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

Aquaman DC Comics Venom Trench James Wan Jason Momoa

Let 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’

Well, 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!

Discover the nine best things about Red Dead Redemption 2 below!

9. The Dialogue

Red Dead Redemption 2

Sure the game is beautiful and it’s fun to duel other outlaws, but what first pulls people into Red Dead Redemption 2 is the sharp writing and dialogue. Every character, from the protagonist Arthur Morgan or his colleagues in Dutch’s gang to the random interactive individuals the player bumps into, has sharp, unique dialogue. Despite the similarities between many characters, they all have something interesting to say and add to the world. More than just time-filler, the background conversations in this game often fill people in on the details of the world and give hints about other people’s backgrounds. Sitting down at a local saloon to play poker is more than just an entertaining way to lose some money, it’s also a way to collect information. Red Dead Redemption 2 takes place in a rough setting, so it’s fascinating to learn what people are thinking and stressing about at that time through their dialogue.

8. Open World

Red Dead Redemption 2

Instead of being restricted to one town, Red Dead Redemption 2 is an open world game in every way imaginable. Once the game loads up, there is no loading as the character traverses the massive map. Instead, the game seamlessly transitions from one area to the next as Arthur rides around on his horse. Then, once you finally settle on a town or a camp you like, the people are already walking around and talking, waiting for some interaction. Once this game boots up there is nothing that takes you out of the moment, giving the game a very fluid, life-like quality.

7. John Marston and the Gang

Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption became an immediate classic for many reasons. An incredible plot and slick game-play certainly helped, but part of why audiences truly connected with the classic game was the protagonist: John Marston. A former outlaw who has since found a new path, Marston is an ethical individual trying his best to survive as the west slowly transforms into an industrially controlled zone. Over the course of the first game, players truly grow alongside Marston and watch as he interacts with people from his past and hatches a plot to keep his family safe.

Red Dead Redemption 2 may be a prequel that sees players control a different character, Arthur Morgan, but that doesn’t mean Rockstar forgot about their original sweetheart. Marston is back, and this time he’s much younger, meaner and stupider as he’s still a young man trying to make his mark on the world. His family and many of the shady character’s he crosses in Red Dead Redemption are here too, giving audiences even more information about Marston and the way he likes to live his life. At the moment, Red Dead Redemption 2 seems to be setting Morgan and Marston up for some kind of confrontation, but I’m just happy to see the classic cowboy back after all these years.

6. Staying Alive

Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2 is more than just an intense single-player game, it’s also an RPG that makes players take care of themselves. It’s not enough simply to heal yourself, to stay at top performance, players have to make sure Arthur is constantly nourished and well-rested. Over fatigue is a big deal in this game, and if you find yourself too far away from your horse you may have to start foraging for food in order to make the long trek back.

Not only do players have to keep Arthur alive, but they also have to take care of their horse. It may sound tedious, but ensuring that the players horses are at top strength is an essential component of the game. No one in the west just jumped on a random horse and immediately bonded with them, it takes time to cultivate that relationship, and Red Dead Redemption 2 allows this simple, realistic side of the cowboy lifestyle to shine through.

5. Hunting Simulator

Red Dead Redemption 2

There are a lot of ways to entertain yourself in Red Dead Redemption 2′s massive world, but one of the most interesting things to do is go hunting. Whether your skinning animals to make money in town or finding something to eat for dinner, the game takes the act of hunting very seriously. Everything from foxes to grizzly bears are roaming this big world, and players need to stay alert as to where they are on the map or they may just cross a hungry predator. There are multiple levels to hunting in this game, including tracking and laying out bait, making it a long-process where players need to patiently stalk their prey instead of simply pointing their gun and shooting into the forest

4. Choose for Yourself: The Rockstar Formula

Red Dead Redemption 2

Like most games with a major story running through it, a lot of the character’s actions are predetermined. But, as with any Rockstar game, players can choose to cause a ruckus or follow society’s laws. One of the most enjoyable aspects of Grand Theft Auto is just letting loose and causing some trouble, and while the carnage isn’t nearly as destructive in Red Dead Redemption 2, running from the law is just as fun. Having a large bounty on your head may make things inconvenient in major cities, but it’s easy enough to pay it off at a local train station. What makes playing an outlaw so entertaining is that they get to be a hero on one day and a scoundrel on the next without feeling like they are abandoning their personalities.

3. The Beautiful Music

Red Dead Redemption 2

No game is complete without a beautiful soundscape, and Red Dead Redemption 2 has just that. Not only does it have a sprawling soundtrack that includes everyone from Willie Nelson to D’Angelo, but the score, recorded with over 100 artists, is wonderful. Woody Jackson, the composer on the original game, returned to score this new one and his pieces are as effective as ever. Whether you’re just riding around the country or engaged in a vicious shootout, the music is right there accompanying you, dragging out the intensity or serenity of each moment.

2. The Scope

Red Dead Redemption 2

As entertaining as Red Dead Redemption 2’s core story is- and this is speaking as someone who still hasn’t defeated the massive game- it’s really the side-missions and random interactions that make the game so enjoyable. Immersion is a word game critics and developers throw around a lot, but it is a central component of Red Dead Redemption 2. Whether you’re just walking around the town or riding your horse through the desert, odds are someone is going to talk to you and introduce you to another part of this massive world. Everyone here has a story and something worth saying, making the amount of content shoved in the game seem almost daunting. Sometimes it’s hard to choose which mission to continue because some of the side quests are equally or more compelling than the core story line. The game has 60 hours of story and over 500,000 lines of recorded dialogue, and this doesn’t even include the upcoming online mode that will keep players engaged long-after they’ve defeated the solo mode.

1. Getting Back on the Saddle

Red Dead Redemption 2

There have been some big releases for game franchises over the last few months with both Call of Duty and Assassins Creed introducing new titles. What makes Red Dead Redemption 2 so special is that this is the first time gamers have stepped back into this world. Sure, there was the Undead Zombie expansion for the original game, something that added hours worth of content to the game, but this is a brand new experience that seemingly elevates everything that made the first one so special.

Players may control Arthur Morgan this time around, but that doesn’t change much about the interactivity with this world. With the inclusion of cinematic mode, it’s easy to truly get lost in Red Dead Redemption 2 as Arthur gallops across the plains. Whether you’re taking in the sites, playing some poker in the local saloon or looking for trouble on the road, it’s just so damn fun getting back into the cowboy mindset.