The DCEU is no more, long live the rebranded Wolds of DC! James Wan transforms Aquaman from a punchline into a credible hero in an utterly bonkers yet highly entertaining movie.
From his infamous “is he holding his breath?” cameo in Batman v Superman, to his mishandling in Justice League, expectations weren’t exactly high for Aquaman’s solo movie. However, the lone selling point (to me at least) was The Conjuring’s James Wan sitting in the director’s chair. Having built a career helming effective low budget horrors such as Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring, Wan took a break from the genre to try his hand at blockbusters with Fast & Furious 7. Handling the tragic death of Paul Walker in a respectful and shocking emotional way, Wan proved he can handle big set pieces just as well as spooky.
Wonder Woman finally delivered a great film in the then titled DCEU, that was followed by Justice League which let’s be kind and call an utter mess. Aquaman takes a leaf out of Wonder Woman’s book, unburdening itself with connecting to or setting anything up, Aquaman is allowed to be its own thing, and it’s one crazy ride.
Plot-wise, there isn’t a whole lot going on here. Before she married her betrothed, Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) washed up on the shore during a violent storm in need of saving. Lighthouse keeper Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison) finds her, and before you can say “this isn’t going to end well”, Thomas and Atlanna fall in love and have a healthy baby boy, Arthur. A kick-ass fight scene later, and Atlanna leaves the sanctuary of the lighthouse to return to her underwater kingdom. Cut to present day, and Thomas still waits for her by the pier, and Arthur is splashing around being a local celebrity in such a relaxed manner you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s drunk.
Amber Heard’s Mara last seen offering teasing bits of set up in Justice League, is burdened with a whole lot of exposition in her dialogue, but thankfully she’s never made to be the damsel in distress. Mara is a warrior, equal to Aquaman; she is better-versed n the ways of Atlantis, and it’s mythology. Arthur is the fish out of water (under the water), and the two of them spark geniune chemistry.
The dude brah from Justice League is gone, Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry is still a cool customer, but he’s infinitely more likeable here than when we last saw him in action. Conceptually, Aquaman is a complicated character to get right owing to its previously hammy incarnations. Much like Wonder Woman, Aquaman finds a way to make the character work, and be taken seriously. While Wan is less successful than Patty Jenkins at grounding the titular hero in a world we recognise. I give James Wan credit for restricting the land-based action/decimation we’ve come to expect from the genre. Aside from a few memorable set pieces, the bulk of the action takes place underwater, and Wan serves up some remarkable visuals. Aside from some wobbly de-ageing at the beginning.
War sharks, mermaids, an Octopus playing the drums at a sunken gladiator Colosseum, these aren’t even the craziest things on display. Wan takes some risks with the set pieces, in fact, he throws just about everything at the screen, and while it all doesn’t quite work, it’s an admirable effort and one that takes Worlds of DC into fresh water.
Typically, the villain here is underdeveloped, and all the problems could have been sorted with a conversation, but Patrick Wilson’s Orm Marius warmongering is straight out of the Beginners Guide To Being A Comic Book Villain. A bit more plot and dialogue wouldn’t have been a bad thing, but Aquaman is a bright blockbuster that can sit proudly next to Wonder Woman as the second best of the current DC movie offerings. Bring on the sequel!!