Jason Momoa and Warner Bros. are looking to make a splash with Aquaman, the first ever standalone outing for the DC Comics hero, under the direction of Conjuring universe creator James Wan. Taking a deep dive into a brand new and uncharted corner of the comic book movie universes in terms of big screen endeavors, Wan and company created something which thrives both on elements fans have seen before and with unique world-building and attitude.
First of all, Aquaman wisely distances itself from the rest of the DC movie universe. This is only possible because a huge portion of the film takes place underwater, leaving no question of why Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman don't get involved with a global-scale issue. The benefit of the film's wholly independent nature is that it allows Momoa's Arthur Curry to finally establish himself free of almost any universe-built continuity constraints. Moving at full-speed ahead with a tremendous amount of information to unpack, he does just that, as other characters blossom beside him.
Wan wisely used all of Momoa's strengths in this one, allowing him to dive in with an epic action-sequence for an introduction to the hero's true strengths. Momoa brings an impressive swagger few can contend with, steering clear of emotionally-heavy sequences where Momoa remains mostly untested.
The stand outs of Aquaman, aside from Momoa, are Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta and Patrick Wilson as Orm, the Ocean Master. Fans are going to left wanting more of Manta, whose story feels like a miniature and villainous version of 2008's Iron Man packed into a grander adventure. Meanwhile, Wilson's Ocean Master brings an understandable, yet villainous and compelling argument and performance to the table. Between the two of them, there are certainly vibes of Marvel's Black Panther within the narrative, but nothing substantial enough for the movie to be without a mostly-unique narrative.
Momoa's Arthur Curry and Amber Heard's Mera have a bit of a flat relationship on screen. Both actors and characters shine brightest when their not sharing the screen, often providing Heard with exciting beats where her character thrives in a solo-nature rather than trying to contend with the swag of the brutish Curry.
Beyond the characters, Aquaman is a big, big movie. Traveling through several of the seas' Kingdoms with ease, including a visually stunning and terrifying journey with the Trench, the DC universe is massively expanded as a story only comparable in scale to Lord of the Rings or Star Wars unfolds, with the individual and family-driven tone of an Indiana Jones keeps it grounded. It's a film the entire family can enjoy and watch without knowledge of any previous comic books, the movies about them, or anything within the realms.
Though the film is heavily computerized through most of its sequences, Wan and the effects team crafted underwater sequences seamlessly. The film is visually stunning, which earns the price of admission alone. This journey to Atlantis might be worth more than the average ticket price, in fact, as it provides a colorful world full of incredible and imaginative creatures -- with interesting characters and a fascinating narrative to match.
Heavy exposition crowds Aquaman through much of its first half. Awkwardly nuanced attempts at somewhat cartoon-ish humor are also present, making some of the water here a little unclear (often seeming as though certain bits of Aquaman were unsure which tone it wanted to commit to). However, each of Aquaman's flaws, are complimented by brilliant action-sequences, stylish swagger, and an epic, massive adventure, like the character himself.
Rating: 4 out of 5