It’s almost been a full year without any DC films as James Wan’s Aquaman is splashing into theaters. Wan is known for The Conjuring movies, as well as the Saw and Insidious franchises and is not stranger to producing small horror films for up and coming directors. As of writing this review, this has been the least dramatic DC production that we know of. Wan brings the Snyder cast Jason Mamoa to helm the film as Arthur Curry (aka Aquabrah), Amber Heard as Princess Mera, Nicole Kidman as Queen Atlanna, and Patrick Wilson as Ocean Master! While Wan has been able to deliver suspenseful horror films, his entries into action like this one and his “Fast and Furious” movie paint a different direction for an otherwise excellent filmmaker.
The film begins rather strangely as it feels like it’s missing a few frames to get to the point it actually starts. While an hour introduction to Arthur’s parents isn’t needed, the pacing of the setup felt needlessly rushed when it just had to introduce their love rather than force one to believe in their bond. We quickly fast forward to an adult Aquaman being solicited by Mera, who requires zero backstory apparently, to return to Atlantis to confront his half-brother Orm as his thirst for power is in Stage Three of the “generic ruler aiming to become king of everything” story arc. Without going to spoiler territory, it needs to be mentioned that every single time any two characters had any moment of quiet to themselves, something came exploding through a nearby wall. It happened so much in this film that it came off lazy. In moving through the plot, a lot of it relied on moving from place to place to find a certain artifact, but never properly emphasized the journey itself. Pacing left a lot to be desired as we moved from action set to piece to action set piece.
In moments away from the action, the script forced some really cheesy lines out of Aquaman. It’s not bad to integrate characteristics of an actor into the character, but the film tried way too hard to make him seem like the cool hip “come surf with me brah” stereotype that we already associate with Mamoa. Aside from that, Mamoa really hits his stride during the second half of the film when it finally learns to slow down and test the character’s resolve as he’s reluctantly thrown into this family conflict underwater. Walking out of the film, I can’t really say I got to know Arthur Curry as much as I got to know Aquaman. The supporting cast around Mamoa performed fine, with Patrick Wilson’s Ocean Master being a great departure from his usual roles, but there was no sense of familiarity developed between anyone. If you’re not a fan of the comics, you may not come out of this movie remembering everyone’s name.
Somewhere in here is a fantastic swashbuckling adventure with “Lord of the Rings” of “Game of Thrones” like drama. If anything, the world building in this movie is worth the price of admission. No kingdom in the seven seas is the same and the mythology built around Atlantis and the evolution of its underwater people is more fleshed out than the characters. The only issue there is that the film covered too much of the world doesn’t leave much for the eventual sequels. Don Burgess’ cinematography is also ahead of the pack leaving action scenes from “Justice League” and a handful of other superhero movies in the dust. It’s a shame that the final product feels…empty. While there isn’t much depth in this sea, it’s still an enjoyable and raises the bar from DC’s last CGI mustache-filled outing.