Review| Aquaman

Review| Aquaman

I have written many film analyses, but I am not a film critic. What I am is a film fanatic, a film creator, a life-long lover of story, and a nerd through and through. My thoughts laid out here come wholly from that perspective, and the same could be said from my other posts. I really wanted to preface with that before I dive in (see what I did there?) and explore the dreamy sea world of Aquaman. (This post does contain some spoilers).
The DCEU (DC Extended Universe) is constantly under fire from film critics. Some of it is warranted, but a lot of it is not. To put it in perspective, DCEU has six films compared to Marvel Studios’ 19+. When you look back at Marvel in the early years, they weren’t nearly as strong or as well-developed as they are now. It’s really only fair that we let DCEU get through its growing pains because it IS growing and evolving.
I don’t care for The Fast and the Furious franchise and I don’t watch typical horror films, so I have never seen a James Wan film until now. Having said that, I think the guy needs to tap into his obvious talent for telling a fantasy story. The world he created with Aquaman is nothing short of incredible. A lot of people have responded with saying how much this movie reached into their childhood imagination and painted a landscape we’ve never been able to experience on screen until now. This is very true for me. I have been obsessed with the sea for as long as I can remember, and this brought basically my every youthful dream to life. I was giddy the entire time and plagued my husband with girlish squeals of delight.
I am highly against an overuse of CGI, but obviously if you are doing a film that takes place largely underwater and involving a mythical world, you *need* CGI. One word being used to describe this film repeatedly is “bombastic.” Yes, it is. It must be. This is our first glimpse into Atlantis, into a world of mystery and wonder. You better let loose! I like how in the aquarium scene in the beginning of the film, we hear the tour guide comment that we know more about the landscape of Mars than we do our own ocean. This sets the tone for exploration, and we are explorers along for the ride.
Another word people are throwing around for this film is “ridiculous.” Of course, it is. It’s a fantasy. It’s about people who can live in the seas, have extraordinary powers, and fight for the title of “Ocean Master.” Are some of the mythological and other-worldly aspects outlandish or unbelievable? Absolutely! One of the strongest characteristics of this film is that, while it carries so many story beats we’ve heard and seen before, it breaks away from typical superhero conventions. We are fully immersed, excited, and eager to explore every new inch of this marvelous world. In a second installment, there likely won’t be as high an ostentatious note. So, for now, let’s revel in this vast, creative, and diverse realm under the sea.
With such vibrant and explosive set pieces, it could be easy for a film to forget its characters. This does not happen here. In fact, I was surprised by how small the core issues of the story are. It’s actually a pretty small and intimate story, which works very well against the backdrop I’ve described. The plot is this… Half-human, half-Atlantean Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) needs to get King Atlan’s trident to dethrone his brother and save the surface world from obliteration. The antagonistic family dynamic between Arthur and his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) is the core. I absolutely love Patrick Wilson in this role. He and Momoa are the perfect pair of opposites colliding on screen. These two men have been tailored to believe they are each other’s enemy, without really stopping to think about why. They also share a love for their mother—blaming each other for her execution, and deeply feeling the void of her absence. The mother presence between the two sons is one of my favorite things about the story. These hard men are really just boys who long to be truly loved, known, and understood by the woman who carried them into life.
In a frenetic, post-movie video response, I compared this film to Wonder Woman and said that I actually thought this film was better. That is the truth of the moment. I am a life-long Wonder Woman fan, I loved her since the days of Lynda Carter reruns and comic books. I am also a woman, so people kind of expect that I should just automatically be team Wonder Woman over anything else. First off, that kind of thinking is sexist in itself. The gender of my hero isn’t a deciding factor for me, it’s their world and character I care about. I adore the Wonder Woman film. I am all about Diana and Steve forever. It was a viewing experience in theaters I will never forget. I cried tears of joy… BUT, it does have some deficiencies and story aspects I felt Aquaman did more strongly, namely in the antagonists.
Whereas the villains in Wonder Woman (Ares and the band of Nazis) come off hokey and with kind of thin motivations, the antagonists in Aquaman don’t have those issues. Notice, I called them antagonists and not villains. This is because they aren’t true villains.
Along with Orm, there is David Kane, aka Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). David is a high seas scavenger. He roams the ocean with his father and a band of other pirates—pillaging and plundering, and yes, even killing, those who stand in his way. He is not a “good guy” by moral standards, but he loves his father and his family heritage. Apart from being two men who are torn between life on the land and life at sea, the appreciation and longing for heritage is something David and Arthur share.
Probably the strongest theme in this movie—besides the obvious family/identity theme—is mercy. When David and Arthur initially meet in the film’s first act, Arthur crashes their submarine raid and fights him head on. David’s father Jesse (interesting Biblical name lineage reference) attempts to kill Arthur without success and thus causes their section of the sub to flood. Jesse is trapped and David begs Arthur for help, for mercy. Arthur reminds him that they’ve killed innocent people and done terrible things, now they have to ask the sea for mercy. Though, we see that even as he walks away from them, he is conflicted about his execution of justice.
This moment actually reminds me of another DC hero…In Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, Batman makes a similar choice with Ra’s al Ghul—delivering his memorable “I’m not going to kill you…but I don’t have to save you” line. This stirs the ethical question, is merely “not killing” enough? Should heroes be heroes to all, even their enemies? From a Christian perspective, we are told to love our enemies, to bless those who hate and persecute us (Luke 6:27-31). This is a very tall order, especially when you know what your enemy has done, and you know they want to destroy you, but it’s a response that carries more power with it than any punishment ever could. Arthur begins his journey with the idea that he is here to punish the wicked, but learns through his encounters with his brother that it’s never as black and white as that. I won’t get into all of it because I want people to see this unfold in the movie, but the reiteration that mercy is the trait of a great man, whether king or commoner, is beautiful.
Aquaman is a singular cinematic experience that earns every second of it’s glorious 143-minute runtime. I am thrilled to see movies take the longer approach so that we can truly spend enough time with the world and its people. This ambitious visionary world is wrapped in a deliciously epic and synthy score, with a fantastic cast, the coolest Julie Andrews cameo ever, and colorful world-building to keep us on the edge of our seats. Go with childlike eyes and dreams in your heart and you will leave joyously.

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