Review: DC's 'Aquaman' is Utterly Preposterous But Insanely Watchable

December 20, 2018

Aquaman Review

Created by Paul Norris & Mort Weisinger, Aquaman debuted in 1941's More Fun Comics #73. In his Golden Age appearances, Aquaman is described as a human being who lives and thrives under the water and can speak with sea creatures "in their own language." During the late '50s and 60s, Aquaman was established as a founding member of the Justice League and was a mainstay on Hanna Barbera’s Super Friends, which ran from 1973 to 1986. In the '90s, the wholesome seahorse-riding superhero was re-imagined as the brooding King of Atlantis. Fast-forward to 2011 and The New 52, DC's relaunch of their entire superhero line, and Geoff Johns' cutting-edge revival of the character, which serves as the basis for Aquaman, the third live-action movie featuring the character, following Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League.

Directed by James Wan (of Furious 7, Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring series previously), the movie stars Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry, a half-Atlantean "metahuman" who possesses superhuman strength and can manipulate the tides, telepathically communicate with marine life, and swim at supersonic speeds. In the film's prologue, we learn that Arthur is the son of a lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison from Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones) and Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) of Atlantis. Atlanna is forced to return to the underwater realm, leaving her young son and his heartbroken father behind. In her absence, Arthur is trained by her trusted advisor, Nuidis Vulko (Willem Dafoe), and becomes a skilled warrior, but is ultimately rejected by the Atlanteans for being a half-breed.

Jump to present day, one year after the events of Justice League and Steppenwolf's invasion (LOL). Arthur confronts a group of high-seas pirates led by Jesse Kane (Michael Beach) attempting to hijack a Russian nuclear submarine. Kane dies during the confrontation while his son, David (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) vows revenge against the half-Atlantean. As it turns out, David – the villain Black Manta – was hired by King Orm (Patrick Wilson), Arthur's half-brother and ruler of Atlantis, who wanted to stage a submarine attack as a pretext for declaring war on the surface-dwellers. Now the true heir to the throne must stop Orm before the self-proclaimed Ocean Master conquers the surface world as retribution for mankind's pollution of the planet. Joining Curry on his quest are Vulko and Princess Mera (Amber Heard), another fierce Atlantean warrior betrothed to King Orm.

Aquaman Review

With a screenplay written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall (from a story by Geoff Johns & James Wan and Will Beall), Aquaman is equal parts Masters of the Universe (1987), Batman Forever (1995), and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002). It's an utterly preposterous movie with atrocious dialogue that's still insanely watchable thanks in large part to Wan's kinetic action set pieces and Jason Momoa's charismatic performance. As a matter of fact, all of the films above are represented within the cast. In addition to the aforementioned love affair between Batman Forever's Chase Meridian (Kidman) and Attack of the Clones' Jango Fett (Morrison), He-Man himself, Dolph Lundgren, appears as Mera's father, King Nereus. Throw in Spider-Man's Green Goblin (Dafoe) and Watchmen's Nite-Owl (Wilson), and Aquaman is a potpourri of the last 30 years of fantasy/comic book cinema, for better or worse.

Aquaman isn't a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it's fun, which is more than I can say for the majority of DC's recent output. It's the second-best DC Extended Universe movie behind Patty Jenkins' exceptional Wonder Woman, but that isn't saying much. I'd rather have a cystoscopy than revisit BVS, Suicide Squad, or Justice League again. One thing's for sure though, Aquaman is a great looking movie. Production designer Bill Brzeski (Iron Man 3, Furious 7), costume designer Kym Barrett (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas), and visual effects supervisor Kelvin Mcilwain (Furious 7) deserve recognition for their incredible work in breathing life into James Wan’s vision and the iconic imagery of Aquaman artists and illustrators like Paul Norris, Nick Cardy, and Ramona Fradon. There's a lot of eye candy in Wan's film – and not just Momoa. From the kick-ass costumes of Atlanna, King Orm, and Black Manta to gnarly creatures like the Brine King (voiced by John Rhys-Davies) and the underwater sea monster Karathen (voiced by Julie Andrews), there's plenty of dazzling designs for sci-fi fans to appreciate.

Aquaman Review

Despite a script that's heavy on exposition and melodrama, there are some solid performances to be found in Wan's movie. Kidman, Momoa, and Wilson are great, even when they're forced to deliver cringe-worthy dialogue and flat one-liners. Aside from a weak script, Aquaman suffers from some pacing issues that threaten to sink the 143-minute movie. It's reminiscent of 2012's John Carter, where most of the film's overblown runtime is dedicated to establishing the world all the characters live in, instead of exploring the characters themselves. It's the action sequences, lensed by cinematographer Don Burgess (of Source Code, The Muppets, Allied, Wonder), that keep the film afloat; the final 30 minutes are straight-up bonkers – with an epic underwater war featuring crab monsters, fish-men, and Atlantean warriors riding giant seahorses and great white sharks.

