It’s time to look at DC’s latest superhero movie in their cinematic universe. The universe got off to a rough start with its first few titles not quite hitting it out of the park like you would expect. Man of Steel, Batman V Superman, and Justice League were all superb films. It wasn’t the quality that was lacking, but for some reason people just weren’t giving it great reviews. They simply weren’t ready for it. Whether this is due to smear campaigning by Marvel and its fans, fans just preferring more of a comedy/action blend for their CBMs, or something else, it is what it is. DC was forced to undergo a change so for Wonder Woman and Suicide Squad they went with Marvel’s approach and made the films more of a action/comedy hybrid. Gone were the darker, more thought provoking CBMs and we were more in line with the norm. In Wonder Woman’s case it succeeded and based on the films coming up it seems like DC will be sticking with this approach. Well, there’s nothing wrong with it. If it works for Marvel it can work for DC. Still, I think I will miss those original 3 films. (With Justice League’s original cut never quite being seen but what we got still had fair amount of its original identity I suppose) Aquaman is a solid film and if the rest are as good then DC will be in good hands.
The film starts off with a nice action scene as Aquaman’s mother Atlanna fights off a bunch of guards. I always think that a good way to spice up the origin story is by having the parents actually be secretly good fighters. In this case Atlanna is the one who does the fighting and she is quite good at it. It’s a nice way to start the movie and then she leaves to go back to Atlantis to die for her crimes of having a kid with a mere surface dweller. We then cut to the present where Aquaman has embraced his gifts as a defender of Earth. He grabs some drinks and saves people who are nearby. You could say that he is a local hero. That all changes when Mera shows up. She is the princess of Atlantis and explains to a reluctant Aquaman that the fate of the world hangs in the balance.
Atlantis is on the brink of war with Earth and if that happens then there will be big consequences. Most likely Earth would win since Superman could vaporize everyone, but that would be a last resort like the Snap and so by then everyone would have died. Aquaman must claim his birthright as King to put a stop to this. Can Aquaman really do this? He’ll have to put the bottle down and become something he’s always feared becoming. Something even greater than a king…a Super Hero!
It is said that films rise and fall on their supporting casts. It can be relatively easy to make a good main character (Not to trivialize this. Good writing is key to any character) but creating good supporting characters is a lot tougher. Particularly in a one shot film or the first in a series since they won’t get as much screen time as the lead and must be developed so that they are not simply walking tropes of characters with little personality. Fortunately, Aquaman does well in this area, especially as I am still not sold on Aquaman himself.
I will acknowledge that Aquaman is far improved from his portrayal in Justice League. There he was just very annoying and you almost wished that he wasn’t in it. Here we at least see why he became such a loud persona…even if that doesn’t make him much more tolerable. Here’s the problem with Aquaman, and he points this out himself. He’s good at beating people up and heading home. When that doesn’t work he is out of options and as he learns in this film, it usually isn’t enough. He loses in almost every fight that he gets into in Aquaman as the moral of the film is to fight creatively and to use his other gifts. It’s not Aquaman’s fault that he’s losing, but he takes the “not very smart” character a little far. He doesn’t seem as earnest or interesting as other leads. I won’t go as far as to call him a bad lead, but there’s nothing that makes him stand out. In a world of dynamic characters like Tony Stark, Bruce Wayne, Steve Rogers, and Clark Kent, there really isn’t any way for Aquaman to stand out. This is actually one of the few problems Justice League 2 may face. The trinity are rock solid, but the other members have a long way to go before they are all that good.
Backing up into the supporting lineup is where the true fighters are. Mere’s water manipulation abilities have always been very potent and the film illustrates why that is. She can shoot water with enough concussive blast to knock out an Atlantean. She can conjure up water from just about anywhere. If she is fighting someone underwater then there is no way she can lose. Mera could have easily beaten all of the enemies in the film, but the only reason she did not is because of the tribal traditions of the clan it wouldn’t have defused the war. As a result she needed Aquaman to help out. Still, Mera’s skills are never in doubt and she has to save him quite a few times. I’m already hoping that she will show up in Justice League 2 as she could hold her own against some of the villains.
Yes, this does force me to quickly sidetrack into one of the film’s weaknesses..the romance. The romance with Aquaman and Mera really feels undeserved and just falls flat. It all happens fairly quick with no real reason for them to pair up. It’s just there to check the box but cut the romance out and I don’t think anything would actually change. There just isn’t much to it. It could have been a lot worse so I’ll give the film credit for showing some restraint. Still, it should not have even been a factor.
Back to supporting characters. Vulko made for a pretty good mentor. While he isn’t the strongest fighter out there, he’s a good tactician and manages to keep the peace for as long as possible. He’s fortunate that Orm isn’t completely evil like other villains or he could have really been doomed. Meanwhile, Orm makes for a good villain. Villains don’t always need to have some tragic backstory or extra development to be good. Sometimes, they can simply be total villains with no reason for it and that works out well. Finally, you have the villains who believe they are fighting for a noble cause or that the ends justify the means. In Orm’s case, he makes a compelling argument for why war is needed. The humans have been polluting the oceans for a long time and show no signs of slowing down. If they don’t do anything then the war will be lost before it ever begins.
