DC Comics | “Aquaman,” directed by James Wan and starring Jason Momoa, is yet another superhero movie filled with green screens and action sequences. While it fails to break free from its genre, the film is nevertheless engaging, featuring a diverse and talented cast. “Aquaman” is sure to thrill fans with its impressive visual effects and adrenaline-packed scenes.


“Aquaman” attempts to offer a new and improved take on the CGI-heavy and action-laden formula that has been recycled through all superhero movies since the start of the DC and Marvel cinematic universes. The beautiful shots, timely and effective comedic relief, and the protagonist’s constant rejection of heroic, grandiose ideals and expectations help “Aquaman” avoid the seriousness of other superhero films and instead focus on all the fantastical excitement.

The long feature tells the story of Arthur Curry, played by Jason Momoa, the half-human, half-Atlantean heir to an underwater throne who has never fully identified with land or sea. When his younger Atlantean half-brother Orm, played by Patrick Wilson, inherits the kingdom with plans to declare war on the surface world, Arthur begrudgingly dives into action to keep his surface home and family safe.

In search of a legendary trident, Arthur travels the world with Amber Heard’s character Princess Mera, while Orm attempts to consolidate control over the different underwater kingdoms to launch an attack. These two disjointed races against time finally meet in an epic but overwhelming underwater battle with enough CGI and action to rival every superhero movie released since 2005.

When entering Atlantis for the first time, Arthur experiences the same wondrous amazement as the audience members, who can only marvel at the perfectly aesthetic underwater world that director James Wan and his visual effects team created. Viewers can see the careful attention given to every detail. Watching Mera and Arthur escaping the Atlantean fleet or jumping from exploding rooftops in Italy is sure to make the audiences as thrilled as the crowds of the Atlantean amphitheater witnessing a gladiator match.

“Aquaman” is far from perfect. The plot is confusing and convoluted, as well as predictable. While the CGI offers beautiful mirages at times, its abuse more often creates bizarre-treading-on-ridiculous depictions.

Much of the narrative is bogged down by an extensive backstory, throwing character development softballs that Momoa manages to knock out of the park with effortless charm. Others, however, namely Wilson as Orm, do not meet the challenge as well as Momoa, despite being talented actors in other circumstances. Though Wilson is a recognized and highly capable actor who has frequently worked with Wan in films like “The Conjuring,” the role does not play to his strengths, with a lazy backstory that makes him seem little more than whiny.

Yet the film is a wonderful mess that keeps audiences mesmerized between Wan’s ability to infuse the film with palatable action and the cast’s best efforts to display their talent in the few nonaction opportunities.

“Aquaman” does, however, raise the question of how many more action sequences one film can have without completely falling apart. The film thrives when it embraces childlike wonder and sensory amusement, offering tantalizing, high-adrenaline sequences and infinitely complex visuals to its audience.

Great casting and performances all around make the audience wonder whether the characters should have been given more control over the film. Award-winning actress Nicole Kidman — as Arthur’s mother and the former Atlantean queen — and Heard elevate their roles beyond a typical hero’s mother or romantic interest, continuing to push the boundaries regarding the role of women in superhero movies. Yahya Abdul-Mateen plays a convincing villain, and Willem Dafoe does what he can with what screen time he has.

Despite the flurry of trident fights and saddled hippocampi riding into war, the producers’ attempts to create something beyond a typical superhero flick are apparent in the casting choice of Momoa. Half Native Hawaiian, covered in tattoos, sporting a beard and long, dark, scraggly hair, he looks more like a jacked surfer who splits his time between riding waves and a barstool than the blond boy scout that most Aquaman comics bring to mind. Diverse casting is in itself a statement, especially at a time when white-washing is becoming increasingly recognized as problematic in the industry.

As another plus, Momoa’s flawed and disgruntled persona is one of the best in Hollywood, honed from years of playing characters with similar ethos in “Frontier” and “Game of Thrones.” At the same time, some overly serious moments that have plagued previous DC installments unnaturally break up the tone of “Aquaman.” While they are mostly inconsequential, they manage to show small cracks in Aquaman’s shiny golden armor.

Arthur often gifts viewers with some fan-favorite traits in modern superheroes; he comes off as an imperfect and insecure leader thrust into this role by forces outside his control. Momoa gives the few scenes of seriousness and introspection his best. Even if they do little to separate his tale from other unwilling-leader and outsider-to-hero storylines, he does offer audiences a hero with which they can more easily identify.

Small Easter eggs peppered across the movie add to its allure. The origin story for Black Manta, Aquaman’s historic archrival, is incredibly enjoyable for the comic book fanatics and gives hope that he will eventually provide a more engaging and satisfying villain than Orm. He already appears to have a more compelling grudge to hold against Arthur.

Arthur being the only character who can communicate with marine life — another nod to the comics — is a nice touch, and the writers manage to only fully reveal this ability during the movie’s climax, giving it an important role in Arthur’s eventual success and ascension to the Atlantean throne.

While a few shy attempts at creating a deeper, more meaningful story than the norm for this genre do not succeed, the film is still enjoyable in its own right. Instead, the unabashed use of action sequences and green screens in “Aquaman” lead to an engaging though sometimes entangled picture. In an action-packed, visually stunning — though occasionally overbearing — and overall endearing film, Wan offers unapologetic fun with few pretenses.

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