Another weird aspect of the movie is its score, composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams (who also scored Wonder Woman). Aquaman's score is like ten different soundtracks in one, creating an overall disjointed tone that adds to the film's pacing issues. Arthur has these big rock-laden orchestral themes, while Atlantis has an '80s synth vibe, ala Stranger Things. There are comedic themes as well, the kinds you'd hear in Happy Madison productions like Grown Ups, Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Zookeeper – all of which Gregson-Williams scored. If that wasn't enough, there's an offensive if not blasphemous cover of Toto's "Africa" by Pitbull and Rhea that sounds like Justice League looks. Yeah, it's that bad.

All things considered, James Wan's Aquaman is another step in the right direction for Warner Bros and DC Entertainment. It's silly and wildly uneven, but if you're into cheesy blockbusters, you're going to love it. With its heavy-handed scripting and exotic other-worldly visuals, I have to imagine Aquaman is George Lucas' favorite film of 2018. He's probably watching it right now in his home theater – swaddled in a plaid, denim Snuggie – enjoying a Coca-Cola Classic and a Hershey's Bar and grinning ear-to-ear as a shirtless Momoa forces his way into a pirate-packed submarine and delivers the line, "Permission to come aboard?" while winking at the camera. Actually, now that I think about it, I'm grinning too.

Adam's Rating: 3 out of 5
Follow Adam on Twitter - @AdamFrazier

Find more posts: DC Movies, Review



I fell asleep twice and almost had a seizure with all the CGI.

tyban81 on Dec 20, 2018


The same thing happened to me just watching the trailer for this...

cuckoozey on Dec 21, 2018


the same thing happened to me when I watched Black Panther. holy crap the VFX on that film was cheap.

Jose Antonio Atienza Lat on Dec 23, 2018


I think its different here. There is some seriously good CGI in this film. There is just waaaay too much of it.

Jon Odishaw on Dec 24, 2018


What a peculiar review

Jon Odishaw on Dec 20, 2018


Ha, if you think this is peculiar, you should see the movie!

Adam Frazier on Dec 21, 2018


I would be disappointed if it wasnt, I feel like people are forgetting what Wan did with Furious 7. He made an absurd movie, but it was exactly what we had come to expect from the franchise. He just turned it up to 11. Wan has embraced the absurd with most of his movies and I am excited to see what he has done here.

Jon Odishaw on Dec 21, 2018


That's all true, I was hoping for more of what he brings to films like INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING that are heavy on character and story, with extremely well-crafted sequences that elicit an emotional response.

Adam Frazier on Dec 24, 2018


I totally agree. Aquaman is a huge studio movie so I expected more furious 7 parallels and thats what we got. Which I'd a shame because James Wan is more talented than what we got. But i still enjoyed what we got.

Jon Odishaw on Dec 24, 2018


You going to check it out @jon_odishaw:disqus?

THE_RAW_ on Dec 21, 2018


got my tickets for tonight already.

Jon Odishaw on Dec 21, 2018


Okay it was preposterous. But hes right. It consistantly put a smile on my face.

Jon Odishaw on Dec 21, 2018


You're grinning and only give it a 3 out of 5?? If they did a deep dive (see what I did there 🙂 ) on the character more, you'd probably be complaining about how Aquaman has mommy issues like Batman and Superman. Of course its a cheesy blockbuster, why would they do anything else? I loved it and it was easily much better than WW. With this movie more than any of its predecessors, my faith in DC movies is a bit restored.

Whichhalfofthewit on Dec 20, 2018


...makes me want to rewatch Winter Soldier again 🙂

Joe Kundlak on Dec 21, 2018


Or Infinity War? Or Avengers? or etc. etc. etc.....

THE_RAW_ on Dec 21, 2018


DC doesn't have someone like Kevin Feige, they have no idea what they're doing. They're just going through the motions, trying to emulate Marvel as best as they can. When the best people can say about this (yet another) trainwreck is that "it's stupid but fun", there's nowhere to go from there.

Seboso on Dec 21, 2018


I think Geoff Johns was appointed to be DC's Kevin Feige, but he just sucks at it.

THE_RAW_ on Dec 21, 2018


I feel the issue with DC is too many cooks in the kitchen.

Jon Odishaw on Dec 21, 2018


Thanks for confirming my suspicions that this is more "style over substance", @thefraze:disqus . I kind of knew from the trailers this was going to be a cheesy blockbuster and unfortunately I'm done with having my intelligence insulted. I appreciate the MCU because they don't treat the audience like moron's and they've elevated the expectations of superhero movie writing (see: Winter Soldier, Infinity War). Now, what I'm REALLY curious about, is your thoughts/review on "Bumblebee"!! That's the other blockbuster film I'm really interested this holiday season...

THE_RAW_ on Dec 21, 2018


I'm bummed that Paramount decided not to screen it for critics in my market - I didn't get a chance to see it before release so I probably won't be filing a formal review for it, but I am super-excited to see it.

Adam Frazier on Dec 24, 2018


Seeing tomorrow! I really wanted James to have this be a critical hit but it seems like he got too excited.

Brandon Cole on Dec 21, 2018

22 understanding and position is that all the movies in this genre are'utterly preposterous'.

thespiritbo on Dec 21, 2018


It depends what one expects from the movie like this. This one delivers the right amount of fantasy flavor which is expected from narratives like this. And since you have to go with such preposterous assumption, every complaining about it is preposterous in itself, it says nothing that hasn't been said before ...

shiboleth on Dec 22, 2018

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