Movie review: Aquaman

The DC universe is finally finding its speed with its minor characters

The DC comics universe is finally hitting its stride. The solo film Aquaman creates a brilliant underwater world filled with ancient ruins and its own advanced technology, and introduces several side characters played by notable actors including the ever reliable Willem Dafoe.

This is the second success in the DC Extended Universe following 2017’s Wonderwoman.

The series is still struggling with what should be its flagship characters, Batman and Superman.

Oddly, no other DC superheroes appear in Aquaman at all. This is strange because Aquaman (played by Jason Momoa) was already seen in both 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the subsequent omnibus film Justice League. So some of these other DC characters characters should have been around to help but they simply never show up, and for some reason seem not to even exist this time.

The film is rather long, at 143 minutes, but it packs in both the origin story of Aquaman and a contemporary plot about a conflict between underwater kingdoms that threatens to spill out onto the surface world.

The character Aquaman is half human and half Atlantean, and would rather live on the surface with his father, a lighthouse keeper named Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison), than in the Atlantis, where his mother Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) came from.

But he cannot escape his roots so easily. Events beneath the ocean’s surface have too strong of a pull. Aquaman is convinced to get involved by Mera (Amber Heard), the bright redheaded telepathic daughter of King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren).

There is a power struggle going on, with the ruler of Atlantis, Orm (Patrick Wilson) trying to take over the other kingdoms.

The visualization of the undersea worlds is the film’s greatest achievement. The plot allows for the action to take place in several distinct areas, with the inhabitants ranging from viscous sea monsters to humanoids. Some of the locales have statues and architecture inspired by Ancient Greece, as the concept of Atlantis traces back to mythology.

The effect is not unlike in Marvel’s Black Panther, where there is a mix of traditional imagery and advanced technology, as well as a loose federation of distinct tribal groups.
The plot of Aquaman packs in a lot of action, but without being so complex that viewers become lost in all the new terminology and the list of who is on what side.

People on the surface are aware of Aquaman from some of his heroic deeds, but he is more of a local hero around the fishing town where he lives. Local news reports regard those who talk about the existence of a high-tech underwater world as crackpots.

Jason Momoa, a former model who has been in Game of Thrones and also the reboot of Conan the Barbarian, comes into his own as Aquaman. With his muscular stature and wild hair, he looks the part. The script offers some dry humor, which he can handle without making it seem forced. He plays the character as a man of few words, which fits in with the coastal fishing town background.

The big speeches are given over to the more experienced actors, such as Willem Dafoe as Atlantean royal adviser Nuidis Vulko. Dafoe previously appeared in three Spider-Man films as the Green Goblin, but is best-known for his more serious work. A lot of the heavy dialogue also falls to Patrick Wilson, who appeared in the Conjuring films and also had a voice role as the president in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

A standout among the supporting characters is Dolph Lundgren, in his second big role of the year after Creed II. It is a real comeback after years of direct to video DVDs.

There is one odd part of the film. Flashback scenes with Aquaman’s parents, Thomas and Atlanna, and some later scenes with Nuidis Vulko use age regression software, as was used for Kurt Russell’s character in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

The results are a little off, and slightly creepy. They don’t look exactly human, and they aren’t quite CGI cartoon figures either. The strangest part is that we know what these actors looked like 20 years ago, and the regressed versions look nothing like that.

But this is just a small part. Most of the CGI work is rather impressive, and the illusion of people moving about underwater is achieved rather convincingly.

In a step back from Wonderwoman, the female characters are mostly depicted as eye candy, but then so is Aquaman, for those who enjoy oggling buff men.

The film though does try to make some ecological messages about protecting the ocean and also about peaceful co-existence, so it does score at least a few points for political correctness.

Stay through the first half of the credits to see the setup scene for the sequel.

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