The DC Extended Universe has suffered very strong reactions from a lot of people. With Zack Snyder directing the majority of films in the anthology, most of DC’s big hitter ended up being critical blunders, with very few exceptions. Well, only one exception and that being Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman. Unlike Marvel, DC never released a film that created a worldwide phenomenon in the industry and never released a film that’s considered a masterpiece. Even Wonder Woman is regarded as just a solid comic book movie. All of DC’s chips were placed behind James Wan’s Aquaman in hopes of it standing aside Wonder Woman as another critically admired DC film. They BARELY passed with Aquaman from critics with it currently hovering in the 60 percentiles on Rotten Tomatoes and lingering in the ’50s from Metacritic. I expected to see what I heard: a strange, meandering heap of cinematic potpourri. What did I get? A damn good comic book movie that shattered my doubts.
This is a meaty film, running over two hours and twenty minutes. DC movies are typically wealthy in length, with their magnum opus, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice running over three hours, giving it the title as the longest superhero film to date. While the length of the movie threatens the narrative cohesiveness, Aquaman has the benefit of being an origin story of a surprisingly complex character with a dense universe. Yes, the superhero that inspired Spongebob’s Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy has a world that invested me. Perhaps that’s me being overly forgiving. After all, I really liked The Last Jedi after seeing it for the first time, but quickly changed my thoughts when I really thought about the movie and realized it was kind of a mess. Looking back on Aquaman after gathering my thoughts, the more I’m looking forward to seeing it again.
I both mean that in both the film’s quality and visuals because dear God this film is gorgeous. When you glance over at the drab and bleak atmosphere of Snyder’s films, Aquaman looks like the Wizard of Oz after Dorothy leaves her mother’s house after the tornado. That’s not to say I dislike the aesthetics of Snyder. I could respect what Snyder wanted to convey, it’s just a shame his scripts were about as comprehensible as my 14-year-old self’s “drama” novels. I could rant about Snyder all day, what matters most is that Aquaman is the future DC needs to embrace. The exuberance of Jason Momoa’s personality as Arthur Curry, a.k.a Aquaman should bleed into future films such as Wonder Woman 1984 and even the Joaquin Phoenix Joker film. Aquaman changes the tone of “trying to say something meaningful to emo kids near the pharmacy” to “chill the hell out and enjoy the ride”.
The critics claimed Aquaman wasn’t serious enough. I think it would have helped if the film’s marketing tried to balance the goofiness and serious nature of the film. However, if modern film journalists are adjudicating a film based on how the film is representative of its marketing campaign, that’s a problematic sign of the state of entertainment journalism today. Claiming Aquaman wasn’t serious enough would require people to rethink the vast majority of Marvel films. Arthur’s struggle in earning his title of Aquaman, finding his lost mother, winning the respect of Atlantis, and stopping his evil brother are all dramatic elements that were given a fair amount of screen time. The film gave the audience breathing room from the action sequences with character development and relationship growth between our main heroes and antagonists.
Yes, much of the dialogue is dedicated to exposition, but that’s necessary for a film meant to introduce audiences to a new world and cast of characters. Not many people know of Aquaman, just like how few people knew of Black Panther before that came out. We associate Aquaman with the parodies given to us by the likes of Robot Chicken or Saturday Night Live. This film didn’t craft a character I could sympathize with as deeply as, say, Miles Morales in Into the Spider-Verse. However, not all films need to be masterpieces audiences can fondly remember upon decades later, and Aquaman certainly has its own issues. The film becomes predictable in places and follows the tropes established by literally dozens of films prior to it, but superhero and film in general. It doesn’t push the envelope by any stretch of the imagination and to some, that’s enough for them to avoid seeing Aquaman and I’m fine with that.
Regardless of that, if you want to see a thoroughly enjoyable and beautifully shot film for the holiday break, Aquaman will be one of my top recommendations if you are tired of Spider-Man. The action sequences are worth the price of admission alone. The Sicily fight against Black Manta (a character I wish is developed more in future films) is one of the best battles I’ve seen in a live-action film. James Wan utilizes more single-track shots during busy sequences, and it feels like you’re watching an entertaining video game at times. The camera swoops from one location to the other to target different elements of the fight and nothing feels disorganized. The stunts and choreography are very impressive and I’d be a little outraged if it didn’t receive any nominations at the Oscars. Hey, at least the less impressive Black Panther movie got a best picture nod by the Golden Globes…sigh.
Yeah, I understand its cultural importance, especially in Hollywood, but can we please tone it down with the insurmountable praise for it? Without considering the cultural impact, Black Panther’s a pretty basic movie. It should be a highly respected film, but it’s not a masterpiece. Besides, Into the Spider-Verse has a person of Hispanic and African descent as a lead in a more grounded environment and it’s a far superior film. Too bad it wasn’t important enough to get a nod. Hell, I liked Aquaman more than BP due to the plentiful action sequences. The film ranges from one-on-one fights with colorful characters in a vibrant landscape to an epic war scene that refuses to settle down until the very end. The visual effects never deteriorate into a 2012 Xbox 360 game either and Atlantis is fucking stunning. The ancient architecture mixed in with the futuristic-fantasy technology is something seen before with Wakanda, but the world’s design is very unique.
Transportation is in the form of machines that look like aquatic creatures. Housing is in the form of metallic seashells. The main castle is in the shape of Aquaman’s emblem, the two-piece inverted trident. Atlantis massively differs from cities like Asgard or Knowhere from Guardians of the Galaxy, yet my eyes were dashing all over the place when the film toured the audience through Atlantis. I had fun just looking at the kingdom, and I never expected to say that in a mainstream DC movie. It was a similar reaction with Manhattan in Into the Spider-Verse. The visual spectacle of Aquaman is one thing, the awesome strength of Aquaman and the cast is another.
Speaking to fish was perpetually mocked by outsiders, but Arthur Curry summoned fucking armies of warrior fish and calmed down ferocious beasts and manipulated them with ease. Seeing Aquaman’s most ridiculed ability used in a bad-ass fashion really surprised me and solidified the character’s image as some sort of Poseidon-type god. The evolution of the villain, Ocean Master, was a sight to behold. His journey of conquering the diverse races of the seven seas developed his character and continuously offered insight into his motivations. He’s not a Killmonger or Thanos, mind you, but he’s definitely the strongest villain DC has made since the Joker in the Dark Knight. Mera also evoked badassery with her waterbending on steroids.
Aquaman sets a standard in what and what not to expect from comic book movies. Who knew we would live in an era where Superman and Batman get the worst films while Aquaman and Wonder Woman get the better films? Like Jason Momoa, Aquaman just wants to have some fun. It takes you on a huge, ambitious adventure and demands that you awe at its beauty. With remarkable cinematography, exciting action sequences, enjoyable characters, and gorgeous visuals, it’s hard for me to understand why people guffaw at this film. Well, it’s not like people took DC seriously in Hollywood, so maybe Aquaman will change that attitude. Yes, I just said that.
Aquaman is getting an 8/10 from me. This is the film I expected from Black Panther, and Black Panther is what I expected from Aquaman. I wanted an epic, fantasy adventure with incredible action set-pieces from Black Panther, but instead I got a rather simple origin story with some cool moments and a good villain. The film I wanted from February I happened to find in Christmas with Aquaman. While it’s a rather long film, Aquaman is the second best action-adventure superhero movie to enjoy over the remainder of your holiday weekend. (But seriously, see Spider-Man first)
News and feature writer for Sick Critic since 2017. Undergraduate studying English. Writes stories on: PlayStation news and analysis, general video game industry affairs, the film industry affairs, and the streaming wars.