Aquaman: Sinks or Swims?

If there’s one hero who’s been the butt of all jokes in the superhero genre, it would be Aquaman. Orange and green tights, golden locks, wields a trident and talks to fish; it would seem the last hero Warner Bros. and DC should be promoting is Aquaman. Yet they did. And to the surprise of many, it can be called a success.  

Released Dec. 21, “Aquaman” swam into theaters amidst lots of expectations. Warner Bros.’ comic book films have been mixed bags as of late, with some exceptions, erring on the bad side of filmmaking. With “Aquaman,” directed by James Wan, they manages to turn the tables, producing an entertaining and vibrant action film, recently shown at the CFAC on April 6.

Born of a forbidden love between an Atlantean queen and a lighthouse keeper, Arthur Curry spends his time drinking and doing the odd heroic deed at sea as the Aquaman. When the ruler of Atlantis, King Orm, threatens war upon the land-dwelling world of humanity, Aquaman must seek a mystical weapon and challenge Orm for the throne and the fate of the world.

Much of the film’s appeal comes from the lead. Gone is the blonde Arthur Curry; this is the tan, dark-haired, tattooed surfer Arthur Curry, played by the hulking Jason Momoa of Game of Thrones fame. If any other actor read his lines, it would feel awkward and unbelievably cheesy. But Momoa’s charisma saves scenes from falling into that pit. When the film calls for it, he is great chops as an action hero. Momoa even does what many would think to be impossible: he makes the classic Aquaman suit look bad-ass. Amber Heard plays Mera, a princess from Atlantis and Arthur’s love interest. She gives a fine performance, though it is hard to say she really added anything special to the role. Patrick Wilson plays Orm, king of Atlantis and Arthur’s half-brother. Orm is One of the better crafted villains in the DC movie universe, Orm’s a powerful opponent, his motives are sympathetic, and his relationship to Arthur is an interesting dynamic.

“Aquaman” is a visual joyride from start to finish. The effects are gorgeous to look at and lead to some truly exquisite action sequences. Placing most of the action beneath the waves must have been a challenge for the filmmakers, but they did an outstanding job. The underwater settings are vibrant and wondrously fantastical, with elements of ocean life woven into Atlantean architecture and technology. Wan is known for his work in the horror film genre, and for one sequence in particular it really shows to great effect. The overall narrative of “Aquaman”  is fairly predictable, but there are a couple neat surprises along the way. When the movie goes for epic, it really feels epic. The story of this film really rests on the relationship of Arthur’s parents; if it doesn’t work, the movie falls apart. Fortunately, their romance is depicted in a way that grounds an outlandish movie.

The film moves at a brisk pace. It has to; it covers a lot of ground. It constantly jumps between locations across the globe, and that’s just to ensure each plot point gets covered. the story is jam-packed. So much so, there’s never a moment to unwind and unpack what’s happening. How best to describe “Aquaman”? It’s the setting of “The Little Mermaid” (Amber Heard’s hair as Mera gives Ariel a run for her money), mixed with the royal family drama of “Black Panther,” bound together with a story arc grafted from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” This breakneck pace leads to lacking character development among prominent side characters. They feel more like plot devices rather than actual people. If some of them weren’t played by such well-known actors, they would easily be forgotten. This movie is a part of a larger cinematic universe, and it does make references to it. However, it doesn’t fit into the narrative of the larger universe all that well. This could be seen as a strength or a weakness, depending on what the viewer is looking for. A not-so-underlying message “Aquaman” presents is the preservation of the oceans. A fine message, just one the film beats you over the head with at times.

“Aquaman” does the job for a big superhero blockbuster: it’s loud, explosive and exciting. The main story and characters are fine, especially Aquaman himself, but the packed narrative leaves most of the other characters by the wayside. Honestly, go see “Aquaman” for the action set pieces and Jason Momoa. Although, the true accomplishment this film achieved was turning Aquaman from a running joke to an impressive superhero.