Aquaman Review: Swimmingly made visual extravaganza delivering a satisfying origins story
The film is possibly the best DC Origins movie since Batman Begins
Five years ago, when DC rebooted its film universe with Man of Steel, they had a huge monkey on their back - Christopher Nolan's commercial and critically successfully Batman Trilogy. Adding on to this pressure was the stupendous success of Marvel's Avengers (2012). While Man of Steel worked relatively well, with Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, DC went the Avengers way without establishing the characters the way Marvel did and last year's Justice League was the low point for the franchise. Just when people were wondering if DC'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. It is in this context that James Wan's Aquaman not only succeeds in establishing the character but does so taking in all the 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 also is a brilliant Chekov's Gun that comes to use much later in the film at an important point.
Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren
Director: James Wan
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: Marvel:: Mommy Issues: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's is the reason for many of the characteristics previously listed, it is the latter who shapes Aquaman's character and worldview as the film progresses. Mera is possibly one of the best-written women comic book characters for 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, Aquaman's moral compass changes, as the film progresses.
Aquaman is possibly my most favourite DC Origins movie since Batman Begins (and if we are to take Marvel, would say since that of X Men:Origins). 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. While movies try to be genre-defying, here is one that pushes all the boundaries of the genre it is in while remaining true to the mythology of the character. James Wan channels his inner Spielberg in bringing an Indian Jones vibe as Arthur and Mera search for a game-changing item and the film is all the better for it. The film is also Star Wars meets Thor in imagining an entire world. 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 is 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 its best. James Wan brings his horror roots to fore playing with the colours red, black and blue in possibly my most favourite visual scene this year. This film was made for IMAX and it is one of those rare films that can claim to be worth the money invested for the experience.
The film is nearly two-and-a-half hours long but aside from parts of the final fight that takes the Zack Synder-esque CGI route, this film rarely has 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.