Between the DC Expanded Universe and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, audiences have been treated to well over a dozen superhero origin stories in the last decade. While Marvel has dominated the big screen both in terms of film output and quality, Aquaman stands as the rising tide that could soon put the DCEU right on par with Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.
Aquaman tells the story of Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), a half-human, half-Atlantean who is drawn into a war between the undersea kingdom of Atlantis and the surface world. Curry’s half brother and reigning King of Atlantis, Orm (Patrick Wilson), is hell-bent on punishing humanity for the pollution they have caused to the world’s oceans, and Curry must embrace his true identity as the Aquaman in order to prevent his two worlds from destroying each other.
In Justice League, when audiences were first introduced to Momoa as Aquaman, he had to share screen time with half a dozen other heroes and never truly got the spotlight he deserved. His performance this time around proves what a missed opportunity that was. While Momoa’s comedic take on the character is oftentimes more Aqua-bro than Aqua-man, his lighthearted delivery is something that the DCEU has been lacking. Momoa’s swagger and happy-go-lucky attitude make him an absolute joy on screen. He is as perfect a fit for the role of Aquaman as any other actor playing a superhero for DC and Marvel.
Momoa’s supporting cast impresses as well. Nicole Kidman and Temuera Morrison provide the movie’s emotional foundation in their roles as the titular hero’s parents, Atlanna and Tom Curry, and Amber Heard demonstrates excellent chemistry with Momoa as the Atlantean princess Mera. Wilson also delivers the best performance as a villain that the DCEU has seen thus far, though the bar has been set quite low.
The character of Aquaman has been a sort of a running joke throughout the history of DC comics. Kids dream of having the power to fly like Superman or run at incredible speeds like the Flash—very few wish for the power to talk to fish. Aquaman is very self aware of this, as the movie often jokes about the less than titanic nature of its hero’s powers. While Justice League tried to make Aquaman seem tougher by putting him in a black and dark green outfit, in his first solo stint our hero is in his iconic (and ridiculous looking) orange and green comic book getup.
Ever since the success of Warner Bros.-produced The Dark Knight and the rest of the Christopher Nolan directed Batman trilogy, DC has been trying to differentiate its films from Marvel’s by being “darker.” This hasn’t quite had the effect they desired, as movies such as Man of Steel and Batman V Superman failed to find their footing on the path the Academy Award winning DC predecessor beat for them.
Aquaman director James Wan clearly learned from these mistakes, as he brings audiences the lightest picture in the DCEU to date, both in terms of story and color. The underwater setting of Atlantis is vibrant and full of neon pinks and blues that pop right off the screen. Credit is due to Aquaman’s visual effects staff, as the movie is easily one of the best looking superhero movies of all time.
At the end of the day, Aquaman is still a superhero origin story that suffers from the same clichés all other movies of the genre do: Audiences get cheeky one liners, flashbacks of a young Aquaman discovering his powers, and a character arc where the hero has to appreciate the value of their powers before they can truly become a hero. Unfortunately, from time to time these clichés become all too prevalent and take away from the unique story Aquaman has to offer.
While moviegoers might walk out of Aquaman simply pleased with yet another superhero origin movie done right, Aquaman is so much more than that. Aquaman is a sign of the new direction the DCEU is headed in, and brings with it the promise of a potential rebound for the struggling cinematic universe. Aquaman is different, bright, brave, and willing to push the envelope in ways its predecessors were too afraid to.
Featured Image by Warner Bros. Pictures