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Starring: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe
Director: James Wan
Screenplay: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick
Action/Adventure/Fantasy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 143 minutes
Release Date: December 21, 2018
It’s time to review the meekest of the DC superheroes: Aquaman.
Greg, the meek shall inherit the earth — and the water, apparently. Let’s recap.
We’re introduced to Arthur Dent (Jason Momoa), the son of a lighthouse keeper and Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) princess of Atlantis. As a grown man, Dent is troubled by the fact that his mother was kidnapped by Atlantis and sentenced to death. Still, he roams the seas helping those in need using his super-strength and ability to communicate with sea animals.
When a submarine is accosted by pirates, Dent (who avoids the name the press has given him: Aquaman) comes to the rescue. He saves the crew but leaves Jesse Kane to die with Kane’s son, David (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) trying to free him. In leaving Kane to die, Dent makes a mortal enemy of David, who eventually comes back as “Black Manta.”
Meanwhile, in the underwater city of Atlantis, Dent’s half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) declares war on the people above the surface of the water in response to David’s attack. He daughter Mera (Amber Heard) goes to the surface to warn Dent of the impending attack. Dent is told that to defeat Orm, he must find and obtain the Trident of Atlantis which he needs to defeat Orm and claim the throne as the true leader of both the surface and underwater peoples.
Scott, Aquaman is an attempt by the showrunners of the DC Extended Universe to recreate this otherwise milquetoast hero into something grand. And they’ve succeeded in a major way. Prior incarnations of Aquaman have been laughable at best with such shows as Family Guy, South Park, and Robot Chicken making much hay about how underpowered Aquaman is compared to other superheroes.
By using a larger-than-life actor in Momoa (who has starred in such shows as Game of Thrones and Stargate Atlantis), they have established Arthur Dent as being a hyper-masculine man, as well as a superpowered hero. I believe they’ve also expanded Aquaman’s role in the DCEU by giving him powers of both the surface world and the oceans. This allows Aquaman to fight for “truth, liberty, and justice” in both worlds. And they’ve given him an overarching goal of uniting the surface world with the undersea world. This greatly expands Aquaman’s role in the DCEU movies.
From a cinematic perspective, Aquaman is a visual triumph. Wholly fifty-percent of the film takes place underwater. It’s an amazing visual feat as everyone’s hair has to float around while actors bob up and down in near weightlessness. I was reminded of Avatar in a positive way. Also, the story of a half breed trying to find his way in two worlds is reminiscent of films we’ve reviewed earlier this year like The Hate U Give and Green Book.
Greg, Aquaman is a superheroic delight and, along with Wonder Woman, ranks as one of DC Films’ finest accomplishments. As much as I always enjoy Marvel movies, it’s important to remember that Marvel’s films are comedies disguised as superhero stories. DC Films are much better at achieving a balance between drama and playfulness, a balance more befitting a story with a message worth telling. I agree with you Greg that in Aquaman we’re treated to some of the best cinematography seen in a superhero movie. Both the above-water and underwater scenes are wondrous creations and true engineering spectacles, with some scenes taking my breath away.
In this film we’re treated to a fine albeit slightly understated performance by Jason Momoa. He’s got the eyebrows of a hero, not to mention a body that once again proves that superheroes are given magical access to the best gym equipment. Like many classic heroes, Aquaman has trouble getting it through his thick skull that he is destined for heroism. He seems awfully slow to pick up on this destiny, but a delay in a hero’s understanding of him or herself is a key element of hero mythology. I love this movie’s central message: “Kings rule people, whereas heroes unite people.” This is a nice distinction between leadership and heroism.
Aquaman also contains many archetypal elements of classic storytelling. Especially prominent is Moxnes’ theory of deep family roles that permeate classic storytelling. We’ve got mothers, fathers, half-brothers, kings, queens, princes, and more. There is also the archetype of the child destined for greatness, the young man who is oblivious to his royal destiny, the bastard child who is disrespected, the “hybrid” child who is ostracized. There is also great mentorship for our hero — another classic feature of hero mythology. Aquaman receives even more help than most heroes, and these sources include his mother, father, trainer, and Mera, all of whom see greatness in him. Aquaman is slow to accept his royal destiny. Could this film be telling us how blind we are to our calling? Or that too much humility is a bad quality?
Aquaman is a successful reimagining of the DC superhero. By casting Momoa and giving Aquaman a great backstory, the showrunners have telescoped what may come next for Aquaman in future DCEU films. The quality of the filming and cinematography as well as the writing make Aquaman a joy to view. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this character in the future. I give Aquaman 4 out of 5 Reels.
As a hero, Aquaman measures up very well, indeed. He’s selfless, strong, moral and so on. And he also had an arc. He started out as vengeful, even heartless in leaving a villain to drown. But by the end of the film he learns compassion when he lets his half-brother live in a battle to the death. I give Aquaman 4 out of 5 Heroes.
There are plenty of archetypes including the ROYAL FAMILY, the SIBLING RIVALRY and the ARCH NEMESIS”. I give these 3 out of 5 Arcs.
Because I agree completely, Greg, I’ll keep my synopsis brief. Aquaman may be DC Film’s finest accomplishment, a visual and aquatic feast for the eyes and with inspired storytelling, too. Jason Momoa was born to play this role and I look forward to seeing future installments of this franchise. In keeping with Wonder Woman, this film allows women to shine in superhero roles, specifically the characters of Mera and Atlanna. I would love to see Mera emerge as Aqua-Woman some day, as her character is highly deserving of her own superhero franchise. Like you, Greg, I award this film 4 Reels out of 5.
For all the reasons you mention, Greg, I give Arthur Dent as Aquaman a score of 4 Hero points out of 5. As I’ve already mentioned the rich archetypal landscape of this film, so let me simply award these archetypes the full 5 Arcs out of 5.