Movie Review: AQUAMAN (2018)

AQUAMAN, the latest film from visionary director James Wan, properly introduces audiences to Arthur Curry, a half breed heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis. AQUAMAN is the sixth superhero film in the DC Extended Universe and stars Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones), Amber Heard (Machete Kills), Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project), Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring), Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (The Get Down), and Nicole Kidman (Destroyer).

The story begins with the unlikely romance between Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison), a human, and Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), the Queen of Atlantis, resulting in the birth of their son, Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), a half-Atlantean/half-human. Now grown, Arthur spends his time saving those who need rescuing, while shunning his Atlantean upbringing. However, when King Orm (Patrick Wilson), Arthur’s younger brother, declares war on the surface, Arthur must reconcile with his past in order to become the hero that his people, and the world, need.

From the moment I learned that James Wan was going to be directing AQUAMAN, I was on-board site unseen. As one of my all-time favorite directors, I’ve come to see his work as relatively flawless as well as inspiring. He has gone from directing pivotal films within the horror genre, such as SAW and The Conjuring, to what I consider to be the best film in the Fast and Furious Franchise, Furious 7, to now tackling the superhero genre. He has consistently proven, time and time again, that not only is he ridiculously talented and passionate director but he is also incredibly imaginative. All of those skills and dedication to the craft shine through once again in his life-action adaptation of AQUAMAN. For the most part, the film is a phantasmagorical feast for the eyes, with top-notch visuals effects, beautiful cinematography, fast-paced action, and a dash of horrifically designed water-dwelling creatures. However, it’s not all fluff and eye candy, as the story itself carries quite a fair amount of substance, allowing the audience to truly care for the characters on screen.

(L-R) Jason Momoa as Aquaman and Patrick Wilson as King Orm in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure AQUAMAN, a Warner Bros. Pictures Release | Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Prior to seeing the movie last night, I wasn’t overly familiar with Aquaman’s origin outside of what was shown of his character in 2017’s Justice League (and we really don’t need to discuss that movie). Now having seen his story come to fruition, I can honestly say he’s one of the best superhero characters with Jason Momoa completely owning the role. In all sincerity, I can’t think of anyone else that would be a better pick, though I do understand that Momoa’s portrayal and look differ greatly from the character in the comic. Regardless, Momoa was fantastic and easily rode that fine line between not being overtly corny but instead maintaining a level of charm and wit that made him easily likable. That, along with his physical attributes, foreshadows a god-like persona who is both dangerous when crossed but possesses a large heart for those he loves. His opposing adversary King Orm is played by the criminally underrated Patrick Wilson, who does a superb job of conveying ice cold hatred towards his half-breed brother. Wilson and Wan have worked together numerous times in The Conjuring franchise, but instead of Wilson portraying a demonologist sent to help people, we get to see him portray a villainous King who is hungry for complete power and is hellbent on obtaining it no matter the consequences. As far as the female protagonist, it was incredibly refreshing to see that both Heard and Kidman weren’t regarded as damsels in distress. I really appreciated how Mera (Amber Heard) was able to stand on her own and pave her way without needing to succumb to nothing more than an accessory for the men and Kidman, well, I don’t want to give much away about her character, but she had one of the best fight scenes in the film. The only character that felt off was that of Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and I’m not sure if that was because of the writing of his performance. I do like the character though and I would like to dive deeper into his backstory but my thinking is that this movie is probably a set up for more to come with him.

Aside from the characters and the over-the-top special effects, what I really loved about this film was the call-backs to Lovecraftian mythos. This makes total sense when you learn that Lovecraft was fascinated and fearful of the ocean, with a lot of his stories taking place in or around bodies of water with creatures from the darkest depth of the sea. Early on in the film there is a shot of a Lovecraft book on it’s side titled, “The Dunwich Horror”, which made me gasp in delight. I’m not going to go through the whole story here, but I highly suggest that after you watch AQUAMAN you seek out the story so that you can see the parallels between the two. I don’t want to nerd out too much over Lovecraftian mythos, but there’s even a giant sea creature, voiced by Julie Andrews (yes, that Julie Andrews), that rises from the depth equipped with horrifying tentacles that could easily resemble something straight out of Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu”. Even with this film being mostly action/adventure/fantasy, those of us horror fans will be delighted to see how Wan was able to weave in Lovecraftian horrors, not only in the what I just described but in another scene that shows our main characters up against some rather unsavory fish creatures.

Ultimately, AQUAMAN is one of the best films to come out of the DCEU and one that I think many fans will be pleased with. The film definitely has its flaws, as some of the CGI teeters on being way too cartoonish and I felt as though some of the pacing was off, but overall AQUAMAN is a fast-paced adventure that breathes new life back into the DC Universe. Honestly, if I could sign a petition to have James Wan and Patty Jenkins direct all DC films moving forward I would because those two know what they are doing. AQUAMAN comes out in theaters Friday, December 21, and is sure to cause a wave of applause from movie-goers. Just make sure you to say for the credits and for those horror fans out there, be on the lookout for a fun little cameo by Leigh Whannell!

Shannon McGrew
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