…So why is Warner Bros only capable of telling good live action superhero films about royalty connected to Greek gods?…so far. Shazam! does look fun, but I want people bowing to Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa either at the Oscars or the next Comic Con. All Hail the King and Que…Princess. Now please don’t force them into a relationship.
As I’ve said previously, Aquaman was always a wild card for me in terms of DC comics movies, mainly stemming from the fact that, unlike Shazam!, Wonder Woman 1984, or Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (…really with that title? Uhg!), Aquaman had wrapped up filming prior to the release and bombing of Justice League, which began the whole course correction of their movie universe that’s been going on throughout the course of this year while, presumably, they stall for time until they can find someone to make that damn Flashpoint movie and retcon the first three films and Justice League out of existence and we can all move on with our lives and we can make those Batman and Nightwing films already. So, there was always some concern and while the trailers helped, we’d been burned before. While Wonder Woman had turned out good, we all remember what happened with both Suicide Squad and Justice League. Thankfully, this was more in line with Wonder Woman than the other two.
Years before, the Queen of Atlantis fell in love with a lighthouse keeper and they had a son named Arthur. When her people came after her, she was forced to abandon her family. In the present, a year after Justice League, Arthur has been going around saving people from pirates and disasters on the ocean. One day, Arthur’s half brother King Orm of Atlantis has begun gathering together the remaining five of seven underwater kingdoms to join into an army to declare war on the surface world. Princess Mera of one of the kingdoms, Xebel, goes to Arthur on the orders of his mother’s still loyal councillor, Vulko. Though initially not wanting anything to do with Atlantis for what they did to his mother, he later agrees when his father is put in danger. Now, he and Mera must find the lost trident of the first king, Atlan, to prove himself the true king and stop the war before Orm can gather the other kingdoms and become the Ocean Master, while also avoiding the pirate Black Manta who has his own score to settle with Arthur.
I will say this about the timeline, while it takes place a year after the events of Justice League and do state that the basic main plot of taking down Steppenwolf did happen, there are a few retcons from the solo Aquaman parts of those events, most notably Mera and Atlantis. It IS possible to watch this film on its own having never seen any of the others and, frankly, it’s a much better introduction to Arthur and his world. So, that’s nice.
What I really like about this story is the deeper meaning it’s managed to convey specifically by casting Jason Momoa in the title role. For those who don’t know, Aquaman is usually depicted as a blonde haired, blue eyed, white guy where as Momoa is half white (with some Native American) and half Hawaiian. Temuera Morrison, who plays his father, is of Māori (Native New Zealand) decent and his mother is played by the very very white Nicole Kidman. The main motive of his brother Orm, played by the equally very very white Patrick Wilson, for hating Arthur is that he is the “bastard half breed son” of their beloved Queen. Orm’s hatred for his brother is motivated by racism. Queen Atlanna is described as being “tainted” by the surface and Arthur’s father in particular, leading to her fate. While the half breed thing has been a thing in the comics for a while, using the casting to highlight it was a good thing to focus on. I should also point out that Arthur’s father is a lighthouse keeper, so there’s probably also some classism in there as well, but the racism is more explicit.
Also, for those who think we could take the undersea kingdoms if they attacked because there’s more of us…Ha! Ha! Their domain makes up 70% of the planet. WE’RE the minority!
A secondary motivation of Orm’s is environmentalism. The ocean kingdoms’ hatred for the surface is mostly rooted in, being superior sure, but also in the surface world keeps dumping its garbage into the ocean. The first thing they do in a prelude to war is sweep all the decades’ worth of garbage, waste, and crash transportation back onto the surface and there is a lot of it, mountains’ worth. It’s an understandable motive.
There’s even jabs at the patriarchy in this film. Atlanna left Arthur and his father because she was being forced into a marriage she didn’t want to a bad person and when she found someone she loved, she was dragged back to protect her real family. She may have loved Orm, but she hated his father and being bound to him by old traditions she couldn’t change because she wasn’t the King even though she was of royal blood.
While the animation is spotty at times, the designs are gorgeous. Atlantis is up there with Themyscira is terms of beauty. The different creature designs are creative and based heavily in Lovecraftian lore. Hey, James Wan is a horror director. And yes Virginia, there is a Cthulhu. It’s a female. And she’s voiced by Julie Andrews. Mary Poppins will eat your soul.
