The king of the seas has produced a much-needed crowning achievement for Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment.
“Aquaman” is not only WB/DC’s best film since “Wonder Woman,” but it also should easily be considered one of the best cinematic superhero offerings of 2018.
Yes, in the same year when Marvel Studios looked like Michael B. Jordan walking into a boxing ring with the undisputed title as best in the business of superhero films (thanks to billion-dollar-grossing movies “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War”), “Aquaman,” on the heroic chin of titular star Jason Momoa, shows that WB/DC stand tall as a worthy challenger.
Previously, WB/DC seemed to be rushing too fast to try to catch up with Marvel Studios' decade-long plan of an interconnected live-action superhero movie universe, leading to a couple of films (“Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Justice League”) that made even the most loyal of DC fans wonder whether the company could ever get it right in a post-Christopher Nolan world.
“Wonder Woman’s” success provided the hope that WB/DC could continue making films featuring other heroes outside of the Dark Knight and Man of Steel. “Justice League” whiffed at capitalizing on following that triumph, putting pressure on “Aquaman” to stop the floods of bad press.
“Aquaman” is boldly and brightly directed by James Wan. Everything that has ailed WB/DC films in the “Justice League” era — too much darkness, bland dialogue, heroes who have mothers with the same first name — none of that is here. When watching “Aquaman,” it feels as if WB/DC was determined to fix a mess of their making, learning from “Wonder Woman’s” brilliance and expanding upon it.
There was a treasure trove of movie-worthy material to dive into from the pages of Aquaman’s DC Comics adventures, primarily the fan-favorite run of writer Geoff Johns, who is a co-writer/executive producer on “Aquaman.” A bastard prince born of two worlds who’s convinced he’s an unworthy outsider. An adventure mostly spent underwater. The secrets of the sea kingdom of Atlantis. It was all there for the taking, and Wan appears to have said, “Let’s use it all.”
If you’ve been loving what’s been going on in Aquaman comics over the past few years, from Johns’s New 52 run to the “Rebirth” writings of Dan Abnett, it will be impossible for you to not enjoy this film.
So much of any superhero movie is the suit. But “Aquaman” is partly powered by the fact that Momoa doesn’t need his. He spends a decent amount of the movie in civilian duds, and you’re not desperately waiting for him to change into Aquaman. He doesn’t need a big letter or a bat on his chest. The first time he lifts a submarine over his head underwater, you know that’s Aquaman.
Momoa even makes talking to fish look cool. And kudos to the filmmakers for including Aquaman’s telepathic rings he uses to communicate with underwater life from the hero’s least flattering version of himself: the “Super Friends” cartoon.
As revealed in the trailers, Momoa does eventually get his classic orange-and-green Atlantean armored suit, but what isn’t shown is the surprisingly emotional path that leads to this trident-powered moment.
That may be “Aquaman’s” biggest reveal: This movie has a lot of heart. Every preview we’ve seen thus far has basked in the undeniable swag Momoa emits from just breathing. So, yes, there’s a lot of Aquaman screaming while jumping out of planes and tossing around bad guys as if they were feathers, while shirtless and smiling. He even chugs a few cold ones. But the journey taken by Momoa’s hero might bring about a few unexpected tears.
Vulko (Willem Dafoe) and Mera (Amber Heard), who both want to see Aquaman/Arthur Curry rise to take the throne of Atlantis, guide a stellar supporting cast of characters played by the likes of Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren and Temuera Morrison.
Atlantis is an incredibly imagined underwater utopia that beautifully illuminates even the darkest depths of the sea.
“Aquaman” also does a good job balancing its two villains — the hero’s half brother and ruler of Atlantis, Orm/Ocean Master (Patrick Wilson), and the antagonist every Aquaman fan knew absolutely had to be in this movie: Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).
Both bad guys look fantastic — serious props to the designer of their suits, which look as if they jumped out of an Aquaman comic panel, and Ocean Master’s mask is one of “Aquaman’s” coolest visuals. Ocean Master wants to see his threat to the Atlantis throne destroyed. Black Manta wants to gut Aquaman for a past personal matter between the two where Aquaman was less than merciful.
Both bad guys get their moments with their masks on, and their duels with Aquaman are superhero-movie eye candy at its best.
This is the movie fans always expected WB/DC to be capable of when they indicated they wanted to use their rich library of superheroes and deep pockets to attempt to match Marvel Studios. This film’s greatest achievement might be proving convincingly that the superhero movie genre is no longer a monopoly.
“Aquaman” is one of DC’s best films. We should all hope Warner Bros. and Wan want to take a few more deep dives into the sea.