Aquaman has made quite the splash financially but as is evident from the Transformers franchise, ticket sales does not a good movie make. So is Aquaman deserving of all the success or is it simply the among the best of the bad in the DCEU benefiting from a lack of theatrical competition?
You’d be forgivin if the majority of your experience with Aquaman is the painfully misunderstood and underutilized character of Super Friends fame. In these pop-culture versions of Aquaman he is effectively useless, even in the water, for much more than calling a whale for a ride. In terms of the mainstream audience, this is what most people know of Aquaman, meaning this film is their first real adventure to DC’s version of Atlantis. While on one hand overcoming this common perception is a hurdle it is also a benefit and they could effectively modify Aquaman’s origin as they saw fit and untimely create something akin to Thor Ragnarok, but underwater (and admittedly a bit less funny).
Why the Ragnarok comparison? Mostly for the color and humor present throughout the film. There is an action sequence that takes place during the day. Like actual sunlight and everything. There are also colors besides gray, blue and faded red for a change (with the ocean scenes providing plenty of visual splendor). Also similar to Ragnarok for the Marvel films, Aquaman feels like a shift in the tone for DC films. In short, like Ragnarok, Aquaman is a big dumb colorful adventure where the focus is on fun. Something that has been sorely lacking in the DC films to date.
Jason Momoa and Amber Heard are both incredibly charismatic as the leads as well. Momoa was a brilliant piece of casting as he immediately bucks the popular conception of the character. More importantly though he just seems to be having fun playing the character and that comes through. Basically the exact opposite of Cavill and Afleck. Amber Heard doesn’t get much more to do for the first hour or so of the film but look good in a skin-tight suit with wet hair but she makes the most of it (mostly by just being charismatic as hell); as the film proceeds her role in the story becomes more substantial though and eventually she feels less like a great tag-along.
Aquaman isn’t all sunny beaches though. The story of the film is scattered and quite frankly a mess that is all over the place. The film also moves with the break-neck speed of a film like Infinity War but only if you didn’t really know any of the characters in Infinity War. The film attempts to take on a lot, and does so mostly successfully (which is praiseworthy) but shoehorning in an origin story for Aquaman and the entire lore of Atlantis (and the other underwater kingdoms) results in thing such as multiple opening scenes (there really are at least 2-3 starts to the film) along with big pivotal scenes where some character we were introduced to 30 seconds ago makes a grand gesture. These overly stuffed/half-baked moments often leave the viewer fatigued (just get to the point) or wondering why you should care (who is this guy and why does it matter they are doing what they are doing?).
It is easy to say Aquaman is one of the best DCEU films to date (as the competition is notably lacking). Viewed in that framework Aquaman is great but viewed in the wider picture it is a somewhat forgettable super hero film that is only slightly better than average (if this were in the MCU it would fall somewhere between Iron man 2 and Thor: Dark World). Wonder Woman still holds the title of the best in DC’s mixed attempt to launch a shared universe (though repeat viewings have not been kind to Wonder Woman) but Aquaman does give reason to believe the DCEU could still be salvaged. If nothing else the visual feast in Aquaman finally gives you a good reason to catch a DCEU film in theaters.
Final Rating: 7.5/10
GoG Break Down:
How it was viewed: Theater
Running time: 2hr 22m
Recommend viewing: There’s enough spectacle to warrant a theater showing
Why you should see it: It’s a DC film that is actually fun and colorful
Why you shouldn’t see it: Don’t let low expectations fool you, this is only a slightly above average super hero romp.