My friend Joe, who saw the film with me, pointed out that the film is basically Black Panther in reverse with Arthur taking the role as a more heroic Killmonger. Which…yeah, I can’t argue with that. This type of story is as old as time itself with several real life examples in history, though the more popular versions of this story might be some of Shakespeare’s work. A more benevolent version of this is The Tempest where a banished Duke schemes to restore his daughter’s rightful place in nobility by arranging a scenario to cause her marriage to the King’s son thus making her of a higher status than his usurping brother and nobody dies. Though the more famous straight forward version would probably be Macbeth or, if we want to be more modern, The Lion King (Based on Hamlet, I know, but that version actually has a winner in the end). Plus, it’s based off the story from the original New 52 comic so it technically predates Black Panther.
I like Jason Momoa here a lot more than I did in Justice League, yes I finally saw it, because it makes it clear that the ‘dude bro’ thing is more a coping mechanism and the film demonstrates that Arthur is actually very caring, particularly when it comes to his father, friendly, and intelligent. He just carries a grudge. Mera’s also a lot less angry than in Justice League, also why I think her parts were retconned out. She’s basically the co-lead. She has an equal stake in the outcome of the events of the film and is an active participant in most of the battles. The leads have reasons to not get along, mainly stemming from prejudice, and their personalities do clash, but the movie takes the time to show these two growing as people, getting along, and falling in love, even if they don’t get along at first. I actually really liked the villains. How much did I like them? They made me feel bad for them! Yeah, one’s a ruthless pirate and killer and one’s trying to wage war on the entire world, both with a personal vendetta against the lead, but I empathized with both of them. These are good villains. A huge improvement on the others, yes even Ares and Zod.
The side characters are all good, William DuFoe as the, surprisingly, not turn coat Vulko, Arthur’s parents’ romance is adorable and his mother is a grade A Badass, and though Black Manta’s dad is evil, they take the time to show how much he loves and cares about his son. That’s not even getting into the minor parts, some with cool designs.
The pacing has some issues, going from one place to another fairly quickly, but it’s coherent. I get how that can rub some people to wrong way, but I didn’t mind it. At least it was bright enough that I could see everything. No shaky cam in the action scenes is always nice and they’re well-choreographed fights, with some excellent parkour in spots. The technology used for the underwater scenes look amazing. Is there room for improvement? Sure, but for a first attempt, this was good. I really believed they were underwater.
Is this as good as Wonder Woman? …Eh. I think they’re kinda equal, though I’ll say Aquaman’s third act was better. It’s a good movie, a big improvement on the DC films, with even some improvements on Wonder Woman, though Wondy’s had better pacing. There’s no big philosophy at the end, instead it’s a large brawl combined with a one on one battle. The pacing’s a bit weird, but it’s a treasure hunt movie with a pending war as a ticking clock. CGI’s weird in spots but the designs and underwater effects are beautiful. The acting’s on par with Wonder Woman and the story is not afraid to be a comic book movie. I greatly enjoyed this movie.
You know what’s been the biggest problem for me with the whole DC vs Marvel movies thing? I’m not actually a Marvel fan. I like their movies, but that’s only because they’ve made very good movies. I grew up on DC. I love DC’s characters more. I love their shows. I love their animation, with one exception. My biggest problem with them have been their recent live action movies (barring Wonder Woman) and certain recent events in the comics. (Though, THANK YOU GOD, they finally remembered that Booster Gold and Ted Kord are supposed to be best friends and they put Harley Quinn back in her original outfit…now if only they didn’t have to hurt/kill so many of my favourite characters to make that happen. Stupid Wannabe Captain Atom screwing with the universe) Now with two good DC films in this series, and the course correction that went down before work on Shazam! began, we may be headed into a brighter future for the DC universe…possibly. I suppose that depends on whether Flashpoint or another Justice League/ Superman/ Batman movie comes first down the line.
If I could describe this movie, I’d quote the Ninth Doctor’s most famous quote. To actually say it would spoil parts of the movie, but those who know what I’m talking about will get it. I will comment on it with this: It makes me very surprised and very happy.