Spoiler Talk: Aquaman – What worked and what didn’t

Beware, thar be Aquaman spoilers (and some nautical puns) ahead.

Aquaman has finally landed in theaters and has brought the most colorful/fun DCEU experience to date. While I’ve outlined or general thoughts of the film already, I wanted to dive in a bit deeper and discuss the film in greater detail than possible in a spoiler free review. Consider yourself warned, reading onward from here will expose you to various spoilers for the film.

What Worked

Jason Momoa as Aquaman.

Aquaman looks back over his shoulder

There’s no denying that Momoa looks like he’s having fun in the role and that is exactly the kind of performance the DCEU has been sorely lacking. Yes, there are stakes and serious moments in this film but unlike other actors/films in the DCEU, there’s fun being had too and a lot of that is due to Jason Momoa’s charisma. Not to mention he totally bucked the mainstream/pop-culture perception of Aquaman. Similarity, Amber Heard takes a hit-or-miss role and makes it into something more by sure willpower.

Aquaman’s ability to talk to fish saving the day

One of the most maligned super hero abilities of Aquaman has always been his ability to talk to fish and other sea life. Making that the power which ultimately allows him to literally summon an army of sea life to defend the Brine Kingdom (and the surface world) was the perfect way to handle it. This power goes from butt of jokes to “force to be reckoned” with in James Wann’s vision and completes the re-branding of Aquaman in pop-culture.

Black Manta is the villain we deserved

Black Manta

I know little of Aquaman’s comic lore/history but have always found the general design of Black Manta interesting. The film adaptation may be one of the best examples of staying as true as possible to the original design while also updating it we’ve seen in a comic book film. The characters motivations are also directly intertwined with Aquaman’s journey. I wanted more Black Manta and once again felt a character was underutilized in this film, which is why unfortunately Black Manta also makes the “What Didn’t Work” list below as well.

The Sicily action sequence

Aquaman jumps away from Black Manta's attack

Bright colors? Sunlight? Fun action sequence taking place in multiple locations with two different characters driving it? Black Manta appearing for the first time as Black Manta and laser-eyeing the hell out of the place? Yeah, this was all just plain fun and the exact kind of thing DC movie have generally lacked.

What Didn’t Worked

The movie’s 15 cold-opens.

Like a reverse Return of the King, Aquaman has several “cold opens” to start the film and as a result the first 30 minutes or so of the film are a total drag. We have Nicole Kidman as Arthur’s mother Queen Atlanna (said in such a way that it repeatedly sounded like her name was Queen Atlanta, which caused people to laugh every time her name was said on screen) meeting Arthur’s father. We have their love story and how she was forced back to Atlantis. Then we have Aquaman/Arthur boarding a sub during a pirate hijacking. Then we have an undersea meeting between two Atlantian kings to discuss the surface world that results in a stage attack to get King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren) to agree to go to war. Then we have Aquaman having personal time with his father before King Orm (Patrick Wilson) flooding the coast with garbage and ships as a “warning shot.” The final is what really gets the movie going with the rest all being back-story and set-up for what comes later.

Mera is basically just eye candy for half the film

Amber Heard as Mera

Much of Aquaman has Mera (Amber Heard) basically just standing around looking like she does in the photo you see here. Does she look amazing in a skin-tight suit and wet hair? Sure. Does this equal character development? Not a chance. While the film does go on to give her a bit more to do, the forced love story between her and Aquaman and her general uselessness in the first half were a bit underwhelming.

So many characters, so little time.

I have no idea who any of you are but I’m sure it’ll matter for a sequel

For a film coming in just under two and a half hours most characters are given little more than a fleeting introduction or background. Now any film is going to have a collection of characters that “film in the world” and we don’t need to get into Star Wars “everything and everyone has an origin story” level here, but something would be nice. The Fisherman King appears in about 30 seconds of film (and the award for the most criminally underutilized use of
Djimon Hounsou
goes to Aquaman) but we never get much of any background on who he is or why he matters. Same for the Brine King, who makes an “epic final stand’ that is a thing I guess.

Black Manta is a side attraction

As mentioned above and in the same vein as the last note, Black Manta is really just a side attraction to the main event. While I love that DC is trying to actually set up and develop a villain for the long game (not just showing up and then being immediately killed off, i.e. most Marvel films), Black Manta is the superior villain of this film and the only real action scene we get with him is one of the best of the film (the outdoor rooftop fight/flee scene that takes place in Sicily). In this the film is a victim of its’ own success: they do such a good job with Black Manta that when he just sort of disappears 1/3 of the way through the film it leaves the rest of the film feeling a bit emptier as a result.

World building

Atlantian sharks

Again, similar vein. So much is crammed into this movie as it tries to make us all experts on Atlantis and DC’s underwater kingdoms that nothing really sticks or is meaningful. Places and people are name dropped with such regularity and scenes that exist to do nothing but throw as much exposition at the audience as possible are plentiful. I wanted to know more about Atlantis but that’s a good thing. I don’t need everything shoveled down my throat on my first helping. It feels like they were worried they wouldn’t get a sequel to further flush out the world so they tried to do EVERYTHING in this one. And the movie suffered for it.

The story is forgettable if not a mess

Mera and Aquaman need to find a dead king’s trident to beat King Orm, which requires finding a lost city, then a bottle, then how to read the bottle then something something trench, something something release the Kraken, something something underwater battle. Oh and for some reason Orm has to sail around the entire ocean killing everyone to get them to join him? And Black Manta is angry at Aquaman for letting his father die after he murdered a bunch of people. There’s a lot going on and all of it feels a lot like chasing a mcguffin around the world.

The final “Epic” battle scene was meh

King Orm's forces attack the Brine King

This was the money shot from the trailer. Two giant ocean armies about to face off against each other in epic battle. One lead by King Orm and the other by… the Brine King? Yeah, the final battle sequence we see teased in the trailers is… well pretty much what you see in the trailers. The Brine King (who is only referenced but never shown prior) is defending himself from King Orm in this scene and it’s all over very quickly. Yes, Aquaman does swoop in with the literal ocean on his side as he commands an army of sea creatures to turn the tide of battle (I hate myself a bit for that), but at that stage all stakes feel gone and we know what the outcome will be. Is it cool? Yeah, but for something so seemingly epic this

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