Aquaman
  • Aquaman Review
  • Starring: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, and Nicole Kidman
  • Directed by: James Wan
  • Rated PG-13

The DC Cinematic Universe has been uneven, to say the least. Maybe a large portion of the blame is shouldered by the company being owned by a large movie company. Marvel is owned by Disney, so that criticism falls a bit flat. Wherever the blame lies, the fact that just about every one of the movies in the series has been divisive cannot be argued. The one exception to the rule is the fantastic Wonder Woman from 2017.

The trailers for Aquaman, the newest entry into the series, and the first one to divorce itself almost completely from the overall plot arc of the rest of the series oozed style and humor; good signs for an end of the year action movie. The question would become, was this just good marketing, or was this movie going to be a genuine good time?

Story: The Backward Origin

In the accepted order of things, mostly set up by competitor Marvel Studios, heroes get an origin movie, and maybe a sequel or two before being inserted into the larger plot of the universe. Aquaman was introduced in Justice League, with very little backstory; viewers were just expected to know who he was or wait until his solo movie to fill in the blanks. This route was used with Wonder Woman who was in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice before getting her own solo movie. The difference between the two is that while Wonder Woman was placed before her appearance in BvS, Aquaman takes place after his introduction. This is kind of a strange way to introduce one of the tentpole characters in the DC universe. This actually works, as his role in Justice League brings a bit of fame to the character and makes it more likely that his people would come looking for him to help them with a brewing war between Atlantis and the Surface World.

The story of Aquaman deals with the character being the one true king, destined to unite the seven tribes of Atlantians which had scattered after the sinking of Atlantis. Many of the minute for minute beats are nothing new, but the movie is held up by the acting in the main characters.

Visual Design: Waterlogged Pop Art

There was a time when “Looking like a comic book” was something to be avoided in film as it was something that the general moviegoing public would not enjoy. As the years have passed, hewing closer to the source material has become more desirable. Aquaman looks just like the comic book from which the characters and story is based. The set design takes heavy inspiration from Ancient Greece and Rome from which the legend of Atlantis has been passed down through the ages. Film Atlantis was much more advanced than the rest of the world when the water rose and swallowed the nation. This allows the visual design to take the ancient inspirations and slam heavy sci-fi overtones to the architecture. The first shot of the Atlantian city is a gorgeous, long overhead shot which establishes the culture just as much as any scene of exposition in the film.

The design of the costumes flows into this aesthetic, lending the film a thematic cohesiveness which shows a directorial view that few major blockbusters can have. In the comic book world think Guardians of the Galaxy and how every story beat and character served to build a world that is alien to the filmgoer. Aquaman is a film with the same kind of cohesive world building.

Cinematography/Visual Effects: Style and Substance

Because of the type of movie that Aquaman is, it is just a given that much of what is shown on screen is generated by computers and not built in the real world. This means that much of the visuals could look cheesy and fake. The good news is that the visual effects are excellently done, and the viewer is not yanked out of the world due to that.

The cinematography is heavily stylized in a way which mostly accentuates the action happening on screen. There are very few times when a static camera is used, and the way that the film is shot adds interest to the film. There were a couple of times when the camera moved a bit strangely and caused a bit of disorientation, but nothing too bad.

What comic book movie would be complete without large-scale action scenes. Aquaman does not disappoint. The action is easy to follow and see what is going on, unlike some movies where it just seems like two computer blobs smashing together and nothing else is intelligible. Being able to understand what is going on allows for an emotional investment on the part of the viewer, and this leads to a highly satisfying conclusion to the film.

Directing: A Step into the Spotlight

James Wan has had a career that many directors would be jealous of. Breaking into the industry by directing the original Saw film, he quickly installed himself as one of the most visionary directors working in the horror genre. Eventually, he took the step to bigger action movies, directing an entry in the Fast and Furious series.

With Aquaman, Wan steps into his own as one of the biggest directors in the industry. He brings a steady hand to every aspect of the film. There is a thematic cohesion at play in Aquaman which is missing from many films. Every decision made on the film builds to creating one of the best action films of the year, and the beginning of a series that I hope can continue to bring the same kind of imaginative ideas.

A Movie and an Experience

Overall, Aquaman is a must-see for fans of not only the comic book or comic books in general but is highly recommended for fans of good movies. The story is nothing special, but every other piece of the film combines in such a way as to become a film that will stick with the viewer long after they leave the theater. Between this and the fantastic Wonder Woman, it seems that the future of the DC film universe looks bright for the first time. Aquaman is perhaps the first movie in the franchise which steps out as a film which is not trying to ape the latest Marvel movie. Highly Recommended.

THE GOOD
Visually Stunning
Great character acting
Well put together and cohesive whole
THE BAD
The story is nothing new
9
Superb

Review Summary

Overall, Aquaman is a must-see for fans of not only the comic book or comic books in general but is highly recommended for fans of good movies. The story is nothing special, but every other piece of the film combines in such a way as to become a film that will stick with the viewer long after they leave the theater. Between this and the fantastic Wonder Woman, it seems that the future of the DC film universe looks bright for the first time. Aquaman is perhaps the first movie in the franchise which steps out as a film which is not trying to ape the latest Marvel movie. Highly Recommended.

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