Arthur Curry finally gets his first solo live-action adventure in Aquaman, following his first major appearance in last year’s Justice League. While he is little more than a fun supporting character in the latter, Jason Momoa really shines as the title character and is thoroughly helped by a strong supporting cast. Although Aquaman does go on for a bit too long at two hours and 23 minutes, director James Wan, who’s worked on various genres of film, brings a sense of wonder and adrenaline-fueled adventures to life in an exciting way.
In trying to get away from an arranged marriage, Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) finds herself washed ashore. She is found by lighthouse keeper Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison) and nursed back to health. It isn’t long before the two fall in love and have a son, Arthur (Momoa), but Atlanna makes the decision to return to her underwater home of Atlantis after being attacked in hopes that they will no longer come after her family.
Years later, Arthur is angry at the Atlanteans for taking his mother away from him, but he’s drawn back into the world he’s never really known after his half-brother, King Orm (a threatening Patrick Wilson), threatens to wage war against the land dwellers for polluting their oceans. Mera (Amber Heard) comes ashore to convince Arthur that he needs to take his place as rightful king of Atlantis and stop Orm from killing millions of people and so they set out to do so.
James Wan really knows how to work in the characters around the CGI and the talking underwater effects, while occasionally hard to hear because it sounds like you’re listening to the characters from far away, does seem effortless and organic (as organic as people talking underwater can be, anyway). A master of action, the sequences in Aquaman are well-choreographed and exciting. The use of the characters riding sea animals sometimes looks a bit goofy, but the film leans into that and doesn’t really take itself seriously at all. If there’s one complaint it’s that sometimes the action scenes last too long.
Amber Heard’s Mera has passion for her people and to also do the right thing for Atlantis. After Wonder Woman, it was a growing concern that Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor got to be in a large part of the film because he was a man (a love interest role had rarely gotten as much to do as he had in a superhero film), so it’s nice to see Heard being afforded similar screen time and a chance to be a part of the larger narrative. She’s a big part of the action, the adventure, and in helping to bring peace and stopping King Orm from destroying everything. It’s a step up and honestly how every leading lady in every superhero film should be treated.
Jason Momoa’s Arthur/Aquaman is endearing and less of a stereotypical macho man than previously assumed. He has a sense of humor and is angry over the fact that his parents had to be split apart, but he also doesn’t have excessive pride that would stop him from listening to Mera and others who know more about what’s going on. There’s a distinct sense of charm about him and an air of cool, yet grounded, demeanor that draws you in. The film could’ve played up on the romance between Arthur and Mera a bit more, but at least they get a pretty epic first kiss.
The film is visually beautiful, the shots of Atlantis’ capital a gorgeous combination of shining lights and an array of unique architecture. The way the film explains the reasons behind why Atlantis is now underwater and what happened to the different kingdoms is interesting and creates a larger and more layered world. The script itself is overly simple, but Wan works to fill in those holes with other things throughout.
While the film prospers in many respects, its attempts to use and execute two villain stories creates somewhat of an imbalance. It’s clear that Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is essentially in the film to set up his reappearance in a potential sequel. It’s a smart move, but one that didn’t need to be dragged out for long beyond an introduction. There’s just too much going on and the split time between him and Orm lessens the former’s impact on the film and slows down a bit of the pacing. Still, Abdul-Mateen II does a great job with the very little he is given and he’ll hopefully get better material when he is the primary villain later on.
Aquaman is an underwater spectacle that wholeheartedly embraces its comic book roots, from the costumes to the cheesiness, and even gives some depth to the love story between Atlanna and Tom, which is surprising but very much welcome. It’s very much a fantastical adventure that finds the hero of the story having to accept and understand both sides of his family and where he comes from in order to come to terms with who he is and also become a better version of himself. Wan’s take on the superhero is fun and light and, with Momoa leading a strong cast, it’s a sea adventure worth watching.