If you walk out of Aquaman without a smile on your face, I’m 100% sure you’re absolutely no fun at parties.
First of all, full disclosure: If you’re looking for an objective review of Aquaman, this is not going to be it.
I spent my childhood watching the Batman and Superman animated series, and my teen years tuning into Justice League and Justice League: Unlimited. About 90% of my comic book collection is DC, with the remaining 10% being indie comics. I own every single DCEU film (yes, even Justice League), I think Batman v Superman is the greatest comic book movie, bar none, and I watched Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Wonder Woman at least four times each in theaters (and countless times at home).
So I was always going to be the type of person who was going to enjoy Aquaman.
But here’s the great thing about Aquaman: There is so damn much to enjoy and love about this movie, regardless of whether or not you’re a DC fan.
Are you looking for visual spectacle and batshit insane action scenes? Aquaman has that. Are you looking for a comic book come to life? Aquaman is that. Are you looking for badass female characters who are fully realized individuals on their own merit? Aquaman provides that. Are you looking for absurdly good (and sometimes just absurd) world building and high fantasy-esque type lore? Aquaman drowns you in that.
Are you looking for a Julie Andrews voiced kaiju? AQUAMAN GIFTS US THAT.
However, I’m not so much of a stan that I can’t admit the dialogue isn’t necessarily the strongest and the plot doesn’t break any comic book movie conventions or superhero tropes, but you’ll be so wrapped up in the journey and the spectacle that, at most, you’ll scoff or raise your eyebrow for a moment, then get swept away by the general splendor of things.
I didn’t do either of those things because I was riding the hype train the entire time — but if you’re less than 100% enthused about this movie, then you likely will and that’s totally fair. There are some silly lines of dialogue, some questionable pop songs and some clunky exposition…but also? This is an Aquaman movie and James Wan knew that, and rather than being ashamed of a character who has long been the butt of many jokes, he leaned into it. Hard. And with complete commitment.
He embraced the absurdity of the character and the world, turned both into a strength of the movie, and gifted us all with a film that is part ’80s action adventure tale, part B-movie sci-fi, part high fantasy, and 100% a good fucking time at the movies.
For those of you who are tired of superhero origin stories, you’ll be glad to know that Aquaman isn’t that. It isn’t about Arthur Curry finding out who and what he is, it isn’t about him choosing whether or not to use his powers; instead, Aquaman follows Arthur’s journey as he learns to accept who he is, embrace his role as hero and king, and kick a lot of ass (and look so very good shirtless) while doing it.
And while Aquaman’s visuals and world building have garnered a lot of very well deserved praise, I’ve also heard a lot of talk and read a lot of reviews about how Aquaman is all visual spectacle and not much else, when in fact, I found the film to have a very strong emotional core.
Maybe it’s because I’m a teacher (it’s definitely because I’m a teacher), but I found Arthur to be like that kid in class who pretends not to care about anything as a front for the fact that caring about things is often too painful for him to know how to deal with.
Arthur is a man who has grown up his entire life thinking it is his fault that his mother had to leave him and his father behind, that it is his fault his father walks to the end of the pier every sunrise in the hopes that she’ll return. He is a man who has to come to terms that he is an outsider above land and below it, who must learn to embrace both sides of himself in order to have peace — not just literal, physical peace between the ocean depths and the land above it, but peace within himself as well.
To that end, Jason Momoa does an absolutely fantastic, star-making turn as Arthur Curry, easily carrying the action sequences, the comedic scenes, and the emotionally charged moments on his very strong, very broad shoulders. He not only crafts a character you want to root for, he completely changes your entire mindset about who Aquaman is and what he can do. The Aquaman in this film is longer the butt of the joke, but a badass, epic hero you can count on to save the day.
Amber Heard’s Mera likewise does great work and has great chemistry with Arthur while also kicking ass and being badass. There have been many an interview with Amber Heard about how much she loves the fact that Mera is neither a derivative of Aquaman or a damsel in distress, but is a hero in her own right. You never once have the feeling that she needs Arthur to come in and save her (the exact opposite is true, in fact), and there’s one scene in particular where the use of her hydrokinesis made me whoop out loud in the theater.
And while Mera and Arthur are clearly the leads and spend most of the movie falling for one another, it is the love story between Nicole Kidman’s Atlanna and Temuera Morrison’s Thomas Curry that is the emotional beating heart which brought a few tears to my eye.
Of course, a comic book movie is only as good as its villain, and many a comic book film have been brought down by villains that are neither formidable enough for our heroes or whose motivations are so overly simplified that they are uninteresting.
Luckily, Patrick Wilson’s Orm and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Black Manta were both absolute standout characters on their own and formidable antagonists to Arthur Curry. Patrick Wilson’s Orm might be a little over the top for some, but to me, there’s really no such thing as over the top for a movie like Aquaman. With his glowering stare and just barely controlled rage, he acts as the perfect foil to Arthur’s laid back to the point of “IDGAF” approach to life, and a lifetime preparing for battle and to be the king means that he is more than capable of taking on Arthur despite Jason Momoa’s intimidating physicality.
Also, while his motivation for bringing a war to the surface is definitely rooted in his own lust for power, you also can’t deny the very real fact that Orm has understandable and even justifiable beef with the consistently terrible way us surface dwellers have treated the ocean depths.
Likewise, while Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Black Manta didn’t have too many scenes, what he does do is command every single scene he’s in. I won’t spoil too much about his character or his motivations, but I will say that his character represents something that I love about DC’s films — the sense of responsibility inherent to being a hero and the very real consequences that come from our choices.
Finally, I have to mention the world building and spectacular visuals because they both deserve all the praise and all superlatives you’ve likely been hearing.
James Wan and Jason Momoa both referred to the film as being Star Wars underwater, and I can honestly think of no better comparison nor higher compliment than to wholeheartedly agree with them. The scope of the underwater kingdoms is immersive and detailed, and I now fully understand why James Wan waited so long before revealing any part of Atlantis to us. I can only imagine the countless hours that the concept artists, vfx teams and animators had to put in to bring these fantastical locations to life.
James Wan said that part of the appeal of an Aquaman movie for him was in the world building, and that joy in getting to create his very own world is evident in the different locations, peoples and lore that we get to see throughout Aquaman.
In fact, my biggest complaint about the movie is that despite the nearly two and a half hours we spend watching it, I still felt like I didn’t get to spend enough time exploring Atlantis. It might be that I wanted less of a movie and more of an immersive 13-episode, hour-long HBO mini series, but I’ll take what I can get because what I got was so damn beautiful.
Even if you came to this movie for nothing else besides the visual spectacle and balls to the wall action scenes, you’d still come away completely satisfied.
Also, that third act? Prepare to have your mind blown with how epic and spectacular it is.
So, when it comes down to it, and if it’s at all important to you — where does it all rank?
If you loved what Zack Snyder did with Batman and Superman, then you’ll likely rank Aquaman behind both of those entries into the DC pantheon of films.
If you’re the type who thought that DC’s only good movie so far has been Wonder Woman, then Aquaman will either rank just behind that film or just above it, depending on how much you were feeling the epic mythos of Aquaman versus the more intimate storytelling of Wonder Woman.
Either way, if you go into Aquaman with an open mind, ready to have a whole hell of a lot of fun, you’ll absolutely get that. This movie gives back to you what you put into it, which is why I came out grinning and ready to watch 15 more sequels with Jason Momoa and Mera kicking ass, taking down bad guys, and kissing one another.
Bring on the sequel(s)!