The DCEU has not had much success in recent years and there is much uncertainty about which direction the studio will move in for their upcoming movies. Wonder Woman showed a lot of promise but Justice League pretty much did all that it could to take away any positive outlook on the future of the DCEU. That being said, there was a lot riding on this movie not sucking.
The first thing that I want to mention is the inconsistency that of the DCEU timeline with regards to Aquaman. Mera (played by Amber Heard) mentions early on in the movie that Aquaman helped defeat Steppenwolf, which indicates that the events of the movie take place after the events of Justice League. If this is true, then it doesn’t make sense that Aquaman visits Atlantis for the first time during the course of this movie, because he clearly has a scene that takes place in Atlantis during Justice League. During that scene, he meets Mera for the first time. Her hair is more of a brown color and she has somewhat of an accent, which is inconsistent with her character in Aquaman.
A big criticism of DC movies in the past is that they tend to be pretty dark and humorless. Aquaman tries to break that mold a little bit, but I still wouldn’t venture to call this a funny movie by any means. You can tell that director James Wan is doing his best to add some light-hearted and comedic moments to the film, but it tends to come across as forced comedy and doesn’t land particularly well. I also thought they missed a few opportunities for a good, comedic moment. Overall, DC still just hasn’t grasped the concept of making a quality action film that is also lighthearted and funny.
Though I enjoyed both characters individually, I didn’t sense much chemistry between Jason Mamoa and Amber Heard when they were on screen together (which was like half of the movie). Their relationship was kind of dry and the audiences doesn’t really see it develop.
There were two specific moments in the film where I noticed some very poor looking visual effects. The first happens about half-way into the film when Manta is testing out a plasma gun by shooting it at a rock formation. The rock explodes and I honestly think I could make the same explosion effect on my phone. The other was in the last fight scene between Arthur and Orm. Arthur seems to twirl his trident in his hand like a baton twirler, only you can easily tell that it is fake. It is pretty obvious that Jason Mamoa is just moving his arms around and a CGI trident is spinning in front of his empty arms. Just trust me, it looks bad.
The last thing that bothered me a little bit was the fact that a couple of the movies best lines are in the trailers. That is really a poor decision in my opinion because it takes a lot of power out of the lines. They don’t pack the punch that they should have because I had already seen them in multiple trailers. I also could have used a little more of Manta if we’re being really picky.
So I bashed Aquaman quite a bit, but there are also quite a few positive elements to the film. For one, it is by far and away the best looking movie in the DCEU. There is lots of color, attention to detail, and the costume design is top notch. They do a pretty good job of creating an aesthetically pleasing movie while dealing with the challenges that come with making a movie that takes place underwater.
I mentioned in my Justice League review that I really enjoy Jason Mamoa as Aquaman. I stand by that statement today, in fact, I am even further convinced that he is the right man for the job than I was then. Amber Heard isn’t the highlight of the movie by any means, but you can tell she is very talented. If Disney ever makes a live-action version of The Little Mermaid, I would love to see her take on the role as Ariel based on her look in this movie (mostly the red hair).
In order to make a quality DC movie, you have to be able to create quality action sequences. Aquaman does that and does it to a pretty high level. The action sequences are smooth yet intense, and they do a pretty good job of making the audience feel like we are in the middle of it.
Rupert Gregson-Williams put together possibly the best score of his career that includes the music of movies such as Wonder Woman and Hacksaw Ridge. It is somewhat subtle, but it paces the movie along very well.
While I wouldn’t call Aquaman a blockbuster or one of the must see movies of the year, it just won the box office on a competitive opening weekend with $67M. That’s a good sign for the DCEU, showing that there is still significant interest in their characters. I didn’t particularly love Aquaman, but it is definitely the second best movie in the history of the modern DCEU.