I am shocked at how much I liked AQUAMAN, the most recent DC Comics movie release, which got a digital release last week.
Aquaman is supposed to be a joke, right? He has been for most of my life. He’s the guy who talked to fishes on SUPER FRIENDS; who wasn’t really able to do much of anything in most battles with the rest of the Justice League because his domain was under the water. What is he supposed to do in a fight in the midwest?
The jokes continued when the movie was announced, based off of his brief appearance in BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, but was really tempered by Jason Momoa’s turn as the King of the Seven Seas in JUSTICE LEAGUE. I probably should have known that Momoa’s charisma would help to make AQUAMAN watchable.
But the 2018 movie is more than just watchable. It’s a really fun story that relates the origin of Arthur Curry, a man who was born out of the union of an Atlantean queen and a lighthouse keeper.
The movie relies heavily, and appropriately, on themes based in Arthurian legend. Curry, considered an outsider to the kingdom of Atlantis because his mother eschewed an arranged marriage when she fell in love with Arther’s father, must retrieve an ancient weapon imbued with great power in order to overtake the throne from his brother, Orm. Arthur’s hesitant about it at first, wanting nothing to do with Atlantis after the underwater nation banished and killed his mother. But Orm’s desire to unite the underwater kingdoms, become the Ocean Master and bring war to the surface world for its history of polluting the seas pushes Aquaman to action.
I loved the portrayal of Arthur Curry here. I think, after JUSTICE LEAGUE, a lot of people figured Momoa’s Aquaman would be a brash surfer bro, full of bravado without much substance. And he certainly is, but it’s only one aspect of his character. While on the quest to retrieve King Atlan’s trident, Curry shows off his brains, as well, telling Mera that his father wanted him to read up. It’s a minor thing, but it showed that the character was capable of more than what he showed on the surface, leading him along to being the true king of Atlantis.
We also get a side plot detailing the origins of one of Aquaman’s other main enemies, the Black Manta. The Manta, a sea pirate, vows revenge on the Aquaman after Curry stops his posse from boarding a submarine and leaves Manta’s father for dead. He’s basically a less honorable version of Inigo Montoya from THE PRINCESS BRIDE. But his thirst for revenge against Aquaman is understandable, and that’s how some of the best villains are created.
The visuals for the movie are great, from the creation of the undersea kingdoms – and its denizens – to the jaunts on land to the Sahara and to Sicily. Making the underwater scenes stand out was going to be important to the quality of the film, maybe just as important as the story, and the filmmakers knocked this out of the park.
Most importantly, the characters looked like their comic book counterparts. Orm – the Ocean Master – and Black Manta are spitting images of their four-color alter egos. And while Aquaman isn’t a blond white guy, somehow Jason Momoa doesn’t look ridiculous in the orange shirt and green pants that is Arthur Curry’s traditional garb. Though it’s entirely possible that Momoa would manage to make any outfit look good. Next time, they should try and go with the gritty 1990s version of Aquaman, where he has a hook for a hand, and see if they can make that fly…
OK, maybe not…
I was most impressed with how comics-accurate Amber Heard’s Mera looked. From the ruby-red hair to the green bodysuit, Heard looked like she walked off the pages of a comic book. Mera’s romance with Aquaman is so central to the story and having the right person in the roll is important. Thankfully, Heard and Momoa had great chemistry together on screen.
As much as I loved the movie, there are a few things that I bumped on and couldn’t really get over. They were minor points, but they were there none-the-less.
The weirdest part was having Willem Dafoe cast as Vulko, trusted advisor to the king of Atlantis. While he serves as vizier for Orm, Vulko is secretly working with Arthur to prepare him to challenge his half-brother for the right to be king. Having Dafoe as a heroic figure is weird. He just looks like a villain, so it’s a little tough to reconcile that with his playing a good guy, trying to help the hero. And the scenes with a young Vulko training a young Arthur was just downright frightening, as they seemed to digitally de-age Dafoe. So creepy.
But that really is just a minor quibble. Overall, AQUAMAN was a ridiculously fun movie – maybe the best most fun DC Comics movie in recent history. If Warner Bros. produced more movies like this one, the films based on their comic book characters probably wouldn’t be so maligned.