Anticipation has been high for Warner Bros.’ Aquaman, the next movie in the ever-changing DCEU. After the world wholeheartedly embraced Wonder Woman and had mixed reactions to Justice League, hopes have rested on the next single character standalone, particularly with the pedigree and imagination that director James Wan brings to the table. We’re already familiar with Aquaman as an audience; we got a taste of his surfer bro vibe in Justice League, where he provided a good portion of the laughs along with Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen/The Flash. But how would it work when Momoa was in his own movie without an entire ensemble team of superheroes to play against? Would Wan & Co. lean into that goofiness? And how would he manage to make Atlantis and underwater scenes come to life?
On the surface, the story is simple: Half-human/half-Atlantean Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) has eschewed his Atlantean heritage ever since learning the kingdom of Atlantis sacrificed his mother, Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), for falling in love with a human and bearing him, Arthur, as her son. But when the current King of Atlantis and his half-brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson), decides to start a war against the surface-dwellers (that’s us humans), it’s up to Arthur to claim his rightful heritage as the King of Atlantis. On his own, he’d be screwed, but he has help from Princess Mera (Amber Heard) and Orm’s advisor, Vulko (Willem Dafoe), who are secretly working to thwart Orm’s insane plan.
All caught up? Good. Let’s dive into it, shall we? (heh heh, diving jokes) Here are three reasons to see Aquaman in theaters this holiday season.
1. The Visuals And World Building Are Next-Level Bananas
If you were wondering what an undersea world created by James Wan might look like, I assure you, what your imagination came up with is not even close to what you will see on screen. The narrative sometimes has Swiss cheese logic and some of the dialogue goes sideways, but honestly, I’m not even sure that matters. That’s how bananas it is, the world that Wan built. He somehow manages to stuff Lovecraftian horror, gladiatorial combat, Tron, Arthurian legend, kaiju, sharks with frickin’ laser beams, and a jab at flat-earthers into a world that makes Avatar‘s Pandora pale by comparison. The world just under the waves is teeming with vast kingdoms and thriving cultures, each one distinct and clearly separate from the others.
The problem with CGI is that often, coming from the same VFX houses and being made in a time crunch and changed at the last minute, visuals – especially creatures and humanoids – all tend to look somewhat the same. Let’s face it, we’ve seen enough supervillains from outer space and giant battles to be more than a little “meh” about special effects these days. Not so with Aquaman. It’s to Warner Bros.’ credit that they let Wan turn his imagination loose. The result is a theme park adventure for your eyeballs; you get so caught up in what you’re seeing on screen that the plotholes are forgiven. It’s just fun, and there’s certainly never a boring moment.
2. Patrick Wilson’s Yin To Jason Momoa’s Yang
Jason Momoa is exactly what you thought he’d be in the role of Arthur Curry. The movie leans all the way into the simple-but-goodhearted vibe started in Justice League. Aquaman hasn’t exactly been a character taken seriously in the past and the movie knows it. Momoa has a knack for going full goofy and embracing it while still being cool. He doesn’t take himself seriously, and that’s when he – and the movie – work best. You can tell he’s having fun in the role every second he’s on screen and it’s great.
On the flip side we have Patrick Wilson as his half-brother and arch-nemesis, Orm. Wilson has the unenviable task of being the straight man villain in a totally bonkers world, but he sells it. Yes, granted, he’s cartoonishly hellbent on war, but then again, can you blame the guy? Look at what humans have been doing to his seas since, er, forever. Overfishing, dumping our trash into the ocean until it clumps into islands bigger than Texas, leaking oil all over animals, harpooning whales…yeah, okay, humans kinda suck. Similar to watching Killmonger in Black Panther, you find yourself thinking, The man makes some valid points.
As actors and as characters they could not be more different, but they play off one another well. While Aquaman and Orm want to kill each other, there’s also the sense that both regret it has to be this way. Had circumstances been different, they might have been happy to be brothers, and that makes it more interesting than if they had no connection to one another.
3. The Women Can Throw Down As Well As The Men
The female superheroes of the DC universe are fierce. Both Mera and Queen Alanna join Wonder Woman as women who are well-rounded and can absolutely hold their own with the men of the world. While Arthur Curry might be the Chosen One, he wouldn’t come close to reaching his goal were it not for Mera, who saves his butt multiple times, both literally and metaphorically. She has the brains and the political savvy he lacks, but she’s no coddled princess without an understanding of how to defend herself. She swings a sword and executes perfect Krav Maga takedown moves better than the majority of Atlantean soldiers and Black Manta mercenaries. The same goes for Atlanna, who defends her home and her family like a tiger. Watching them fight is like watching a dance; both are beautiful and brutal in their fight sequences.
But both Mera and Atlanna are more than just the “badass female” trope. They can swing a spear but also have compassion and maternal instincts, and both women are willing to sacrifice everything if it means doing what they know is right. They, more than any other characters, are the moral centers of the movie and the guiding lights of Arthur’s life. Without Atlanna, he would not have been the man he grew to be; without Mera, he would not have been a king. It’s a refreshing take in a movie landscape where female characters are all too often reduced to sketches of people rather than fully realized characters with thoughts and hearts and lives all their own.
If you’re looking for a wild, entertaining time at the theater, Aquaman fits the bill – and it is definitely worth seeing in IMAX, as an aside. Seriously, see it on the biggest, clearest screen possible. Your imagination will thank you.
Aquaman is in theaters on December 21st. You can buy your tickets here.
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