Roaring at the skies, quipping wise, and handing out tanned hides. That was pretty much the role of Jason Momoa’s Aquaman in 2017’s Justice League. After a big-screen release late last year, Momoa’s Marine Marvel’s first solo film is now on the cusp of its home release, but is genre fave James Wan’s movie merely another fishy flop for Warner Brothers’ DC Extended Universe, or does the movie swim against the tide of criticism often levied at this shared cinematic ream?
Let’s first address the elephant in the room: that the DC Extended Universe has proven extremely problematic for Warner Brothers so far. It seems that even some of the most basic fundamentals of DC’s finest have been bungled for the most part, making it difficult for audiences both casual and hardcore to connect to some of the greatest figures in pop culture history. Here, it's the time of Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, to ride the waves of uncertainty as this half-man, half-Atlantean wrestles with his very destiny. You see, as a youngster, Arthur witnessed the romance of his human father Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison) and Atlantean mother Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) destroyed before his very eyes; his mother forced to return to Atlanta, where she was promptly sacrificed for her sins. In the years past, Arthur's half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) has gained power over Atlantis and now has plans for an all-out war against the surface-dwellers! When Mera (Amber Heard), Orm's bride-to-be, seeks out Arthur for help in preventing this war, it's down to the grizzled loner to finally decide on the man he wants to be.
Given the imagination of James Wan, the involvement of DC’s brilliant Geoff Johns, and the technology now available, many had hopes for something visually spectacular from Aquaman. And on that front, the movie doesn’t disappoint. This is a marvel to watch, with the Seven Seas being brought to glorious life in a way that feels both magical and mystical, yet also grim and unrelenting at certain points. Interestingly though, having spent so much time submerged, Aquaman also shines brilliantly upon taking the action to the surface, in particular during an Indiana Jones-esque trip to Italy that is a refreshing change of tone and palette. And then there are other moments that are nothing if not legitimate terror and horror, which we all know is certainly something that director James Wan is effortlessly at home with. Now while this all looked truly spectacular on the cinema screen, the 4K release of Aquaman is sheer and utter perfection; the 4K transfer of the feature standing up as one of the most visually jaw-dropping movies released to date on the 4K format.
In terms of performances, everyone here is pitch-perfect for what is needed. Despite many worrying that Momoa’s Aquaman was going to be a little too “yippe ki-yay”, what we actually get is a multi-layered Arthur Curry who we see develop and progress before our eyes. Sure, he’s not afraid to drink hard and punch harder while quipping wise, but there is huge character development for Arthur as the narrative begins to flow, giving us a look at his very real human flaws and his otherworldly god-like powers. Similarly, the supporting players all shine when given the spotlight; Patrick Wilson devouring scenery as Orm; Willem Dafoe brilliantly nuanced as Atlantean advisor Vulko; Yahya Abdul-Mateen II intensely menacing as Black Manta; Nicole Kidman utterly badass as Atlanna; and Temeura Morrison the emotional anchor of the picture. But the brightest star other than Momoa’s titular hero is Amber Heard’s Mera. Heard puts in a career best performance here, and, like Arthur, we see her character and path ever-changing as the movie progresses. Given how romance in superhero movies can so often feel ham-fisted, poorly-judged or simply outright cheesy, the chemistry and spark between Momoa and Heard comes across as natural, both in terms of performance and in terms of how the characters’ arcs intertwine.
Considering how much of a hard slog it has been to get through certain other DCEU movies, seeing a runtime of nearly 2 1/2 hours for Aquaman was a slightly daunting prospect. With that said, it’s testament to all involved that the movie never particularly lags or hits any major slump. Sure, there are obviously the slower paced moments, but they never feel overly drawn out or dull; instead serving to further the story on display. The end result is a strong, effective story that makes the Aquaman character feel like a genuinely big deal. And even more impressive, the film isn’t ever embarrassed by its titular character and his world, embracing so many of the comic book elements that some have often used to mock the King of Atlantis and making them work masterfully in this environment.
For the most part, Warners’ DC Extended Universe has been at best misjudged, at worst a total sham, but Aquaman proves that there is still hope for DC’s greatest heroes when placed in the rights hands. And make no mistake about it, James Wan, Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Geoff Johns et al are most certainly the right hands.
In the sea of DCEU efforts dished up so far, Wonder Woman has been rightly viewed as the best of the bunch. Is Aquaman as good as Patty Jenkins’ Gal Gadot-starrer? As good as, if not even better. This is a movie that’s a visual treat, has a delicate and well-paced narrative, isn’t afraid to offer up a dash of humour when needed, is bursting at the scenes through its high-octane action sequences, and is littered with performances that perfectly encapsulate the heart and the spirit in which this film was made.
A triumph. See this big ‘n’ loud as soon as you possibly can.
In terms of bonus material here, the 4K release and standard Blu-ray release are absolutely flooded with fascinating special features. Literally, anything that you wanted to know or explore about Aquaman is covered in the extensive featurettes included here, not to mention the exclusive sneak peek at the upcoming Shazam! is a welcome addition to what is an absolutely outstanding release.
AQUAMAN - 4K / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: JAMES WAN / SCREENPLAY: DAVID LESLIE JOHNSON-MCGOLDRICK, WILL BEALL, GEOFF JOHNS, JAMES WAN/ STARRING: JASON MOMOA, AMBER HEARD, PATRICK WILSON, WILLEM DAFOE, TEMUERA MORRISON, NICOLE KIDMAN / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 8TH