The notion of an Aquaman movie even existing feels like we’ve reached peak … something. I can’t help but think of a prognosticator in, say, 2012 declaring, “The superhero movie boom just isn’t going to last.” Then we smash-cut to now, with the opening of Aquaman – a hero headlining his own film that’s so preposterous in nature it was a running joke for an entire season of Entourage. Well, who’s laughing now? (Actually, I don’t know who is laughing. Maybe Aquaman is laughing? Maybe nobody? Who’s to say, really.)
Whether you come out of Aquaman enjoying it or not, there’s no argument that director James Wan went for it. With Aquaman, this is a swing for the fences type movie. (I’ll come back to that cliché I just used in a minute.) Wan isn’t really interested in making a small scale movie to introduce Aquaman – a character most people don’t know that well beyond what they know from old Saturday morning cartoons – instead, Wan plunges us into Aquaman’s weird, might as well be alien world.
While watching Aquaman, I kept thinking about 2011’s Green Lantern (Don’t panic!) because these are two movies that have similar things to establish. First, they have to establish our hero. Then they have to introduce us to this whole other weird world our hero belongs to. This is a tough task. When you make a Batman or a Spider-Man movie, we already kind of get his world because he’s just a dude roaming around a city. But when you make a Green Lantern movie, we have to meet the Green Lantern Corp. And when you make an Aquaman movie, you have to deal with Atlantis. And in both cases our hero is meeting these worlds for the first time, right along with us. It’s here that Green Lantern failed and Aquaman succeeds.
The film starts in the past, as we see an injured Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) washed up on some Maine rocks and being by a mild-mannered lighthouse keeper named Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison). They fall in love, have a son, Arthur, and live a life of peace and prosperity until one day when armored water warriors show up with laser guns to take Atlanna away (that old classic love story).
Years later, Arthur (Jason Momoa) and his father hang out together at Maine watering holes and seem to have quite a heck of a time together. Arthur is a hero who is comfortable in his own skin and seems to enjoy just being. He’s not against being a hero, but he doesn’t seem to be openly looking to be a hero, either. If he had it his way he’d just stay at the bar and that would be the movie. (I’d actually watch that movie.) But, no, Mera (Amber Heard) shows up to explain that Arthur’s half-brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson), is up to no good. He’s trying to rally the seven underwater kingdoms together to wage a war against the surface dweller. And it’s up to Arthur, who comes from both worlds, to stop this from happening. From here we are off to Atlantis and everything gets weird and big and colorful. This is a movie that wants to kill you with sensory overload. (It may have even succeeded. I’m fairly sure I am writing this as a ghost. Boo.)