I didn’t grow up reading comic books, my entry into the superhero worlds of both DC and Marvel are all from the films and TV shows that have taken over the big and small screens in the past decade. And when I thought about what association I’ve had with Aquaman, the first one that came to mind is Rex Navarrete’s irreverent but funny Maritess vs. The Superfriends skit. There was the Hanna-Barbera classic Super Friends cartoon, which was before my time, so that’s just an association made by talking to people like my dad. And there was the recent Justice League film with lead actor Jason Momoa playing Aquaman for the first time. But let’s just say I forgot that one the moment I left the cinema.
Bottom line is Aquaman was someone I couldn’t take seriously, before I got to see his origin story told through the vision of director James Wan. There’s an intensity and playfulness to Momoa’s Aquaman that feels like an extension of the actor’s actual personality. Either he disappears into the role, or it would be safe to say that he could be Arthur Curry a.k.a. Aquaman in real life. I wouldn’t bat an eyelash over it, if that is the case.
The actor is quick to admit to the similarities between him and the superhero he plays. As a Hawaiian who grew up in Iowa, he didn’t quite know where to fit in. Arthur, a half-human, half-Atlantean, doesn’t quite know his place on land or under water, too.
More so, he has an inherent distrust towards Atlantis. His mother, Atlanna (played by Nicole Kidman), was said to have been killed by its vengeful king, Orax. Atlanna fled the kingdom after being betrothed to Orax. When she came to the surface, she was saved by a lighthouse keeper named Tom Curry (played by Temuera Morrison). They fell in love and bore him her first-born son, which they named after the legendary king of Camelot. Orax was driven mad by her perceived betrayal and sent his soldiers after her. She was forced to return to Atlantis after realizing that living with Tom and Arthur posed a threat to them. She ended up returning and marrying the king. She bore him her second son, Orm (played by Patrick Wilson).
Arthur grew up mother-less and his ties to her world were minimal at best. He had the weapon she left behind and the occasional visit by Vulko (played by Willem Dafoe), a trusted council to the Atlantean throne and confidant to Queen Atlanna. He introduced Atlantis to young Arthur and taught him the powers he possessed as an Atlantean.
It makes sense that Arthur wanted nothing to do with the people who killed his mother. But the Atlanteans—and by extension the humans a.k.a. surface dwellers—need him. And it takes time for Arthur to come to grips with the idea that he is the solution to the problems that both mankind and Atlantis face. He gets help (a lot of it) from Mera (played by Amber Heard), the princess of the Atlantean kingdom Xebel and betrothed to his half-brother and present king of Atlantis, Orm. She knows Orm’s plan to attack the surface dwellers, because as he claims, “For centuries, the surface world has been polluting the oceans andruining my world.” A real-life issue that the film touches on.
He is on a mission to get the seven undersea kingdoms on his side and attack the surface. But underneath that Orm also has ambitions to rule over the undersea kingdoms and become Ocean Master. Mera wants to put a stop to him and she needs Arthur, the rightful heir to the throne to do so.
Mera helps him realize that he needs to reclaim his right as king of Atlantis. And she does this as they go on an epic land and sea adventure to retrieve the legendary Lost Trident of Atlan. The trident and the one powerful enough to wield it is the only one who can stop Orm. Both Mera and Vulko believe that only Arthur can do this.
Heard has described her character as the driving force behind Aquaman’s actions. And we aren’t going to argue with her. She is no damsel in distress and we thank this production for it. DC and Warner Bros. want to drive the point home that they are currently leading the charge in bringing powerful comic book-based women characters to the big screen (now, we just need more diversity thrown into that mix). It’s an exciting time to be a young woman and see more of these driven, powerful women take up more space.
You’d even say she acts more like a sidekick for most of the film than a love interest. She saves Arthur as much as he does her. And she pushes him to reach his full potential, while he helps her find her place in her world. The chemistry between Heard and Momoa is great; the banter is even better. She’s the type of person you’d want your daughter to see in a film.
There is a lot going on in this film. Somehow Wan packed in a number of stories and tropes into one almost two-and-a-half-hour film. And you can predict what happens most of the time. Some people might be put off by this, but the over-the-top fun and action seems to suit the brash, blunt, and over-the-top lead. It’s thoroughly entertaining.
There are moments it felt like I was watching Indiana Jones, sometimes Star Wars, sometimes Lord of the Rings, and there’s even a nod to Wan’s horror film genre background (watch for it when they encounter the Trench).
One of the side stories in this movie involves another known Aquaman villain, Black Manta (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who seeks to avenge the death of his father early. The movie could’ve done without it, but it does setup another story line that can be pursued should another film be made. But Abdul-Mateen brings in an intensity to the role and a proper motivation to back up his actions as a villain.
I liked how self-contained Aquaman is, though. We don’t see any sign of any other Justice League character. It’s a standalone that sticks to its own lore. The story is largely inspired by executive producer Geoff Johns’ Aquaman comic from The New 52, a 2011 series that DC used to relaunch its superhero stories. Johns and Wan penned the script using the former’s knowledge of Aquaman and the other DC superheroes to bring Wan’s vision to life.
What doesn’t always stick is the CGI. It’s not as seamless as I’d hope, and it’ll make me laugh at times when I think it shouldn’t. But how Wan and his team built the worlds under the sea and its different kingdoms is impressive. It’s sprawling and awe-inspiring. The sets felt like another living, breathing character in the film, matching the over-the-top intensity of its titular character.
Is the film worth watching?
For someone I only have comedic references to, Aquaman as a film became the only other superhero movie in the DC extended universe (aside from Wonder Woman, of course) that I can take seriously right now. There are hints of a sequel in the post-credit scene (yes, there’s one, just one) but Wan, Momoa, and Heard, during the Asian premiere in Manila, won’t confirm anything. “If it does well…” Momoa muses when asked the question during the press conference. I’m hoping it does, though, because I sure do want a part two.
7 out of 10
Aquaman opens in theaters today, December 12, in the Philippines.