Of course, the Atlanteans could have at least tried to negotiate first. After all, as they point out several times the humans don’t even know they exist. Alerting them to this presence would at least open up a channel of dialogue. Then if the humans attack (and they will) the Atlanteans can counter and they will be within their rights. Still, as a backup option at least Orm is right that attacking now and sending a message will protect them from destruction. It’s not a heroic goal and Orm knows it, but protecting his people is his top concern. The film never shows him to be crazy, deluded, or ineffective. He’s on the wrong side, but otherwise he is a capable leader and that’s a good thing.
Then we have Nereus who is quick to join Orm’s cabal. It turns out that he is also looking for war and that’s reasonable. I do think he is quick to falter towards the end, but I suppose traditions are important. He’s not as cool as the other two big villains in the film, but he’s not bad. Then we have Black Manta who is the best of the villains. I’m all for a good villain revenge story. Most of the time it isn’t justified and can be a bit of a stretch in logic on the villain’s part, but regardless it makes for good motivation. Especially if the villain plays the long game and takes a long time to train and get stronger before seeking revenge. At that point, nothing will stop him/her from succeeding.
Sasuke Uchiha, Neo (RWBY), Broly, and many more. Villains whose whole ambitions have been turned to revenge over things done to them or their loved ones make for superb villains. It’s not a “Every villain who falls into this category is awesome) kind of thing, but if written well it’s hard to stop. A good way to sabotage this motive is to have the villain take it out on a target who isn’t a part of their revenge. If it’s someone getting in their way then that’s one thing. However, trying to attack the hero’s friends to get a reaction out of them is murky as it can make the villain a little hypocritical and can destroy whatever message they were trying to send. If they’ve got a problem with someone then that’s where it should stay. Manta blames Aquaman for murdering his father and is certainly right that it was murder. (He never goes after anyone else during this revenge tour which is important) Letting someone die when you can save them is only different from actively murdering the person in terms of scope. The latter is certainly putting you in as a bad guy while the former could be explained by a moment of cowardice or aggression. Naturally, those aren’t excusable, but I will concede that the latter is still worse just as a full lie is worse than a white lie. It’s all semantics though and at the end of the day I can see why Manta would want Aquaman dead. He does a good job gearing up for the second round and whenever he is on screen it’s a blast to watch. I look forward to seeing him in the sequel.
Atlanna is also a scene stealer whenever she shows up. Her role was handled extremely well and she gets the credit she deserves. While she may technically be lacking in raw power compared to Mera or Aquaman, she certainly makes up for this in talent and experience. You don’t get the idea that mother time has caught up to her. She’s older now, but still a fighter. Then we’ve also got the giant monster near the end who is quite solid. Honestly if the monster had died at the end I would have been pretty upset. Aquaman basically has him take a lot of extra hits which seemed to be causing a bit of effect towards the end. This monster seems pretty OP so it’ll be interesting to see how he is handled in future appearances.
I think that’s pretty much all of the big characters. It’s a nice roster as I mentioned earlier. As for the soundtrack, it’s less memorable than some of the other DC films but it wasn’t bad. I just seriously cannot think of any themes off the top of my head. As long as they weren’t bad then that’s the important thing I suppose. As for the writing, it’s decent to good. The characters are written well of course while the romance is lacking a bit. I do think that most of the jokes didn’t land though. At times the film tries a little hard to be funny, but doesn’t yet have the rapid fire dialogue that adds to the humor in some of the Marvel titles. It is naturally a tricky balance with the humor of course since there are no many different kinds. Unless it’s a dirty joke I wouldn’t dock the film any points for it. So, while the humor wasn’t the most effective, it doesn’t hurt my enjoyment of the film one way or the other here.
Naturally there is an after credits scene here. It’s very low key but not a bad scene. I think the problem is that with how great some of the previous after credits scenes have been over the years it’s hard to go back to simpler days. Still, this will always beat the alternative of not having such a scene and I do think the sequel should be pretty fun. Aquaman is also the kind of character who is pretty tough, but could certainly be beaten is taken by surprised or overwhelmed before getting to the water so this villain could be a legitimate threat. I was hoping for a Justice League stinger, but I think DC isn’t totally sure what to do with those characters as of yet so I don’t expect we will see Superman or Batman for a while. I’m hoping that at least Wonder Woman can still pop up from time to time to keep the group united and ready to fight though.
Overall, Aquaman is a solid film. It’s got a good amount of action and works out well as an origin film. Since Aquaman already showed up in Justice League at least the origin was relatively quick. The scenes that we did get weren’t too long which is always good. The pacing is on point and the supporting cast is solid. I won’t say that the film is amazing, but it’s a fun watch and has a good amount of replay value so you could certainly see it again. I think that is almost as important as being a good movie since a true “good” movie should be one that you can see more than once. If you haven’t checked this film out yet then I would recommend changing that.