Aquaman: A Spoiler-Free Review

You'll believe a man can be king...of Atlantis.

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Aquaman (2018) is an entry into Warner Bros’ DC Films franchise. The movie is adapted from the comic book of the same name, debuting first in More Fun Comics in November 1941. The movie, rated PG-13 for violence, adult content (mostly alcohol), and action, is directed by James Wan, credited with Insidious (2010), The Conjuring (2013), and Furious 7 (2015), and was released to theaters on December 21st, entertaining audience with a creative 143-minute undersea adventure during the holiday season.

Plot Summary

Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), the half-Atlantean titular Aquaman, dives into an adventure of oceanic proportions when he finds himself fighting his half-brother and sitting-ruler of Atlantis, Orm (Patrick Wilson), for the throne of Atlantis and for peace between the denizens of the ocean and the inhabitants of the surface. Teamed up with Princess Mera (Amber Heard) of Xebel, Arthur must employ the teachings of his mentor Vulko (Willem Dafoe), majordomo to Orm, to find the mythical Trident of the first Atlantean King as well as realize his own worthiness of being the new king of Atlantis and his ocean empire.

Elements Analysis

The film is the typical, loud superhero action-adventure with splashes of thoughtless drama throughout, dealing with worthiness and identity. Shedding the gritty, ridiculousness of the Snyderverse for a more palatable entry, Aquaman generally follows the framework of The Hero’s Journey—aka The Monomyth—which I will highlight throughout the analysis.

The movie opens with a prologue depicting Arthur’s parents, Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison), a lighthouse keeper, and Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), an Atlantean refugee, meeting for the first time and falling in love. As their love grows, so does the size of their family, and all is well until she must return to her home nation. The prologue is one-part family drama and one-part Michael Bay-style explosive action and camera angles, meant to set up The Hero’s Journey and to prepare for the first element, The Call to Adventure.

Act I doubles-down with loud action as Arthur employs cheesy one-liners and brutish poses to protect the seas against seaborne threats, showcasing his superhuman capabilities beyond breathing underwater and communing with sea life. The act serves as a vehicle to 1) legitimize a need for a seagoing hero, 2) set up the minor, albeit prominent, villain, and 3) establish The Normal World that Arthur inhabits and will have to leave to follow The Call to Adventure. The act concludes with a choice made by Arthur that will come back to bite him later.

Act II presents the call and The Departure when The Herald, Mera, shows up and tells Arthur that he needs to take back the throne and save the world from Atlantean aggression. Arthur initially refuses with tough-guy dialogue but concedes when a major disaster puts The Normal World at risk. Just like in the Monomyth, Arthur receives Supernatural Aid from The Herald who uses her nifty water-magic to do nifty water-magic stuff. Made a believer, Arthur accepts his role in the journey and rushes of to the magical land (er…sea) of Atlantis to save the world, satisfying The Crossing the Threshold element.

The first half of Act III is the conclusion of the crossing as Arthur’s suspiciousness of Mera is put to rest, and Arthur realizes that he must challenge his half-brother Orm. Just as the exposition finishes, Atlantean hunters in service of Orm attack, serving as the film’s version of Threshold Guardians. The film goes back to its loud action roots, slinging bodies to and fro until Arthur comes face-to-face with Orm. This ends the crossing and begins The Land of Adventure portion of The Hero’s Journey as Arthur agrees to engage Orm in single combat. Things don’t go as expected for the would-be Kings, and Arthur is thrust into The Spiritual Death and Rebirth element of the journey.

Act IV is largely The Road of Trials element that combines detective fiction with action and a splash of romance. Arthur and Mera set out to find the magical item—á la Indiana Jones—that can legitimize Arthur’s place in Atlantis. Along the way, they encounter contrite exposition, more cheesy dialogue, obligatory courtship, and thrilling combat. The act also showcases The Night Sea Voyage element, literally and figuratively, as Arthur and Mera venture into an area so ancient and dangerous that even the formidable Atlanteans dare not explore. There, Arthur experiences unspeakable dangers, demonstrating the director’s penchant for horror, as Arthur attempts to make the personal transformation implicit in the Monomyth framework. The Apotheosis begins at the end of the Act as he enlists The Ultimate Boon—something of tremendous power—in his quest against Orm, now revealed as The Big Bad.

