Bold, ambitious, visually stunning, and wonderfully unique, James Wan’s Aquaman is one of the best comic book films of the year.
Aquaman starts off with a strong foundation of people on both sides of the camera. Led by director James Wan, writers David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beal, producers Geoff Johns and Zack Snyder, and an incredibly strong cast come together to create an epic adventure. The ever charismatic Jason Momoa plays the hero of Atlantis is and supported by Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison, and more. The film boasts strong performances all around, with great chemistry, strong acting and dedication to craft.
Aquaman tells the story of Arthur Curry reclaiming the throne and his birthright. It is a very fundamental story element that has been told countless times over centuries, yet continues to give way to unique elements. James Wan takes the story of a man claiming his throne while also channeling multiple different storytelling styles and settings, creating a truly epic adventure. Aquaman also tells the story of finding oneself, putting Arthur Curry on the Hero’s Journey that many DCEU films have borrowed from before. Aquaman is a man from two worlds, he feels betrayed by one, but disconnected from the other. Over the course of his life, he doesn’t have many people he can trust, thus becoming a loner and a drifter. Eventually, he stumbles into the events of 2017’s Justice League, which directly lead into this film. While Aquaman is the fifth entry into the DCEU, it does an incredible job being its own film while staying true to the visual style DC is known for. James Wan spoke on the need to make sure Aquaman was its own film with the focus on the titular character. Given that he never had the shine in his own tv series or movie, this was a golden opportunity to explore the world of Aquaman. Not only does Wan achieve this, but he does so in incredible fashion as the emotional core of Aquaman is the strongest element in the film.
Perhaps one of the greatest superhero castings of all time, Jason Momoa transcends the source material and perfectly embodies Arthur Curry, particularly towards the final third of the film. The idea of Aquaman being caught with two distinct identities, cultures, stories and pressures is brought to the forefront and presented as the primary themes. Momoa makes this element even more grounded due to his own biracial heritage. Credited to Zack Snyder’s impeccable hiring, a brown Aquaman is one of the best legacies of this cinematic universe. Jason Momoa’s native Hawaiian heritage bleeds into the film’s themes well as his family crest tattoos are on display throughout the film. While not from Momoa’s background, as a man of color myself, seeing an Aquaman of color lead the way is one of the most rewarding aspects of the film.
As mentioned above, the cast of Aquaman is one of the shining examples of the film. Alongside Momoa, Amber Heard plays a powerful warrior in Mera who is an equal match for Aquaman throughout the film. The villains of the film are all layered and strong in their performances and motivations. Both Patrick Wilson and Yahya Abdul-Mateen bring their A-game for Ocean Master and Black Manta. Wilson’s Orm has a message beyond the classic villain trope and aligns with the greatness of villains like Zod or Killmonger, both of whom fought for something other than themselves.
What James Wan brings to these larger than life characters is a very keen sense of human emotion. This is what grounds the spectacular action scenes, mythical plot and adventurous pacing. At the core, these characters represent very basic ideals. Whether it’s finding your place in the world, reclaiming your birthright, protecting your home at any cost or family being the true north star, each of these elements is woven into one of the most unique settings in cinema.
The visual effects of Aquaman are simply impeccable. Putting a film that takes place the majorly underwater is no easy task and James Wan delivers it in spades. Each moment feels stunning, larger than life and simply beautiful. From the underwater battles, attention to detail in specific Atlantian cultures and impeccable visual fluidity, Aquaman is a joy to watch. In other technical categories, the score of the film greatly enhanced the world around it. The gripes I had with this film are limited. Sandwiched between a great first act and a stunning third act was an okay second act. Strange music choices and an abundance of comedy hit too often and not everything landed smoothly. Nevertheless, Aquaman picks itself off after a rocky second act and begins one of the most spectacular third acts we’ve seen in a comic book film.
It’s difficult to compare Aquaman to any other comic book films because it’s so unique in its approach. At times, it’s an Indiana Jones-style adventure through the world, at other times it becomes a Kaiju filled sci-fi experience. The one thing that is consistent is that it feels like a comic book. James Wan created a comic book film that operates in the same visual flare that the books themselves display.
Aquaman is an amazing film and great entry into the DC Universe. A strong emotional core centered on family grounds the film as it takes the audience on a journey unlike any other. The film is visually spectacular, it carries moments that feel like they were ripped from the page and make the character of Aquaman the coolest he’s ever been. Jason Momoa shines, his supporting cast elevate the film to another level and the directing of James Wan is ever praiseworthy. In short, Aquaman is simply one of the most unique comic book films we’ve ever seen.