Jason Momoa makes a big splash in DC’s latest blockbuster. Aquaman, a movie about a man who swims fast and talks to fish, is DC’s best superhero movie to date.
Following the events of last year’s Justice League, Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), the titular hero, ventures to Atlantis to dethrone his brother, King Orm (Patrick Wilson), who’s about to wage war on the surface world. After an initial coup attempt fails, Arthur must embark on a globetrotting adventure alongside Princess Mera (Amber Heard) to recover a magic trident that can only be wielded by the True King of Atlantis.
The story of Aquaman is mostly an excuse to take Arthur and Mera to fun locations, including the Sahara Desert, Sicily, and a Journey to the Center of the Earth-style island in “The Hidden Sea.” Luckily, the movie’s strongest element is its visuals, and each of these locations is stunningly realized (especially if you shell out for 3D or IMAX). Even more impressive are the scenes of various Atlantean Kingdoms – which act like ancient Greek city-states – which are all sprawling sunken metropoles, each with their own personality. The climactic fight of the movie takes place in a kingdom of crab-people near an underwater volcano and is an explosion of reds, blues, greens, and every color in between. It’s really a sight to behold, even before the armies arrive – including thousands of great white sharks, hundreds of underwater spaceships, a Kraken, and of course the crab-people themselves.
Aquaman is a ridiculous movie and mostly seems to realize this. In addition to its comic-book-absurd visuals, the film is chock-full of cliches – most of which are bookended by Momoa looking directly at the camera in a comical way – as well as several plot moments that stop making sense the moment you think about them. For example, at one point, an ancient Greek map from “before the Sahara was a desert” leads Arthur and Mera to a statue of Romulus in Sicily. Early in the movie, Arthur demonstrates the ability to communicate with marine life, only to gain that very same ability after attaining the magical trident. Probably the most outlandish thing in Aquaman occurs right at the beginning when a young Arthur talks to a great white shark in the Boston Aquarium. Obviously, there are no great white sharks in captivity, and certainly not in Boston.
Looking past the silliness of the movie, however, Aquaman is surprisingly well-acted. Momoa and Heard give off convincing chemistry, and deliver good if generic, performances in the lead roles. Wilson is an excellent villain, despite being mustache-twirlingly evil. Willem Dafoe and Dolph Lundgren stand out as Vulko and King Nereus, Orm’s most trusted advisors. However, the highlight of the movie is Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta, a pirate who crosses paths with Arthur early in the movie and spends the rest of the movie trying to get revenge on Aquaman.
Black Manta’s motivations are as flat as can be, but Abdul-Mateen turns these into certain conviction. However, far from a one-note villain, Black Manta’s storyline plays out similar to any number of superhero origin stories. At the beginning of the movie, a villain (Aquaman) causes him great tragedy, he vows revenge, makes some super friends (Orm), uses his connections and smarts to make a super suit, and finally faces off against his nemesis in a climactic battle. If Black Manta had defeated Aquaman and learned a lesson about “Great Responsibility,” he would be Spider-Man.
Between the well-realized, albeit cartoony characters, silly plot, and stunning visuals, Aquaman feels like a comic book. Despite taking itself a bit too seriously at times, Aquaman is a great end-of-year blockbuster.