The DC universe expands once again – just one year after the lukewarm Justice League – with the latest effort to turn the tide on the company’s generally lacklustre reception. No pressure. Leading the charge is a hero who ups the cool factor, is bulletproof and consistently bed-headed – and can speak to fish too. This is an imaginative universe conveying independence from its franchise baggage, diving through colourful kingdoms, with drumming octopus cameos and noticeably no mention of Batman/Superman et al. It’s a decidedly good thing.
The unlikely relationship between a lighthouse keeper/human and a queen/Atlantean bears a literal origins story. Arthur Curry’s mother (Nicole Kidman) is forced to return to Atlantis, and our part-time pub-dweller/sea vigilante protagonist is not called to fulfil his superhero, Return of the King destiny until trouble comes knocking. Underwater, Arthur’s half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) has declared war upon the oblivious and ocean-polluting land population. He has a point, but the film doesn’t dwell on this and goes straight for the action as our titular “half-breed” Aquaman must become the bridge over troubled water.
After Arthur is recruited by Atlantean princess Mera (Amber Heard), the plot plays out like a video game, unlocking new settings and challenges as the characters progress. Unfortunately, it’s worth noting that the script – with its staccato sentences – is equally gamelike. A treasure hunt presents a stunning whistlestop tour of Sahara, Sicily, and some random dinosaur land, running parallel to Orm’s quest to become “Oceanmaster” and secondary villain Black Manta’s revenge on Aquaman. It’s predictable and there’s a lot going on but it is surprisingly entertaining…as long as it isn’t taken too seriously.
To make an inevitable comparison, Marvel heroes are flawed and feel human, whereas DC’s often feel like characters from a flat page. Aquaman’s heroes make slight improvement, with the splendid casting of a charming Jason Momoa presenting a softer side to the previously brusque protagonist. The female characters, despite their eyebrow-raising costumes, are formidable warriors. However, the DC villain complex is still apparent in that it’s not complex; Orm is chilling at times but it’s Black Manta who brings relatable humanity.
Director James Wan has evidently taken notes from Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, notably the fantastical action and running time. He adds his visual stamp as the camera twirls through the ocean, and the CGI team have created some dazzling set pieces too. If the viewer has not yet been drowned by musical cues every time Aquaman does something, well, Aquaman, or the constant slow-mo helmet removal, then it’s likely this fun installation will wet the appetite for more.
Aquaman is released nationwide and in IMAX cinemas on 12th December 2018.
Watch the trailer for Aquaman here: