There is no way of ignoring just how problematic the DC Expanded Universe films have been so far, with Justice League missing the beats on so many levels but the success of Wonder Woman has kept fans excited for more. From Justice League came the expectation of future standalone films featuring the other new members of the team with The Flash and Cyborg but it was Aquaman who has become the last hero standing to get his own film next to the sequel to Wonder Woman in 2019. So, it falls to Jason Mamoa as Arthur Curry to try and redeem the DCEU and for me, he does a bloody good job of it!
The story is set after the events of Justice League with a Russian submarine being attacked by pirates before Arthur appears and goes full hero mode kicking the pirates butts and saving the crew. This is a really solid and incredible opening with superb action and effects but also showing a far more grounded Arthur Curry that is far more like Jason Mamao himself than the Aquaman we saw in Justice League. There is just something very natural about the comedy which works so well with Mamoa from the one-liners he delivers to the physical comedy with just the look he gives to camera. This is a much more enjoyable version of Aquaman than then cocky arrogant and over the top surfer dude personality he had in Justice League which I am so relieved they pulled him back from for his own film as the beach party ‘dude’ Arthur Curry was more than annoying.
Going into Aquaman I was a little worried about how much the trailers may have spoiled things because the trailers were full of big set pieces from the film but I can happily say that though they did showcase quite a lot from the film, the film itself is a 145 minute rollercoaster of a film that throws so much at the audience that is staggering how much they have put into this first Aquaman big screen solo adventure. It is quite astonishing just how much of the Aquaman lore has been put in the film and it just keeps throwing things at you from fights to world building story to character story arcs, this film really is relentless at throwing things at the audience all the way through. Arthur Curry’s origin is told well at the start but so is the origins and history of Atlantis along with all the new characters introduced in the film.
It is crazy just how much lore is put to the audience especially with Atlantis as we learn about the first king, the current political landscape of all the Ocean Kingdoms, which is a lot to take in, even in over two hours of film. But we also get to see the origins of Black Manta and his desire for revenge on Arthur Curry from the opening action sequence in the game to learning about the relationship between his mother Queen Atlanta and his father leading to his refusal to accept or be a part of Atlantis. This is all of course designed to being the audience into the DC comic world of Aquaman and even though as a DC Fanboy I already knew most of this, it is delivered in a very clean way for new fans to learn and understand but because so much is dropped into the story, a younger audience may find it hard to keep track of it all with the use of flashbacks to Arthur’s childhood thrown into the beats of the story unfolding on the big screen.
But what is important and is sensibly always kept on top of the education into Atlantean life, is the journey of Arthur from hero to King of Atlantis. You understand his reluctance to want to help when Princess Mera appears before him to warn him that his half brother Orm, desires to become more than just the would be King of Atlantis, but to also become Ocean Master, someone with the power to command every army of the Kingdoms of Atlantis. His goal, to attack the surface world and take over the world, seeing them as weak and inferior who do nothing but attack and destroy the oceans with their pollution and hunting. Arthur must confront him and reclaim the throne if he is to put an end to his brother’s threat. This is a really standard super hero plot with a hero and a big bad guy to stop but Aquaman manages to take it to really quite epic levels with so much going on both in the story and on screen because as much story and lore is put into the film, there are so many fights and action sequences that it is close to exhausting to see our heroes constantly fighting.
Thankfully the action set pieces are amazing when you consider that a good amount of them all take place underwater that I would say if you have the chance to see this in IMAX then do so because the effects are mind blowing and the best special effects work WB Pictures has pulled off for the DCEU. Atlantis is so bright and colourful as we are introduced to it for the same first time that Arthur himself is seeing this iconic DC Comics place of legend with the technology of their vehicles and seeing all the different Kingdoms and their peoples come to life is a real thrill. The fight scenes are amazing as well with a great blend of live action stunts and special effects making each one a feast for the eyes that by the end of the film I was quite relieved to sit back and watch the credits roll just to catch my breath from it all.
As Arthur undertakes his journey to save both the world of man and Atlantis from the war his brother is determined to bring upon them, Aquaman uses so many different types of story telling along the way. You first have the classic super hero film then it becomes an adventure and treasure hunting film before throwing in some political drama and character roads of discovery which are all merged together, which is a very brave move but for me it all actually works tremendously well. That said, there is a whole section midway through that I feel could have been removed and the story would not have suffered from its removal and with so many action sequences and fights, the audience excitement for them can feel a little tired by the end. The final act almost falls flat story wise but still manages to round things off nicely. There is just the constant feeling that DC and WB have felt the need to literally put everything they can into this film to soft reboot the DCEU in a way by making this the epic film that Justice League should have been for fans.
I do have a few niggles such as with this story being set after Justice League there is a common-sense question about why Arthur does not put a call into Diana, Bruce and Clark and especially Clark, because with so much at stake and a war about to begin, why wouldn’t you call in the Justice League or the big guns like Superman. In fact, what is very noticeable is how much this film stays away from referring to the other heroes with Mera only mentioning that Arthur helped defeat Steppenwolf but then nothing about the other heroes are mentioned in any way, even once an attack on the surface takes place forcing Arthur to stop the possible war, even the battle armour he wore in Justice League’s big fight is no longer to be seen. I also feel that Black Manta could have been used in a far better way then how he was, though he was built up to be a very credible threat to Arthur he always feels like the side factor in the big plan of the film.
I thoroughly enjoyed Aquaman far more than previous DCEU films to date. It was big and loud and told it’s story well with a brilliant cast of actors who all brought their characters to life with a really fun and rewarding story for new fans and diehard DC fans alike. This really is a great popcorn film and a great way to end the year with over the holiday period. Aquaman is a big film and whilst there is an argument to be made about how over the top they went with the action and delivering Aquaman lore, this is the type of DC film I would want to see more of and if they could take this same approach and strength in visual effects to doing a Flashpoint film at some point, I would be beyond happy at the prospect. A lot of groundwork has been laid down here should the future of the DCEU continue from this point or even if they stick to doing solo character films.
I do have to say that Jason Mamoa is incredible as Aquaman, a character who has been seen as a joke character by far too many not knowledgeable in the character and his world. But Mamoa and this film have made Aquaman a tier 1 DC hero on the big screen and I would happily watch more adventures with him in the lead. I do wish that the same effort and detail to story telling that is here would have been the same formula that Justice League followed but it is positive to see that feedback and lessons have been learned from those mistakes. With Wonder Woman 84 and Shazam! Coming in 2019, I do hope we get to visit Arthur and Atlantis again.
So grab the largest bag of popcorn you can find, sit back and just enjoy what is a really fun comic book film that should have been how DCEU films should have been made all along. Bright, fun and bigger than life!
*There is a mid credits scene to wait for but after that you can head home, hopefully smiling*