Before I begin, I just wanted to describe my feelings on the state of the DCEU up until now and hopefully this will be a good indication as to whether or not you’re going to agree with me when it comes to Aquaman. So, as I’m sure most people will agree, so far the whole thing has been a bit of a disaster. A rush to try and bottle what Marvel have spent the last 10 years crafting and achieving, with just a handful of below average and inconsistently toned movies. I liked Man of Steel, and I didn’t mind Batman V Superman, although I do understand why many people were disappointed. I really enjoyed Wonder Woman, and I found a lot to like within Justice League too. But as for Suicide Squad, well that one was just a ridiculous mess. And with all the uncertainty around the future of Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck in their roles as Superman and Batman, it seems DC still have a long way to go in terms of laying solid foundations for some decent universe building to rival Marvel.
So that brings us to Aquaman, probably the only other character of interest from Justice League who has yet to get his own origin/standalone movie. We got glimpses in Justice League, tastes of the underwater water world, and brief appearances from Amber Heards character Mera, so it’s good to be able to expand on what has the potential to be a really strong, interesting character. And under the direction of James Wan, hopefully another welcome deviation from the dark, dull earlier DC movies that received so much criticism.
As far as origin stories go, things get off to a strong start. Lighthouse keeper Thomas Curry finds Atlantean queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) washed up on the rocks one day and takes her in to care for her. They fall in love, eventually giving birth to Arthur. A few years later and it’s clear that Atlanna cannot stay. She returns to Atlantis, promising that she’ll return to him one day, leaving Thomas to raise Arthur. When we join Arthur again, it’s one year following the events of the Justice League and the defeat of Steppenwolf. Taking care of a bunch of hi-tech pirates who have boarded a submarine, but still finding time to return home to dad for a few beers and a laugh with the locals. He’s left the world of Atlantis behind him, having been banished for being a half breed, and feeling anger at the treatment his mother received for giving birth to him. It’s not long though before things all start kicking off and he had to return to life under the sea. Half brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) is looking to wage war on the surface world in retaliation for all the destruction and pollution within the seas, and begins trying to gain support from the seven kingdoms. Meanwhile, one of the pirates Aquaman encountered earlier has got his hands on some Atlantean technology, becoming Black Manta and vowing to get his revenge. During an undersea meeting with Vulko, aid to Atlanna and the man responsible for training Arthur as a child, Arthur is urged to find the lost Trident of Atlan, a magic artifact that once belonged to Atlantis’ first ruler. By wielding the trident, Arthur can reclaim his rightful place as king, hopefully uniting the worlds of land and sea.
There is a LOT going on here, and luckily for the most part, it all works relatively well. The quest for the trident is a bit like an Indiana Jones quest – Arthur and Mera have to undertake a trek across, and below, the Sahara desert, a trip to Sicily, a perilous boat trip and a journey to a hidden world deep within the ocean. The Black Manta storyline seems a bit unnecessary and annoying at times, although does provide some great action (and a setup for a sequel). The underwater scenes involving Atlantis and the other kingdoms are absolutely beautiful to look at, very detailed and imaginative, but these are the areas that unfortunately begin to let the movie down. Culminating in an epic underwater battle involving thousands of different creatures and weapons, the movie ends up as just another DCEU CGI overload.
Despite that, I actually had a lot of fun with this movie, and I particularly loved the action. Fluid, balletic fight scenes, with the viewpoint flowing above and around those involved, we follow a character as he powers through walls and roofs, pulling out to reveal and follow other characters in action, the direction of these scenes is extremely effective. Overall, this is definitely a strong step up for the DCEU and a worthy standalone movie. I just hope they can now keep this momentum going.