Review: Aquaman (2018) – Fish whisperer turned awesome by James Wan

jason momoa as aquaman full costume

Aquaman

Movie review

The film received an overwhelming ovation when the closing credits rolled at the press screening and I was one of them giving the applause. I’ve attended every press screening of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) films in Malaysia and never before I’ve seen such a response for a DCEU instalment. It was well deserved.

Aquaman is the sixth instalment in the DCEU and the main plot takes place after the events of Justice League (2017) but is also the origin story of the titular superhero. Directed by James Wan (The Conjuring films, Fast & Furious 7, Saw) and screenwritten by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (The Conjuring 2, Wrath of the Titans) and Will Beall (Gangster Squad), the story focuses on Arthur Curry / Aquaman’s (Jason Momoa) reluctant adventure to stop his half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) from uniting the army of all the kingdoms under the sea in Atlantis for a war against humans on the surface. The film’s opening also gives a quick backstory about Arthur’s origins and birth.

It may feel like a bit of Marvel’s Thor (2011), Black Panther (2018) and even Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) towards the end, but in overall Aquaman is one of heck of ride, offering quite a unique superhero origin story entertainment, all thanks to the amazing direction and vision of Wan who somehow not only able to fit in a variety of so many things and yet it doesn’t feel bloated or difficult follow, but also provide spectacular action, decent humour and underwater visual effects that there are moments I couldn’t really tell if they were fully CGI or green screen with real actors in action.

jason momoa amber heard aquaman still

The dialogues can be campy and cringey but it works for consistently not-so-serious tone of the film. The plot is as cliched and predictable but the storytelling is quite well thought out and provided a lot of exposition on the lore and history of Atlantis, albeit some things have to be half-assed but it’s understandable due to the time constraints and pacing. But what the film lacks in plot is well compensated by the satisfying mix of heroism, action, adventure and eye-candies that deliver a truly enjoyable experience. It even has treasure-hunting elements that doesn’t feel too out of place.

The main characters are fun and likable albeit not all are fully fleshed out. The performance by leading actor Jason Momoa (Justice League, Game of Thrones TV series) is pretty good, consistent with his “bro” personality from Justice League and ways of talking, and his superhero character can get physically hurt which is a good thing to raise a bit of stakes for his arc. The only problem is that he doesn’t really have much to lose in the story. Amber Heard (Her Smell, The Rum Diary) is distractingly gorgeous as Mera, Aquaman’s Atlantean love interest, but the relationship in the film fails to offer the same level of romantic depth as Wonder Woman (2017) does. 

The film has two antagonists, King Orm / Ocean Master, and David Kane / Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), but I could understand the motives of the latter more than Orm who’s the main villain. He’s also not exactly the right role for Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring films, Insidious films) who fails to be compelling or menacing. He’s definitely no Loki. But apart from these flaws and the few other issues mentioned, Aquaman is a very solid superhero flick.

Despite being two hours and a half long, the film never felt boring. The Tron-esque CG underwater world of Atlantis is interesting and looks beautiful, and I wished the film had the time to explore more of it. The wide-angle panning shots of the action sequences are impressive. Some moments are so visually stunning that it’s almost comparable to Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017). And none of the action scenes feel the same. The film simply offers more than I expected.

Aquaman is definitely one of the most energetically fun films I’ve seen this year. I doubt anyone would’ve thought the standalone film of this superhero, that’s made fun of a lot in the past, could ever be this awesomely entertaining. Ironically, it’s even superior than all the other instalments in the DCEU thus far. Yes, better than Superman and Wonder Woman. Also, for once, a DCEU film ends on an extremely positive note for both the character and the DCEU franchise. This film could be the real big turning point and tone-setter for the future of the DCEU.

Post-credit scene: There’s a mid-credit scene but no post-credit scene. If you asked me if the mid-credit worth waiting, I’d say yes since the illustrations shown during the credits are pretty cool. The scene itself? Well, typical.

What I would’ve named the film: “Amber Heard” or “Johnny Depp, You Idiot!”

Malaysian censorship: Apart from some muted lines, I don’t think anything else was censored.

Verdict: Hands down, the best film in the DCEU thus far and I doubt many would disagree.

Rating: 4 / 5

aquaman movie poster malaysia keyartBased on: DC Comics’ “Aquaman” by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris

Genre: Superhero, fantasy, action, adventure
Running Time: 144 minutes
Director: James Wan
Screenwriters: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall
Cast: Jason Momoa, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Ludi Lin, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison, Amber Heard, and Nicole Kidman

Malaysia Release Date: 13 December 2018
Rated: P13
Local Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures Malaysia
Production: Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Films, The Safran Company, Cruel and Unusual Films, Mad Ghost Productions
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