Rolling with the lighthearted charms that The Flash brought to Justice League, the DC Extended Universe continues to trend up with Aquaman, doubling down on Marvel’s example by ditching its dark, brooding approach and having some fun.
A year removed from the first superhero-rich aping of The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, the studio’s answer to Thor tells of Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), son of lighthouse keeper Tom (Temuera Morrison, Jango Fett in Attack of the Clones) and Atlantis queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman).
A Robin Hood-type do-gooder on the high seas, Arthur has his chill existence interrupted when his younger brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) plots a war against the landfolk in order to restore the once-terrestrial city to its former standing, a move that princess Mera (Amber Heard) fears will result in many casualties on both sides.
And thus, she comes ashore to recruit Arthur to take up his rightful place on the throne, a mission he reluctantly accepts when tastes of Orm’s wrath — executed through one of the film’s numerous impressive set pieces — materialize above sea level.
In guiding Arthur and Mera on their appealing heroes journey, James Wan fares far better at the controls of a big-budget film than he did with Furious 7. The absence of Vin Diesel and his meathead cronies helps, as does getting to operate in a goofy underwater world where he and his effects team can accomplish pretty much whatever they desire.
Populated with a near overwhelming amount of creative production and character design, much of it filtered through the lens of water that adds an appealing sheen to the proceedings, this universe is further bolstered by multiple fights staged with a revolving camera that allows Momoa, Heard, Wilson, and even Kidman — or at least their stunt doubles — to get in on the thrilling combat.
All four embrace the film’s weird tone, with Arthur cracking intentional jokes and the seafolk — who also include Willem Dafoe and Dolph Lundgren — encouraging mirth as his straight-faced alien foils. The comic component and Momoa’s chiseled presence unsurprisingly solidifies his leading man status that’s likely to carry over into other endeavors, but the most pleasant result of the film’s success may be that, after two Insidious and Conjuring films, Wan’s fifth attempt to make Wilson a star may be the charm.
Pretty much the only thing keeping Aquaman from being the lean Marvel film to which is aspires is deep sea pirate Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, The Greatest Showman), whose entire arc could have been cut.
Badly handled from his cliché motivation to the unflattering insectoid suit he dons on his revenge quest against our hero, the would-be secondary villain is wildly ineffectual and the puzzling decision to bring him back for the sequel bodes poorly for Round Two, unless some major character overhaul occurs between now and then.
Grade: B. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande, and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Warner Bros.)