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Review: Aquaman (2018)

A wet and wild good time. 

Growing up, I had three favourite superheroes:

1. Batman, because duh.

2. Wonder Woman, because I love a powerful woman who doesn’t put up with any bullshit.

3. Aquaman, because I was obsessed with swimming, sea life, and the ocean.

I’ve had the privilege of seeing all of my favourite heroes come to life on the big screen. As a child of the 90s and early 2000s, I was spoiled with an abundance of fantastic Batman portrayals like Michael Keaton in Batman (1989), and Christian Bale in Batman Begins (2005). Then last year Gal Gadot solidified her’s as the definitive iteration of the Amazon princess in Wonder Woman (2017). Now Jason Momoa is bringing the King of the Seas to life in Aquaman (2018) and I have to say…Mr. Momoa, you did not disappoint.

Screen Shot 2018-12-21 at 11.20.00 PM
Credit: / Warner Bros. Pictures

The latest instalment in the DC Extended Universe, Aquaman follows the titular hero as he sets out to save the surface world from an impending war led by his half-brother Orm, the reigning King of Atlantis. Torn between his life on land and his birthright as the true king, Aquaman, real name Arthur Curry, is joined by Mera, princess of the neighbouring kingdom and a hero in her own right, on a quest to find a powerful trident which will allow Arthur to reclaim the throne.

As I went into the theatre, I was so hoping that the movie would be good. I have a great love for everything DC and with the exception of the phenomenal Wonder Woman, the movies in the DCEU have been underwhelming. Within the first two minutes, all of my fears vanished. Already, the movie was more hopeful, bright, and fun than any of the previous DCEU movies. Honestly, there were times I forgot that Aquaman was part of the infamously gritty and serious DCEU continuity because of how colourful and fantastical this movie was. Really, Aquaman is a fantasy adventure dressed up as a superhero movie and I’m not mad in the slightest. Just like Wonder Woman, it totally works. It’s a weird coincidence that the two best movies in the DCEU are based in fantasy, whereas the more “grounded and realistic” movies such as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Suicide Squad (2016) have been failures. Maybe that’s DC’s recipe for success: to hell with realism and allow for a surplus of balls to the wall craziness.

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Credit: / Warner Bros. Pictures

The magic trident, fantastic creatures, and globe-trotting quest certainly place the movie into the fantasy genre, but what really sells the whole thing is director James Wan’s breathtaking vision of Atlantis. It’s incredible. A world we’ve never seen on the big screen before, Wan’s creativity and imagination are on full-display as he fleshes out the entirety of this underwater civilization with spectacular results. It really made me want to re-visit Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) so you know it’s good. Wan deserves a lot of praise for this movie. Not only are superhero movies so common that it’s hard to stand out from the crowd, but Aquaman has been the butt of many a joke for years. Having him anchor his own solo movie seemed near-impossible. Wan’s film is winning simply because of its originality. From characters, to look, to feel, Aquaman is a breathe of fresh air in a bloated and repetitive genre. Arthur Curry’s story has never been told on the big screen before and it was refreshing not having to rehash an origin story we’ve seen a hundred times already. Cough, Thomas and Martha Wayne dying, cough. In this movie, we jump right into Aquaman being a hero. No agonizingly-long, “what? I’m an Atlantean and I have superpowers? Impossible!” montage. This being the first Aquaman movie is a huge plus for the movie. You get the sense with other DCEU projects featuring Superman and Batman, there was an unspoken pressure to emulate the brilliance of past iterations. Aquaman, however, has no past canon of movies to compare itself to and is therefore able to be wholly original, make its own rules, and do its own thing. It’s a winning combination that makes the movie all the more enjoyable.

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Credit: / Warner Bros. Pictures

The other major sources  of enjoyment are the perfectly cast leads. Like Gadot’s Wonder Woman, Momoa’s Aquaman may just be the definitive version of the character moving forward. Listen, Momoa really is the only actor who could have played Aquaman. When you’re dealing with a character who has spent decades being ridiculed, you need to hire someone you wouldn’t want to fuck with to play the live-action version. Just look at Jason Momoa. If he was my barista and accidentally gave me dirt instead of coffee, guess what? I’m drinking dirt. No way I’m telling him he made a mistake.

As Aquaman, Momoa walks the line between a troubled man dealing with his own inner turmoil, and a loose-cannon adventurer who loves to drink, punch bad guys, and hang out with his dad. He’s so entertaining to watch. Never taking himself too seriously, Momoa’s Aquaman is sure to win over the hearts of kids, teens, adults, and any parent who finds themselves wandering into the theatre.  Oh my God, you know who else is surprisingly amazing? Amber Heard as Mera! I say I’m surprised only because I fully expected the movie to make her into a love interest with nothing to do. Thankfully, not the case at all. Like I said, Mera is a hero in her own right, using her intellect, tenacity, and strength to stand on equal ground as Aquaman, often kicking more ass than he does. I’m totally down to have Mera be in the rest of the DCEU movies please. Have her team up with Wonder Woman! Give her her own movie! I’m ready for so much more Mera. As long as someone does something about her wig. Her wig was giving me some Ariel realness but my God…was it rough.

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Credit: / Warner Bros. Pictures

A superhero is only as good as his villains, and Aquaman delivers a double-helping of nasty, devious fun in Ocean Master and Black Manta. Patrick Wilson and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who play Ocean Master and Black Manta respectively, are magic. They bring their characters to life, giving them motivations and personalities that feel incredibly relatable and realistic. You understand where each antagonist is coming from and honestly, sometimes you’re almost on their side. That’s the true mark of a great villain. Don’t worry though. They’re still able to inflict terror and villainy that will put you right back on the side of Aquaman. Also, sidenote, but all of the characters in this movie, good and evil, look perfect. Each costume is a love letter to its cartoon counterpart while still managing to not look stupid or incredibly fake. I’m telling you this movie is the first I’ve seen in a long time that understood the balance between campy fun and serous action.

Screen Shot 2018-12-24 at 2.32.56 PM
Credit: / Warner Bros. Pictures

Aquaman really is a silly, fantastical, cheeseball adventure that actually turns out to be an enjoyable and visually-dazzling thrill-ride filled with endearing heroes and menacing villains. Easily the second best movie in the DCEU and one of my favourite superhero movies of the year, Aquaman is everything you’d expect with a few added pleasures. Spending almost an entire movie underwater isn’t nauseating to look at! Sure, there are times when the movie’s earnest attempts at comedy don’t land, but then it throws in banana-pants sight gags like a drum-playing octopus to make you forget about the joke that just bombed. I was living for the drum-playing octopus. Finally, keep your ears open, reader. Dame Julie Andrews has a cameo as an ancient squid monster and it’s kind of amazing. That’s right. It’s the kind of craziness only a movie like Aquaman can pull off and I can’t wait for more of it in the future.

Have you seen Aquaman? What did you think of the hero’s first big screen adventure?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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