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With a charismatic lead, a globe trotting, byzantine plot and some truly creative and over-the-top visuals, Aquaman delivers one of the most entertaining and pure comic book-y superhero movies an audience is likely to get. Utterly embracing every element of the sometimes bizarre history (yes, history – the character has been around for over 75 years) of Aquaman, the movie gets just about everything right by not shying away from its source material. Aquaman does not try to make its hero anything other than what he is: a super strong dude who can breath underwater, who can swim really fast and who can talk to fish. Striking a perfect balance between silliness and outright silliness, Aquaman is exciting, fun and refreshing.
Jason Momoa makes a perfect, bro-inspired Aquaman and while this take may be a bit removed from the character as he is typically portrayed in the comics, Momoa’s performance works perfectly. His Arthur Curry is a man not on a mission, a man who has saved the world once (Justice League, anyone?) and a man who is happy to be left alone. While he is aware of his background as an Atlantean, he has no desire to explore it. Just get this guy a cold one and some quality time with his dad and he will be okay. Momoa has the character down as if he has been playing him for years and, should his screen appearances as Aquaman continue, his casting will likely be regarded as spot-on as that of Robert Downey, jr. as Iron Man. Momoa is that much at home as Aquaman.
The rest of the cast is more than up to supporting him, starting with Amber Heard’s Mera, an Atlantean herself who is more than a match for Momoa’s Arthur Curry. Heard is almost as fun to watch as Momoa, diving in her role with the same self aware smile and assurance that flavors the film. Her Mera is powerful and passionate and Heard is terrific in the role. When she is given some comedic notes to play, she is equally good and she and Momoa have a very nice chemistry.
Willem Dafoe and Nicole Kidman bring their acting pedigree and reputations to their roles as Vulko and Atlanta respectively. Both chew the appropriate scenery and lend the proceedings their stature. Seeing both of them de-aged by computer is remarkable. Dafoe, in particular, seems to have traveled as rough a road as the character he plays.
Of the many things Aquaman has going for it, its treatment of its villains is a cut above the typical, megalomaniacal adversaries comic book movies usually present. The performances turned in by Patrick Wilson as Ocean Master and Yahya Abdul Marteen II as Black Manta are terrific, sure, but the manner in which the story treats the villains is just as good. Motivations are clear. Plots are, too. They have objectives and both see themselves as the hero of the story. Further, they both have legitimate reasons for their hatred of Aquaman and their enmity is no stretch. This makes for satisfying conflict above the normal fare.
Director James Wan has created and visually stunning – if sometimes overwhelming – world in which Aquaman swims. The colors (from the odd day-glo choice of Mera’s hair) leap from the screen. The aquatic characters have life and depth and are interesting and amusing and the set pieces, particularly the one involving characters known as “The Trench” are as involving and frightening as anything in other comic book movies. Much like his cast, Wan embraced the form here and the movie is all the better for that choice.
One part Raiders of the Lost Ark, one part Romancing the Stone and all parts comic book movie, Aquaman is a romp the likes of which does not come around very often, especially in the increasingly cookie-cutter world of super hero movies. The cast is terrific. The action is engaging. The plot is fun.
If you cannot crack a smile or two during Aquaman, you might be taking life just a little too seriously, bro.
AQUAMAN receives FOUR and a HALF ANTHROPOMORPHIZED OCTOPI out of a possible FIVE