Act V functions as The Apotheosis’ conclusion as well as The Return, The Freedom to Live, and The Celebration elements. Arthur arrives, employing The Ultimate Boon as a massive undersea battle kicks off. The final showdown happens between to the two would-be kings in front of the entirety of Atlantis

The post-credit scene offers the possibility of a classic villain team-up in a potential sequel.

Technical Review

The script is decent, not great, but a solid decent. The writers definitely put the movie on the road to success using the archetypal Hero’s Journey; it really helped the movie demonstrate substance that may have otherwise failed if not for the framework of the Monomyth. Detracting from that fact was the film’s predictable format that switches back and forth from exposition to action. No really, as soon as the plot-driving exposition reaches its zenith—KABOOM!—action! Still, the film followed the New 52 source material from which it was adapted, taking creative liberties where necessary but embracing the cheese of comics such as traditional costumes and names. So, I give it a thumbs up.

The cinematography and CGI are brilliant, the latter being a major plus considering the disastrous CGI of the last movie Aquaman was in. Surprisingly, I haven’t heard a ton of criticism regarding the CGI-enhanced youthful appearance of Morrison and Kidman during the prologue. Perhaps, audiences are just used to it now, or they’re counting their blessings after Justice League (2017). Additionally, Atlantis and the undersea battles are amazing spectacles—the previews don’t do them justice. The imaginations of James Wan and his team are incredible.

Orm is a great villain and an opposite of Arthur. Orm is regal, patient, conniving, confident, and power-hungry with a grudge against humanity; while, Arthur is a roughneck, loud, in-your-face, isolated, a bit moronic, and an every-man who loves humanity. The secondary villain is a great foil as he is every bit as aggressive and loud as Arthur and has a similar parental motivation.

The film combines the tropes and visuals of Star Wars with Tron and a splash of Jurassic Park (you’ll know it when you see it) to craft a successful entry into the DC line of cinema that can live up to Wonder Woman; a feat it achieves, more or less. It has all the dynamic action of a Snyder film without the baggage.

Conclusion

Overall, Aquaman is fun and succeeded where better properties could not. I’m not an Aquaman fan, so there would have been little love lost if the movie was awful, especially after my personal disenfranchisement with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Justice League (2017). I’m super entertained by Jason Momoa playing Kal Drogo playing Lobo playing Aquaman. He has all the charisma of a drunk llama but, goddamn, he capitalizes on his devil-may-care approach to acting and criticism. And, he does a great job adapting Aquaman into Aquabro. I can’t hate him for that. In fact, I support it. We need more Haka, too.

If you weren’t aware, Dolph Lungren is cast in a supporting role, and I loved him. I don’t know what it was about the character he played, but it looked great. Oh, and Amber Heard’s wig was the worst—so distracting—but whatever.

I’m not really sure what this movie’s relationship is to the previous DC movies. Mera asserts that Arthur defeated Steppenwolf, meaning the events of that travesty Justice League are canon, but Orm claims that Arthur had never been to Atlantis. However, we clearly watched Arthur fight Steppenwolf in Atlantis alongside Mera. And, following an acid conversation between the two in that specific scene, he takes Atlantean armor and a trident in his pursuit of the villain to the surface. So, I guess that means he has been to Atlantis? Additionally, the interaction between him and Mera in Aquaman suggests that they had never met, but that seems different from what Justice League presented. So, I don’t know. More whatever.

Finally, I don’t care what anyone says, when Aquaman did the tough-guy turnaround and smugly asked, “Permission to come aboard?” I very nearly stood and clapped. Instead, I popped more peanut M&Ms in celebration. Don’t judge me.

“Yeah! My man!”

-Kenny