There’s a fair amount of cheese and a fair amount of fun to be had in Aquaman. Whether it’s characters shouting their silly names (Call me Ocean Master! I’m Black Manta!), or Jason Mamoa seemingly just having fun almost the entire time, or director James Wan letting slip a few scenes where Amber Heard couldn’t even clearly say her lines, Aquaman is a movie that reminds the audience so often that “this is just a movie.” It doesn’t take itself too seriously. And if you’re thinking, since there are few pop songs that pop up in the movie—no, it’s not exactly like those Guardians of the Galaxy movies. But it’s quite a ride and Aquaman does to the ocean floor what GotG did to outer space and the galaxies.
Aquaman starts off quite strongly, showing how a human lighthouse keeper and Atlantean Queen meet, fall in love, have a baby boy and named him after a hurricane or King Arthur. The boy’s mother (Nicole Kidman) had to leave them to keep him away from harm. Then, we see how the boy Arthur discovers his power to control sea creatures after he was bullied by some kids.
Those are nice little attempts to humanize Arthur Curry a.k.a. Aquaman a.k.a. the other JL superhero who’s roughly the underwater equivalent of Superman in that he’s super strong, he can “fly” underwater, and he’s nearly invulnerable. By the time the movie jumps to present time and we finally see Jason Mamoa’s super-beefcake body, the movie throws all of those attempts to the sea, as if saying “no, this is not that movie,” even if it shoehorns one villain’s tragic origin story that at that point, is already a bit hard to take seriously.
But those early scenes are not unimportant, especially since the movie’s default mode is to go all campy and cheesy. Those scenes, including those of Arthur drinking with his father or how his father perpetually misses his mother, doesn’t give Arthur much, in terms of emotional arc, but it establish him as a relatable character on a very basic level—like he’s not going to stop in the middle of a fight just because he finds out Orm’s mother’s name is also Martha—or Atlanna. (Well, they are actually step brothers but you know what I mean.)
Then, the movie threads derivative territory. You know, the kind of thing that bothers kings and princes, like in Thor and Black Panther, the fight for the throne, mixed with the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie. We’ve seen Asgard, Wakanda but for Aquaman, it is Atlantis and other wonderful purely CGI underwater territories.
Oh, but what dazzling waterworld does the movie give us. The underwater scenes are full of eye popping visuals, Atlantis is pure eye candy, hands down the best use of CGI this side of Infinity War. And this is where Aquaman is unarguably superior than both Thor and Black Panther. Aquaman is a world-building miracle, something no one thought Warner Bros. and DC Comics could ever pull off out of Zack Snyder’s grim-dark ass, which used to be the DCEU.
There are also a few surprises here and there: Mera falling off a quicksand in the Saharan desert, Arthur and Mera being chased by thousands of Lovecraftian amphibious monsters in the Trench, and early in the movie, Atlanna showing off her Atlantis kung fu against Atlantean soldiers. Then, there’s the epic battle between Arthur and Black Manta and a rooftop chase involving Mera and Orm’s men in Sicily, which is easily the best part of the entire movie. (No, it’s not Mamoa’s six-pack abs or a ravishing Amber Heard in her awful green costume.)
And as we already knew, these superhero comic book movies only ends with big epic “climactic” battles. In the case of Aquaman, it is a war between sea creatures waged on the ocean floor. There are sea horses, sharks, humanoid crabs, a magical trident and there’s the Krakken too. And if your wondering where the hell did that kitchen go, it’s in this part of the movie where the filmmakers throw it all. Aquaman’s gold and green costume is also kind of awful, kind of cool, but you know what, just enjoy the ride. Because this movie knows that too. And Jason Mamoa is laughing with you.