I went into this movie with pretty low expectations. It wasn’t because I believed it was going to follow the poor ratings of previous DC movies, but because I thought it wouldn’t. If you have followed this site, then you know I am a fan of the Worlds of DC movies, regardless of their flaws. Read Worlds of DC: The cinematic universe that’s not that bad to see what I mean. However this is not a feeling most audience members share. My fear for Aquaman wasn’t that it was going to be bad, I was afraid it was going to be a manufactured success.
Before we get into the deeper meaning of that point, I want to flat-out say this movie was good. It not only survives the Snappening, but is one of the better DC films as well as an excellent movie in general. The 2018 blockbuster, Directed by James Wan, had an enormous task that it succeeded with flying vibrant colors. Since the character’s creation 77 years ago (by Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger) no one thought a solo film would be more well received than Batman and Superman. Not to mention the implications for what another failed film in the Worlds of DC could do to the franchise. This movie was an honest gamble and it paid off. A big part of that is owned to the fish man himself for the unique take on the character.
Ever since the announcement of Jason Momoa playing the first live action version of Arthur Currie on the big screen, people have been excited. One way to make the dorkiest Justice League member a smash hit is to make him the complete opposite. People like the alcoholic meat head, just ask Thor (we’ll get to that later). The entire cast is amazing. Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lungren, Temuera Morrison, and William Defoe brought the universe life with great supporting roles. Yahya Adbul-Mateen steals the show as the villain Black Manta. I sincerely hope we see the character again. Patrick Wilson gave me chills as Ocean Master, though working on DC movies and with James Wan in the past probably didn’t hurt. Not to mention that I can no longer think of Mera without thinking of Amber Heard. The entire cast did a great job making me feel like the movie was real, which is hard to do in such fantastical settings.
The real reason to see the film is the underwater visuals. I grinned like a little boy for the last 35 minutes of the movie because of a giant, Lord of the Rings style, battle with giant monsters, laser sharks, a burning volcano, and motherfucking crab people. I finally saw Crab People! I can die happy. Almost every shot of Atlantis looked stunning with its ultra vibrant color palette (which is actually explained in a clever way). Furthermore what the movie refuses to remain stagnant. We get a plethora of diverse locations. Beautiful cities, destroyed desert ruins, and mystical lands keep the audience constantly entertained. One of my favorite moments of the movie was the Trench. All I will say is that James Wan got to flex his horror movie background on that scene. The film looked amazing, had a great cast with a plot and story that made you care for the characters, and kept the audience entertained throughout…. So why did I have a sour taste in my mouth leaving the theater?
Everyone I know that saw Aquaman liked it. One friend even went as far as to say “finally DC, was that so hard?” and I think that’s what bothers me. Commercially the DC movies have been doing fine but in the eyes of sites like Rotten Tomatoes, they were disasters. We all know that DC has been struggling to compete with the cash cow that is the MCU. So, if you were at risk of tanking a multi-billion dollar franchise while your immediate competitor broke more and more records every day, what would you do? What I don’t like about Aquaman is that it is essentially a Marvel movie. Not only does it follow a very similar hero arc to half the MCU films, but it almost copies some moments shot for shot. An outsider challenging the ruler of a mystical kingdom for power (Black Panther). A meat head drunk with god like powers trying to get his magical weapon (Thor). A villain created by the hero’s self-righteous arrogance (Iron Man). That is just the surface. If you’ve seen the movie you can pick out so many more moments that will remind you of Marvel films. When a company sees that copying the mold is a direct link to success, it could corrupt the creative process. Like most people, I want variety.
The MCU has some amazing films, but it also has its restrictions. I’m not in any way saying that Marvel should change-up their style; I just think it should stay theirs. Fox had a few flops with the X-Men franchise but I could never see Deadpool or Logan starting with a Disney splash screen. Batman vs Superman and Suicide Squad were chastised for being too dark, but personally I like the contrast to the bright and childish Marvel movies. I hear people rooting for Marvel to get the rights for Spider-Man back, but I know I would never see films like Venom or Into the Spider-Verse again. Some creators need to be able to take risks. If we want the genre of “Superhero Movie” to survive, we have an obligation to hope for more than just the same origin story told with different skins.
Aquaman has a lot of positive traits but originality isn’t one of them. It is safe. They checked all the boxes and delivered something that was sure to make money. There isn’t anything I can directly point out and say “that makes it a bad movie” but I don’t see it standing the test of time either. The movies we remember 10, 20, 30 years from now are the movies that will go out of their way to make the audience feel something they have never felt before. I truly hope the Worlds of DC, as well as Arthur Currie, take more risks in the future, or else they will be a stagnant statistic mashed together with everything else that was successful enough around this time.
Movie watched and review written by: Troy Smith