Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren
Director: James Wan
Rating: 3 stars
Just when people were wondering if DCEU’s lone bright spot of Wonder Woman was a fluke, Aquaman’s standalone film comes as a breath of fresh air. Aquaman has been the butt of jokes ever since the animated series Super Friends started airing and DC has always found it challenging to write him as well as the rest of the DC bigwigs.
James Wan’s Aquaman, however, not only succeeds in establishing the character, but does so taking all these jokes in its stride. Take the scene early in the film where a young Arthur Curry talks to fish in an aquarium and he is bullied by elder kids for “talking to fish.” Not only is this scene self-aware, but it is also a brilliant Chekov’s Gun that comes into play later in the film.
Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is not the brightest lad on the planet. He doesn’t remember riddles that make up simple English words. He is emotional. He pines for the mother that left him to grow up on land and doesn’t understand why she won’t visit him. He is raw power.
On a sidenote, DC’s mommy trope works much better here than the infamous Martha scene. (DC: Mommy issues: Marvel's Daddy issues). Jason Momoa’s entry is the stuff Indian masala films reserve for their heroes, and with the guitar going crazy every single time his eye twitches, or he bares his perfectly-toned body just before he throws a punch, it makes all the subsequent scenes that much more whistle-worthy. But more than anything he is a reluctant hero who is earnest in what he does.
Even though he is raised by his father, Aquaman’s story is influenced by two women — his mother Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) and the princess of Xebel, Mera (Amber Heard). While the former is the reason for many of the characteristics previously listed, it is the latter who shapes Aquaman’s character and world view as the film progresses. Mera is possibly one of the best written women comic book characters in a film. She is a fighting queen, who does not need hand-holding. She saves the hero herself. But more than anything, it is her sense of duty that rubs off on Aquaman and through her, his moral compass changes as the film progresses.
Aquaman is possibly my favourite DC Origins movie since Batman Begins. It takes Geoff Johns’ (who has also penned the story for this film) Throne of Atlantis story and uses it creatively, establishing the bevy of characters who populate the oceans. Aquaman pushes all the boundaries of its genre while remaining true to the mythology of the character.
Wan channels his inner Spielberg in bringing an Indian Jones vibe as Arthur and Mera search for a game-changing item. Aquaman is also Star Wars meets Thor in imagining an entire world. But unlike Thor, which reserves each of its different realms for different films, we get why Atlantis is special with its seven kingdoms and how each of those are distinct from each other in one film itself.
There is one particular stretch in the last third that is stunning cinematography and directorial vision at their best. Wan brings his horror roots to the fore, playing with the colours red, black and blue in possibly my most favourite visual this year. This film was made for IMAX and it is one of those rare films that is worth the ticket price.
Aquaman is nearly two-and-a-half hours long, but aside from parts of the final Zack Synder-esque CGI fight, there’s rarely a moment that weighs it down. At a time when DCEU was gasping for breath, Aquaman spectacularly rescues it from drowning, and I can’t wait to see more of Atlantis.