Aquaman review

Hey, remember when every threw a fit over this image?

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Yeah, let’s just all try to chill out about movies until we see them, okay?

DC Films has been making their case for solo superhero films since 2013’s Man of Steel. What works for that film in terms of the fabled shared “cinematic universe” that is unfairly required by fans nowadays, is the fact that you had a movie that was a story of a single individual that took place in this huge world that would reference both people and places that screamed DC.

While Aquaman is very much a sequel to Justice League, it is it’s own film and doesn’t rely on the whole shared universe that is popular today. While there is a single reference to the Justice League, this is a film about Arthur Curry’s rise from common man to Atlantean King.

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While many people may have scratched their heads and wondered why Aquaman would get his own solo film, I was wondering just how seriously this film would take itself. I was worried that it wouldn’t be able to make the fictional, underwater kingdom of Atlantis a world I could believe in, and at a certain point, the movie showed me a world that I know doesn’t exists (right?), but then showed me that the characters not only believed in heir world, but were willing to fight and die for it, and I was sold almost immediately.

The thing that I love about DC films, the thing that separates them from the rest of the comic book movies out there, is the fact that no matter how unbelievable the situation, world, character or storyline may be, you as a viewer never question it, because the characters never question it.  I mean, seriously, a man wearing orange and green armor is going to unite the seven seas and stop a war with the surface world with the help of armored great white sharks, massive sea horses and a magical trident…seems legit.

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Seriously, this works.

Aquaman himself, Jason Mamoa, grabs the spotlight and runs with it in this film. I was worried about his ability to carry his own film, especially a film of this size, because I am the one guy on the internet that has not seen anything from him outside of Justice League. But it was surprising to see that Aquaman is not just another “bro” put onscreen. That persona is really the viewers fault, as Arthur Curry is a man that doesn’t believe in his own worth as a potential king. Which, as the movie points out, is the very reason he is meant to be king. And Jason Mamoa really pulls off the vulnerability that I have never seen from Aquaman in the comics…not that I’ve read that many Aquaman books. But with this film, I really related to Aquaman’s lack of confidence in the film, and I was constantly surprised by his own ability to adapt and overcome.

While this is Mamoa’s film, the cast is bolster by some impressive actors. While stars like Djimon Hounsou and Willem Dafoe never disappoint, I was impressed to find that there wasn’t a single weak link in this film. Amber Heard as Mera is not just a strong female character for the sake of being a strong female character, she is royalty that see that Atlantis needs change and is willing put put her life on the line to see that the true king is placed on the throne. She’s not serving a person, but n entire nation with her actions.

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Patrick Wilson kills it as Ocean Master, being equal parts misguided king, arrogant d-bag and power-hungry soldier. At the same time, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta takes a ridiculous looking character and gives him real depth, anger and purpose while having very limited screen time.

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And on top of all of this, Dolph Lundgren makes a great case for being cast as King Randor in the eventual He-Man movie.

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He’s still got it.

Plus, I have to tip my hat to director James Wan for filming crazy action that may emulate a space opera, but is presented in away that makes it feel fresh as well as unique. And holy crap and I happy that he shot the action in a way that didn’t feel clumsy or lost. Honestly, I never questioned his ability to film action. All you need to know about James Wan’s eye for action is found in his film Death Sentence. No, my fear was his ability to capture the scope of Aquaman’s world, and he did it. There is no other way to explain how much James Wan nailed the look and feel of Atlantis an Aquaman film as a whole.

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Director James Wan (center)

While this movie may just be a glorified fetch quest to find an enchanted King’s weapon, it works because it harkens back to the adventure movies we all loved as kids. This movie has more in common with Indiana Jones than it does Superman, and I for one am so happy about that. This film reminds us why solo superhero films that are also (gasp) origin stories can and do work. Aquaman didn’t need to rely on the gimmick of continuity, or shared universes. It had a simple story that was surprisingly relatable. I don’t relate to Batman, but I want to be like Aquaman. This film does what Wonder Woman did last year. It showcased a good person rising to the challenge of an oppressive world that may reject them. It shows a hero fighting for nothing more than what they think is right.

Say what you will about DC films, but what I love about them is that they’re not afraid to put the emphasis on the hero part of that word.

 

Aquaman hits theaters on December 21st.

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