After brief introductions in the superhero mashups Justice League and Batman v Superman, Jason Momoa finally gets his closeup as Aquaman in Warner Bros’ first stand-alone DC Comics character launch since Wonder Woman conquered the world two summers ago. Lacking the wit and style of that film, not to mention the dazzling star power of Gal Gadot, this guy is not really as much fun as that but thankfully doesn’t turn up all wet either. In other words Aquaman, under the guidance of a smart director in James Wan, delivers the goods expected by fans of the comic book creation and is fortunate to have the light touch Momoa brings to a role that easily could have been waterlogged in other hands (sorry for all the puns, but it’s just too easy).
Already this film has the markings of a smash hit this holiday season, having launched to huge numbers during the past two weeks in China, so I doubt this outing will be the last we see of Aquaman. That is not such a bad thing because visually this is a sumptuous enterprise indeed, with the underwater world of Atlantis enveloping Imax (where I saw it, and you should too) like no recent film has been able to do, at least not on this scale. Starting with the origin story of our hero, we see his beginnings as Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) runs from an arranged marriage and ends up in 1985 Massachusetts, where she emerges from the deep to engage in an affair with a local lighthouse keeper (Temeura Morrison). Out of this union comes Arthur, the future king, and we see as he grows into the strapping vision you would expect from the title of this film.
Soon he is thrust into the wondrous undersea kingdom of Atlantis run by King Orm (Patrick Wilson), who has his eye on conquering the various seven oceanic realms beneath the surface before hatching plans to take over the entire world, of course. Serving as a kind of mentor and guide for Arthur, though, is Vulko (Willem Dafoe), and there are others he has to deal with as well including Mera (Amber Heard), daughter of King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren), who rules over one of oceanic entities. There is also a determined fighter, Manta, in the mix; he is played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen — who, if you stick around for the end credits, you might get the idea will figure more heavily in the inevitable sequel.
Aquaman’s script by David Leslie Johnson-Goldrick and Will Beall looks like it got all the dialogue straight from the pages of the comic book, but at least Momoa knows how to make some of his lines sing. He has the knack to make the character fun, which is key in a movie that is drowning in action set pieces that, while entertaining, tend to be a bit of overkill. Among the supporting cast, Kidman is nicely ethereal here, but none of the others registers quite as well. Wilson pretty much plays his villainous king by the (comic) book, and Dafoe feels out of place, but maybe because I still have his brilliant Vincent Van Gogh (from At Eternity’s Gate) in my head and wasn’t ready for this paycheck role so hot on its heels.
The visual effects take the real star turn here, and Wan has delivered a gorgeous-looking undersea world to the big screen. It’s fun while it lasts, then it’s over until the next time.
Producers are Peter Safran and Rob Cowan, and they certainly haven’t cut corners in launching Aquaman’s solo movie career. Warner Bros. opens it stateside Friday. Check out my video review by clicking the link above.
Do you plan to see Aquaman? Let us know what you think.