… But it also isn’t what I would call a great movie.
It just happens to have the rest of the DCEU as a point of comparison, and in that pantheon of films it succeeds better than most.
Aquaman (or Ocean Comrade as my sister serendipitously called the titular hero) has a few things going in its favor.
Visually, there are plenty of scenes that are marvelous — though sometimes a little too reminiscent of 2001’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire.
The city of Atlantis in its full lit-up glory is beautiful next to some of the drab environments in places like Gotham City, and scenes like Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Mera (Amber Herd) diving into a monster-filled abyss lit up only by a red flare and the occasional lightning flash really left an impression.
I also do have to give credit to Momoa, as I enjoyed his character far more here than in Justice League. Especially considering he and most of the other actors were likely suspended on wires the whole time, he keeps a strong, fun energy throughout.
Even when they milk that female sex appeal for all its worth.
Plus he has good chemistry with Herd’s fish-out-of-water, especially in one moment when she first visits the surface world and he indulges in her ignorance by splitting a buffet of roses.
Aquaman also has some fantastic fight choreography. When the first trailers were coming out, I thought the trident combat underwater looked a little wonky. There are some wonky visual effects, but the fighting wasn’t.
In fact, there are two battles in particular — one on the submarine seen in most trailers and the climactic fight against Oceanmaster (King Orm (Willem Dafoe)) — that are stunningly well-done and frankly brutal in the best kind of way.
In that first scene I actually laughed and applauded watching Momoa just decimate fools.
The first act of the film is honestly its best part. Between that sometimes brutal, sometimes fun and drunken Aquaman action and the touching expositional scene with his star-crossed parents, I was invested more than any other DC movie going in.
But frankly, that’s about the extent of my compliments toward Aquaman. Because once things break into the second act, I’d argue it falls apart.
Might as well start with what I teased already: Some of the visuals are real wonky, particularly in underwater scenes. When I mentioned how hard it must have been to perform so much on wires, I do have plenty of respect for the actors involved.
But there are more than a few moments where it looks like characters are getting dragged around on wires instead of swimming.
Everyone’s hair looked good moving around underwater, to be fair. But I feel like if as much work had gone into swimming animations as had gone into the backdrops, it could have been really special.
If the movie had been a really solid experience all the way through, I might not have paid that issue too much mind. But while there’s a great 90-minute movie in Aquaman, what we got was a nearly 150-minute experience that drags so hard in the middle.
Part of the reason for that is because Aquaman tries to balance half a dozen storylines at once and doesn’t do so successfully.
Right in the middle of the movie, just after Momoa and Herd arrive in Atlantis following a disaster hitting the surface world so they can start hunting for the MacGuffin which will help Aquaman defeat his half-brother, Dafoe (how those two are meant to be related is beyond me).
In the next stretch of the film there’s an action-packed detour to be echoed later, a boatload of exposition on the history of the underwater kingdom and an Uncharted-esque expedition to a desert temple which leads to a longer MacGuffin hunt.
Oh, and while we’re at it, we threw in a fun montage for Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Black Manta building his suit, as well as underwater political drama between four different nations.
If some of the concurrent plot threads were chopped down, it would have made the movie cleaner. That might have also saved a lot of the scenes from feeling too jarring with time skips (because there are a lot of those).
The last place I think Aquaman fails rather badly is with explaining it’s own mythology.
In terms of the DCEU movies, one bad example example is how much it’s emphasized that Momoa has never been to Atlantis. So much so that he has to ask Mera her name when she saves him.
But… He went to Atlantis and met Mera in Justice League, right? Unless I remember the scene wrong, they were there when Steppenwolf steals the Atlantean mother box.
So what’s the deal, cinematic universe lore?
For in-movie rules, Atlantean powers are a bit of a grab bag. Aquaman can exist underwater and on land, which makes sense considering his hybrid status. Yet so can Mera, which suggests that perhaps they all can.
Except there are a ton of soldiers who need to wear reverse diving suits (that keep water inside — it’s pretty cute actually).
So maybe just the royal-blooded Atlanteans can breath out of the water?
Except Dafoe’s character at one point says he can’t go to the surface.
… But then also he does go there for his climactic final fight with Aquaman?
I don’t know! It was just confusing, and lost me pretty easily. That’s not even mentioning the extra powers, like Aquaman being the only one who can communicate with fish or Mera seemingly being the only one with aquakinesis.
Even if you want to wave this off by using the movie’s supposed logic that water breathing and other powers came from the same disaster that sunk Atlantis, it still seemed very inconsistently distributed.
Also, on that note, not enough goes into why there are four different underwater nations and why they don’t get along for all the political drama to be compelling or even make sense.
Also also, there’s a part of the movie that seems to involve inter-dimensional travel using some strange portal that comes out of nowhere.
I know a lot of this probably sounds like nitpicking. But there’s a lot of time to nitpick when the movie had such a weak middle section.
All that being said, I’ll still undoubtedly say that Aquaman is better than half the other DC movies. It’s more fun and comic book-y than Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman could ever hope to be.
But it also comes nowhere near Wonder Woman in being a good movie. Despite how rough the third act was, I’d still say it was more comprehensive throughout than Aquaman.
I’m seemingly in the minority with my opinions toward this movie considering how much acclaim it’s gotten, and I’m sure some people will want to call me a Marvel fanboy for that.
I just don’t think Aquaman was immune from criticism simply because it stood higher than a lot of its immediate peers. And yeah, compared to most Marvel movies, it is pretty lame.
But for a DC movie, it was pretty good.
Plus it gave me something to write about today, so I suppose it can’t be all THAT bad.