DC Comics and Warner Bros. Pictures have finally found it’s winning formula!
After the dismal attempts at creating a superhero universe that rivals that of Marvel Studios, and with the immense success of Wonder Woman, the DC Comics Cinematic Universe appears to have finally found the perfect mix to create fun, exciting and thrilling films based on popular DC Comics characters.
The superhero, Aquaman, played by Jason Mamoa, first made his big-screen debut in the 2017 film, Justice League. His introduction was uneventful and lacked pizzazz, the character portrayed as all brawn and no brain, resulting in boisterous, unheroic-like, cheers and a memorable performance…for all the wrong reasons. In essence, his presence was, simply put, a flop.
Now, remove the ‘dark’ aura and high-intensity action sequences that Zack Snyder heavily imposed into his DC Comics films, and add in the lighter tone, well-thought out narrative, human emotion and strong male-female dynamic that made Wonder Woman a success and you have a film that features wonder, spectacle and thrills that will leave audiences on the edge of their seats.
The stand-alone Aquaman film, by James Wan, did just that and managed to breathe new life into the character, as well as showcase his background and the world in which he exists. The film is set after the events of Justice League and sees Arthur Curry, a.k.a Aquaman, return to his roots in order to save those he loves and unite both the surface and ocean dwellers.
Like Wonder Woman, Aquaman takes viewers on a journey through a mythical world. Having told the story of Arthur’s past and his half-Atlantean origins, the film introduces the underwater world of Atlantis, including Arthur’s half-brother, King Orm (Patrick Wilson) and his desire for war against the surface world.
Being a superhero film, naturally Arthur sets on a path to prevent Orm’s war, after being given the push by Mera (Amber Heard) a Princess of Atlantis, and Vulko (Willem Dafoe), the royal vizier. Having not done much reading up of the film prior to watching, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Willem Dafoe was actually ‘Dafriend’ in this film, instead of his usual staple of playing villainous characters. It was refreshing to have characters with personality in Aquaman, with each being developed throughout the film in a way that allowed viewers to truly connect with them.
Unlike his earlier portrayal as a dim-witted surfer boy with muscles in Justice League, the Aquaman of this film was depicted as a devoted son and a man who saw good in the world but yet, didn’t believe that he was worthy. Mera on the other hand was a Godsend, a female character who wasn’t a damsel in distress and able to hold her own, sometimes in a way that surpassed her male peers. It was evident that Amber Heard truly rose up to the challenge of playing a character that was worthy to one day own the title of Queen.
Of course, what’s a superhero film without a good villain? Whilst Orm played the role of a spoilt brat who held a deep hatred for his half-brother well, and orchestrated events in order to spearhead his war, I wouldn’t call him truly evil. The film did well to ensure that Orm had some redeeming qualities to allow viewers to perhaps ‘feel’ for him. Due to both Orm and Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) having ‘reasons’ for their villainous actions, it did feel like Aquaman lacked a true evil villain. Though, seeing as this is an origins film, perhaps the real villain will challenge Aquaman in future films.
The narrative of the film was well thought out and depicted a true origins story, one that was filled with emotional turmoil, love, and ultimately personal growth. It is this narrative that captivated me and gave the film a genuine superhero feel. After all, a true hero doesn’t mope about his loss or be completely emotionless throughout the entire duration of a film right? Oh wait…that was both Superman and Batman in Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman.
What I loved most about the film, more so than the refreshing portrayal of Aquaman and the intriguing story, is the visual spectacle that the film provided. In many ways, the world of Atlantis reminded me of Asgard (from Marvel’s Thor). The entire kingdom was filled with glorious statues of great warriors and Kings, technology beyond man’s comprehension, and even a bridge that upon first glance looked eerily similar to the Rainbow Bridge connecting Midgard and Asgard. As a Greek mythology enthusiast, I was incredibly taken by the ancient lore of the Atlanteans.
The brilliant aesthetics of the seven kingdoms that made up Atlantis was truly a sight to behold and this was in perfect contrast with the vastness of the Sahara Desert. The portrayal of the differences in beauty of both land and sea was a welcome addition.
The pacing of the film was perfect, mostly due to the way in which the film moves between showing action and adventure on land and in the sea. After watching Arthur and Mera fight their way out of Orm’s grasps in Atlantis, it was a nice change to see them journey to Sicily and engage in rooftop battles overlooking the blue ocean. What I did find quite peculiar is the inclusion of a scene that felt like it was taken from a mix of Disney’s The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, when Mera explores the world of man, in the Sicilian village, for the first time. Regardless, this light-hearted moment allowed viewers to take a breather and await the next battle sequence, something that Zack Snyder’s 2013 Man of Steel severely lacked.
In many ways, Aquaman has easily become my favourite DC Cinematic Universe film, and in some respects was more enjoyable than Wonder Woman. It appears that DC Comics and Warner Bros. Pictures have a hit on their hands when they allow the film to be a bit more playful, fun and filled with genuine witty humour, with reasonable amounts of action and most importantly, a story that viewers and fans can engage and identify with.
Where I first thought Jason Mamoa was a terrible Aquaman, I’m now convinced that there’s no one better suited for the role. Aquaman was a spectacular, fun, and enjoyable film to sit through and watch for the entire duration, with never a dull or dark moment. Well done DC Comics, well done. You’ve finally got it right!