by Aaron Potter
Aquaman sets things in motion with a thrilling submarine-set prologue that swiftly gifts Black Manta the best supervillain origin story and motivation the DCEU has seen.
While the MCU continues to find acclaim by setting its heroes off amongst the stars, the DCEU continues to flounder in its tremendous wake. How apt, that the latest attempt to save a seemingly sinking ship is to send the story in the stark opposite direction: 20,000 leagues under the sea.
Aquaman isn’t the obvious choice to spearhead this next phase, but Jason Momoa’s charisma and unbridled sense of fun he brings to the role has done a lot to save Zack Snyder’s previous series efforts. And the same is true here, though sadly, charm alone can’t save the film from an uneven tone, poor dialogue, and generally aimless plotting that so often plagues the DCEU.
Aquaman benefits significantly from the fresh injection of creativity that is James Wan’s direction. The cult horror filmmaker-turned blockbuster maestro has proven himself adept at orchestrating action before with Furious 7, and in Aquaman he sets things in motion in thrilling fashion: a submarine-set prologue that swiftly gifts Black Manta the best supervillain origin story and motivation the DCEU has seen. Not strictly a tall feat, sure, yet it’s one of many ways Aquaman thrives off of shedding its ties to the wider world-ending matters of, say, a Zod or Steppenwolf.
In other ways, however, it misses the mark. Picking up one year after the end of Justice League, Aquaman frequently forces itself into flashback territory to provide additional context for the character. This wouldn’t be so bad providing it told us something more about why Arthur Curry’s aquatic hero is so resentful of his destiny, but it’s largely redundant and too often upsets the pace. Having Patrick Wilson’s Prince Orm take issue with the pollution habits of surface dwellers is quite a clever through line - on the rare occasion the movie spends time developing it.
Such downsides could be forgiven if the likes of Patrick Wilson and Dolph Lundgren actually had something interesting to do. Instead, the villain’s arcs are a simple case of rallying the troops while Arthur embarks on his own path, until it culminates in a somewhat predictable climactic clash. The chemistry shared between Princess Mera and Aquaman is at least charming, but even this is let down by some tragically poor dialogue. Characters always state exactly what they mean without any sense of depth or nuance; whole scenes play out with people just speaking exposition, not to each other, but at them.
Does Aquaman scale the celebrated heights of last year’s Wonder Woman? No. But at the same time, Jason Momoa’s solo outing doesn’t sink as unforgivably low as Justice League or Suicide Squad. The waters here are, perhaps appropriately, a lot less muddied. Now all that’s needed for Aquaman to steady the ship is a streamlined sequel that isn’t bogged down by having to play catch up to his big-screen super-buddies.