When I was a kid, I never believed there would ever be an Aquaman movie, but it's here. On Dec. 21st, 2018, Aquaman opened in American cinemas, and it was glorious. Mild spoilers to follow
Aquaman is absolutely insane in the best possible way. Bright, loud and full of color, Aquaman revels in its comic book roots. Instead of trying to be "dark," or "realistic," it embraces the complete absurdity of mermen riding giant sharks fighting crab people. Aquaman starts as a superhero film that turns into a fantasy-adventure film that feels like Uncharted/Indiana Jones, and finally morphs into Lord of the Rings underwater in the final act.
This isn't a deep (HYUK HYUK HYUK) film, but it doesn't try to be either. It's essentially a summer popcorn film, and quite frankly, that's what the DCEU needed. The film doesn't have a dark color palette that makes everything look grey. Instead the colors stand out. Arthur doesn't spend most of the film brooding or moping. While he has issues with his disappeared and (presumed) dead mother, he has a great relationship with his dad. In short, Aquaman is the polar opposite of Batman v. Superman. I honestly found it more fun than Wonder Woman, which had a significantly darker tone. That's not to say the film doesn't have its darker moments, this is a James Wan film after all, and we get several nods to the Lovecraftian horrors that dwell in the ocean depths. The opening scene has a brief shot of The Dunwich Horror by H.P Lovecraft sitting on a table, a clever little bit of foreshadowing. But for the most part, James Wan goes for something completely different from his genuinely disturbing horror films.
As with most superhero moviess, we get plenty of fights, with characters getting knocked off buildings, punched through walls, all while causing destruction and mayhem. But for the most part, Aquaman doesn't feel like a superhero film as much as it feels like a fantasy-adventure movie. Our heroes never stay in one place, instead they travel from exotic location to exotic location, including Atlantis, the Sahara Desert, Sicily, and the Earth's Core. The middle of the film feels a lot like Uncharted, with Arthur and Mera searching for lost artifacts in the Sahara Desert and getting into a crazy chase/fight scene in Sicily. The film's climax is a giant underwater battle scene between two massive fantasy armies, it could easily come out of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones.
The cast does a great job holding the film together; Jason Momoa and Amber Heard have a lot of chemistry as Arthur Curry/Aquaman and Mera respectively. Their romance arc feels believable, if slightly corny at times, culminating in a big damn kiss in the middle of a battle while explosions go off on the background. Patrick H. Wilson somehow manages to balance just the right amount of haminess as Arthur's evil brother Orm, without making it come off as ridiculous; and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays Black Manta as exactly what he should be: a vicious, murdering sociopath whose main motivation is "because f*** Aquaman."