AQUAMAN review

Aquaman stars Jason Momoa in the title role of Arthur Curry/Aquaman. The film also stars Amber Heard as Mera; Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe as Vulko; Temuera Morrison as Tom Curry; Dolph Lundgren as Nereus; Yahya Abdul-Mateen II  as Black Manta; with Patrick Wilson as Orm/Ocean Master; and Oscar winner Nicole Kidman as Atlanna.

The film is being produced by Peter Safran, with Zack Snyder, Deborah Snyder, Rob Cowan, Jon Berg and Geoff Johns serving as executive producers.

Synopsis

From Warner Bros. Pictures and director James Wan comes an acition-packed adventure that spans the vast, visually breathtaking underwater world of the seven seas, “Aquaman,” starring Jason Momoa in the title role. The film reveals the origin story of half-human, half-Atlantean Arthur Curry and takes him on the journey of his lifetime—one that will not only force him to face who he really is, but to discover if he is worthy of who he was born to be… a king.

Review

So here we are again. Another DC Films release, another anxious wait for fans as the embargo lifts and another nail biting wait to find out if James Wan has created a masterpiece or another entry to the DC pantheon which will be derided by critics and loved by fans.

Last night I was lucky enough to see Aquaman with a group of great DC fan friends. Thanks to Warner Bros. UK I can write this review with the piece of mind that Aquaman is, in fact, an excellent movie.

James Wan has been able to take the undersea worlds of DC and craft them into a unique action adventure movie which is entirely unique. As much as I want to call it swashbuckling due to all the water, very few buckles were actually swashed. Instead we see a movie so unique it would be difficult to find anything to compare it to.

In terms of comic book movies we haven’t seen anything this original since Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1. I’m not comparing them as movies. Just in terms of how they turn the genre on its head. The undersea experience of Aquaman is unlike any other committed to film.

The choice not to dunk the actors in huge water tanks was a stroke of genius. Instead of watching the cast moving in slow motion as they struggle to fight the current we’re greet with an incredibly fluid (pun intended) visual spectacle. 

Whilst the underwater scenes are CGI heavy, technology is only used to augment the physical performances of the actors themselves. So facial features remain completely intact and huge underwater battles are able to be recreated exactly as they would appear in the comics. 

It doesn’t take long to understand that Aquaman is a movie with huge scope. The bookend monologues by Jason Momoa frame the movie as a fairytale, the story of the love between an Atlantean (Nicole Kidman’s Atlanna) and a human (Temuera Morrison as Tom Curry). Framing the movie in that way allows Wan and writers David Leslie Johnson and Will Beall to go big with the rest of the story.

Our time on the surface world starts out small. We go through the origin story in the usual manner, flip-flopping between present day and flashback scenes. We see young Arthur at several stages in his life, all of which feel relevant and organic to the story. In particular the scene in the aquarium has much improved CGI from the trailers which was great to see.

Jumping forwards in the narrative to when Arthur and Mera travel to the Sahara desert and on to Sicily the world really opens up. The sprawling desert featuring some slightly shaky green screen but evokes classic movies like Indiana Jones with its practical set designs. Sicily brings us perhaps the most exciting action sequence in the movie, at least prior to the third act.

We’ve glimpsed the rooftop chase between Mera and the Atlantean guard in the trailers but this scene offers so much more in the movie. Running several minutes long the camera is continuously moving, yo-yoing between Arthur and Mera. It’s an exhilarating scene which also features Black Manta. It also cements Arthur and Mera as co-leads in the movie. She is no damsel in distress!

Moving beneath the waves Atlantis is visually stunning. There’s plenty of time in the 2hr 23mins runtime to visit the seven kingdoms of Atlantis. Each has its own visual flare. Standouts for me were easily the Trench which borrows from Wan’s horror roots and the Fishermen kingdom which is incredibly sleek.

The set and production design on Atlantean scenes is immense. From the high-end, sleek weaponry and suits or armour down to the arena where Arthur first battles Orm everything is unique. There are some classically designed stone structures which reflect Themyscira in Wonder Woman. But then there are also the various underwater craft which show how far the Atlantean’s have developed since disappearing underwater. The time and care taken to design the worlds of Aquaman is apparent on screen throughout.

Atlantis takes us from the 80s action adventure genre to something a lot more science fiction. It’s a seamless transition which is all part of the charm of Aquaman. It moves fluidly (there’s that pun again) through genres and tones without ever feeling contrived.

But it’s not just a well constructed narrative which makes this film so enticing. It has a real heart which comes from its casting. Momoa was done a disservice in Justice League. Thought Zack Snyder’s Arthur Curry was entertaining with James Wan at the helm he becomes a true hero.

Momoa is able to show a nuanced performance that I didn’t realise he was capable of. He carries this film, shared with Amber Heard, without any cause for concern.

Heard is equally explosive on camera. Mera is in no way de-powered or compromised in comparison to her comic book counterpart. She feels like an equal to Arthur and the movie is better for it. Aquaman doesn’t feel like a comic book movie for guys where the female audience are expected to ogle the male lead. This is a movie for anyone and everyone to enjoy.

There’s plenty of supporting cast to touch on so I’ll keep it brief. Willem Dafoe is entertaining as Vulko, he’s very much the straight guy/mentor but he plays it solidly. Kidman and Morrison are both well cast as Arthur’s parents. Morrison is the steadfast dad who you can’t help but like and Kidman, whilst breaking new ground for her career, is evidently committed to making Atlanna a strong, loving mother.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II was an excellent choice for Black Manta. Though his screen time is short he makes a huge impact on the movie thanks to the Sicily sequence. Wan and the writers do some excellent world building by having his story backup the main storyline of the film. There’s enough intrigue in the character for him to take over a lead villain in a sequel.

That leaves us with Patrick Wilson. Wilson essentially is Orm. During his scenes I almost entirely forgot I was watching a movie. There’s a tragedy to his character which Wilson perfectly encapsulates, he’s the second born son. The hatred he feels for Arthur is palpable and when he puts the Ocean Master suit on, especially the mask, I got chills. The relationship between the two is brilliantly translated from the comic to the big screen. 

The score, another Rupert Gregson-Williams affair, is excellent. Much like the movie is veers from classical to bombastic at the drop of a hat. It’s perfectly in-keeping with the rest of the movie and I can’t wait to hear is isolated.

The sign of a good score is when it complements rather than swamps the visuals. This is exactly what Gregson-Williams has achieved here.

Verdict

Aquaman is a huge triumph for DC Films. It strikes a perfect balance between comedic and dramatic elements and is able to evoke the feeling of watching a classic adventure movie for the first time.

Finally a suitable follow-up to Wonder Woman where all the conditions are in place to create a hugely enjoyable moviegoing experience.

9/10


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About Neil Vagg 3316 Articles
Neil is the GYCO Editorial Chief. He has a BA in Film & Tv and an MA in Scriptwriting; he currently works 9-5 as an office manager and 5-9 as a reviewer/web designer. He has been subscribing to comics for around nine years but has been reading them as long as he can remember. Favourite comics: Batman; Nightwing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and All New X-Men Favourite films: Batman (any apart from & Robin); Star Trek Generations, Underworld, Beetlejuice Favourite TV shows: Fringe; Buffy, Arrow, TBBT, Being Human UK and Star Trek TNG