menacing, intelligent villain he is in the comics. After David Kane and his father cross paths with Aquaman while trying to steal a submarine, Kane becomes obsessed with revenge and is willing to do anything to defeat the aquatic hero. Luckily, Black Manta isn’t the primary antagonist, but in a year that gave us conscious villains like Killmonger and wacky, unique ones like Ulysses Klaue, it’s too bad he comes across as so flat and singularly focused.

Aquaman Black Manta Yahya Abdul-Mateen II DC Comics

There have been a lot of superhero movies set on Earth — and even a few in space — but none have focused on the ocean to this extent. From a technical perspective, the feeling of being underwater is present throughout the entire movie. Characters don’t just stand still, they slowly float or tread water as their hair constantly moves around. Aquaman explores the dual nature of the ocean, a source of awe-inspiring beauty intermixed with a sense of dread and danger. The bright colors of Atlantis pop off the screen in contrast to the cold, darker tones associated with the trenches and lower levels of the ocean in a way that makes each setting feel distinct. By incorporating and exploring the different kingdoms of Atlantis, Aquaman’s design team was able to develop multiple worlds with similar features that still felt distinct while pointing to a larger shared history between each location.

In order to fully explore the separate tribes of Atlantis and establish their customs, Aquaman drags on a bit during the second act. Coming in at two hours and twenty-three minutes, the movie would have really benefited from being a bit more focused. While the fantasy elements in Aquaman certainly add to the film, the desire to build a massive world in one go holds the project back. While there are a lot of cool things left to explore in the inevitable sequel, fans could have been in for a real treat if they got to slowly learn about and see more of Atlantis over the course of multiple films, similar to how audiences slowly discovered different parts of Mordor as the Fellowship’s journey took them to new locations. Despite how much is packed into the film, it still felt rushed to reach its inevitable conclusion.

I know the word “fun” can be seen as a negative in these reviews, but it really is a great way to describe Aquaman. Sure, it drags on a little, but it’s an entertaining, thought-provoking film that does a great job leaning into the character’s fantasy elements. Yes, the world is in danger by the end of the film, but Aquaman focuses on societal changes and character growth instead of overemphasizing the action. After seeing this movie, no one will be able to make fun of the titular character for riding around on giant seahorses. Instead, everyone will know just how badass and intimidating Aquaman really is.

Final Score: 8/10

The 9 Best Things About ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’

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Red Dead Redemption 2Well, cowboys and cowgirls, Red Dead Redemption 2 is finally here. Eight years after the original title took the gaming world by storm, Rockstar is back with a prequel set ten years before the original. For people who like horses but may not want to ride them in real life, they’re in luck, because anyone who plays Red Dead Redemption 2 will be sitting on a horse for quite a while. As you pursue an outlaw life, jumping from town-to-town, players explore a world full of danger and excitement behind every corner.

Red Dead Redemption 2 has already broken pretty much every entertainment record imaginable. It’s had the most successful opening weekend for any entertainment product ever, so you don’t need to take my word on why this game is so good, just go look at the numbers. Underneath the massive, 60-hour story, is a beautiful world layered with complicated characters, powerful predators and painful memories. So, what are you waiting for, go jump on your horse and start playing this game!

Hit Next to discover the 9 Best Things about Red Dead Redemption 2!

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