Directed by: James Wan
Written by: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick & Will Beall
Starring: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
Filled with plenty of ideas but stubbornly refusing to explore any of them may be the best way to describe Aquaman. A film that feigns importance but simply wants to create an extravaganza. Something that I may criticize other films for but suddenly forgive for this film. It may be due to the fact that this film wants to be nothing but a massive computer-generated rock concert and while it may not be a dense film, I really enjoyed it.
Following the events of Justice League, Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) spends his time on land helping the people of his town until Mera (Amber Heard) informs him about the evil plan of his half-brother. Orm (Patrick Wilson) seeks to start a war with humanity because of the damage they are inflicting on the ocean.
The key to finding enjoyment in a film like Aquaman comes from the perspective you want to have entering the viewing experience. After seeing the trailer, the promotional material, and who the lead actor of the film is, I appropriately set my expectations. Those expectations meant not expecting this movie to be like another film that came out in 2018 that actually touched upon its themes of kingship like Black Panther but rather a messy fun time with surfer bro Jason Momoa. I mean the film has Willem Dafoe riding a shark, what more do you need?
I will give it some credit, however, with some of the messages it presented but did not dive deep into (get it?). For example, Orm’s purpose for going to war with humanity results from the way humanity has treated the oceans of the world. In reality, except for the whole war aspect of the plan, I side with Orm on that one. The intention may be noble but the execution contains the flaws, which would describe the objectives of many villains. As humans, we completely fail as stewards of the Earth and commit disgusting harm to the oceans with little regard to the wildlife that inhabits it. The idea certainly exists there but Aquaman did not have time to explore those conversations because the narrative wants to go on a treasure-hunting quest for some artifact that will make the titular character a king or something like that.
As a film, Aquaman sure feels like a surprising choice for director James Wan, but only continues to display his versatility. For a man who made his name in the world of horror, he really has craved the opportunity to flex his wings and try out new genres. He did that with Furious 7, and now with this film. He’s gone from small and compact horror films to arguably two of the most mindless franchises out there. He did, however, not forget his horror roots for this film and as a result, crafted the best scene of Arthur and Mera diving down into the Trench. He created a visual feast there that gave a bit of a thrilling respite from the rest of the plot.
A large part of Aquaman’s success comes down to how the world of Atlantis would look. It needs to become a kingdom worth fighting over and I think it looked fairly good. The mechanisms that made it possible for the characters to be talking underwater made sense or else there would just be bubbles everywhere. Many of the artificial sets have some flair to them that make them interesting. Oh, and did I mention that Willem Dafoe rides a shark at some point during the film?
Nothing about Aquaman can be labeled as remotely original by any stretch. You can literally pick pieces out of its story and see other films that did it much better but there’s something about this movie that I just really enjoyed. Perhaps it came from its attitude of shrugging off anything serious and just trying to be this loud and fun experience. Maybe I just watched it on the right day and it hit me at the right time. For all of its flaws, I enjoyed the escapist energy it has as it refuses to be anything remotely grounded. I think I figured it out, it all comes down to having Willem Dafoe riding a shark.