A bonkers, wildly-imaginative Kaiju sci-fi/fantasy film w/ striking cinematography, epic scale, big emotion, strong villains, & badass Polynesian reinvention of DC’s classic sea hero, fueled by Momoa’s burly charm and Wan’s fresh direction. 8.5/10.
Plot Synopsis: Atlantis, once home to the most advanced civilization on Earth, is now an underwater kingdom ruled by the power-hungry King Orm. With a vast army at his disposal, Orm plans to conquer the remaining oceanic people — and then the surface world. Standing in his way is Aquaman, Orm’s half-human, half-Atlantean brother and true heir to the throne. With help from royal counselor Vulko, Aquaman must retrieve the legendary Trident of Atlan and embrace his destiny as protector of the deep.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
Review: Holy mackerel! Just got out of an early screening of Aquaman I was fortunate enough to attend, and I am absolutely blown away! I admittedly had no idea what to expect going in; Warner Bros.’ constant interfering with directors’ visions and ham-handed handling of the iconic franchise and superheroes of DC had given me pause, added to the character’s (admittedly) wonky history being the Justice League’s sort-of lackey and mostly laughed at by the comic book community for 75+ years (fish-talking, Mermaid Man, Big Bang Theory, Super Friends, etc.). But, we have all been shut up once and for all: Aquaman is now BADASS, and has a film that not only triumphs as a superhero film, but an adventure/fantasy film by ANY metric of what we go to the movies for.
Let’s start with the visuals. The cinematography is absolutely JAW-DROPPING, with epic shots playing on the character’s mythological roots and Kaiju-esque Star Wars/LoTR-like world-building. I found myself audibly wowing at the artistic painting-like shots and intricacy in details multiple times throughout the film, a feat I rarely ever catch myself doing. I might go as far to say that Aquaman might be the most visually-stunning superhero movie EVER produced, even more impressive when you consider the technological and CGI wizardry it took to create all of it underwater (bolstered by intricate, clever camerawork using classic techniques like long takes and revolving shots rarely if ever used on this scale but new and dazzlingly innovative). Wan is clearly the MVP here: his direction is clean and fresh stylistically with limitless imagination and big emotion sequences that drew cheers, laughs, and crying from the crowd spanning the full gamut of emotions we go to the movies for, proving his talent we saw glimpses of in The Conjuring & Saw but on a gargantuan career-making scale, with a cast of familiar faces and new talent.
Led by instantly-intimidating Game of Thrones-veteran Momoa, who showed some promise in his limited screentime in BvS and JL but steals the show on screen as a brilliant reinvention of the character no one is certainly laughing at any more, the cast is incredible. Momoa’s burly charm, important Polynesian cultural representation, sheer strength & presence, & snappy deliverance of lines make him a compelling, charismatic, and charming lead feeling strangely nostalgic to the classic hero but wholly new and freshly reimagined (+ reinvigorated) for the modern era. Amber Heard’s gorgeous Mera is a highlight as well in what will likely be the next Harley Quinn-like craze and a strong love interest/ship the audience can’t help but root for, that plays off satisfyingly in the unbelievable final act. One of the biggest benefits and most difficult tasks in huge-budget action films is hitting that sweet-spot of balance to deliver to everyone what they want, but Wan does precisely so with huge scale visuals only plausible with mountains of money, thrilling and crisply rendered and shot action, strong character development, romance, and huge emotion especially in Arthur’s parents’ romance that literally made people around me cry it was so emotional.
Furthermore, the villains of the film were everything I wanted and more. Patrick Wilson returns at Wan’s side is perhaps the most intriguing character in the film: the strong and imposing Ocean Master. His intrinsic motivations, skilled pulling-of-strings behind the scenes, and fight scenes in the legendary third act that stands as one of the greatest and most epic superhero final acts I’ve ever seen, make him one of the most compelling villains in superhero films in a long time and about as comic accurate a rendition as you can hope for to the AWG/ToA comic series and improved purple and silver imposing design. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Black Manta is phenomenal as well! One of the most iconic villains in the DC Universe and Legion of Doom, I was most looking forward to seeing him on the big screen since that first trailer. With strong predatory design impressively true to his iconic comic book-look & lore, thrilling action sequences like the encounter in Sicily (a sure bet for DCEU movies; Despite any other flaws they might have, if it has that DC badge on it, it ALWAYS delivers strong, powerful, and thrilling action sequences giving an overwhelmingly-epic feeling straight out of the comics and the most important thing to deliver in a superhero movie), great tech, and compelling backstory/motivations shown on screen from first encounter as a rarity in CBM’s.
In fact, the only major problem I have with the film is that he should’ve gotten more screen-time and fleshing out, with his exit feeling a little jarring & sudden after a good build-up only to not be seen for the rest of the film. Should he return (as it looks from that post-credits scene he will), this could be partially alleviated, but why tease him now if you’re going to focus another entire film on him – already showed a lot of his backstory and the suit plus a decent amount of build-up, it might get a bit tiresome if that’s the plan. There are other small problems, like some subpar music selections (looking at you Pitbull.. Rest of the scoring is great except that bizarre forced song) and some MCU-like humor (toilet gag, ‘swamp butt’, etc.) interjected at odd, flow-interrupting times in the occasionally slow-middle act. The balance is FAR better than any MCU movie though, where it’s a nice palette cleansing touch but not overbearing in the slightest and a middle-ground to keep audiences of all ages happy without alienating (much) adult fans either.
Overall, Aquaman is incredible and one of DC’s best films with WW, Man of Steel, and, of course, The Dark Knight. A wild, wet, bonkers-experience merging the character’s wonky past and old-school cartoon-like tone with visually jaw-dropping cinematography, epic Star Wars/LoTR-feeling scale + world-building, some of the most thrilling and crisp action sequences, a strong lead in Momoa doubling as important Polynesian cultural representation and genius modernization of a previously-laughed at character, great cast with gorgoeous love interest Mera, badass and compelling villains in Ocean Master & Black Manta, and an impressive cinematic balance achieved by Wan to deliver all of this while also mixing in big emotion sequences and an overwhelming sense of adventure and escapism that showcases why we go to the movies. 9/10.
Official CLC Score: 8.5/10