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If you had said several years ago that the characters Wonder Woman and Aquaman would be the saving grace of the Warner Bros. DC Extended Universe (DCEU), to say that you’d be a laughing stock is an understatement. However, through an ironic twist of fate, that’s exactly where we are right now. Horror movie director James Wan’s first superhero movie, Aquaman, has come crashing like a tidal wave into movie theaters worldwide, determined to keep the DC cinematic universe afloat.
With Man of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice’s director, Zack Snyder, taking a backseat from being the DCEU’s creative engine, Wan has taken the characters of Aquaman and Mera from Snyder’s original vision in Justice League, and propelled them from Snyder’s dark, gritty, muted and grounded world into a much lighter one, packed with color, humor and fantastical elements.
Aquaman is a clean break from the DCEU’s bleak and somber tone, and is reminiscent of superhero movies in Marvel’s “Phase One” of their cinematic franchise. Aquaman is an enjoyable movie, and it plays to its strengths well. It embraces the essence of its source material, with backdrops and characters looking like they were ripped straight out of the pages of a comic book.
Visually, Aquaman is stunning to watch. Thanks to the work of seven visual effects companies, the movie retains Wan’s vision of making a “fantasy-superhero” film that’s more in tune with its roots. The various underwater cities of Atlantis are near-identical to their comic-book counterparts, with massive towers and bustling cityscapes that rivals Black Panther’s Wakanda. The characters themselves look incredible with painstakingly tedious work done on their costumes and hair in post-production to make them seem as if they were submerged underwater. The costume designers also accomplished the seemingly impossible task of translating Aquaman and Mera’s suits to real life without making them look tacky and fake.
Action sequences are arguably the most enjoyable and thus important parts of a superhero movie and Aquaman doesn’t disappoint in this department either. The film’s fights range from a one-on-one underwater brawl in an Atlantian gladiator ring to a high-octane chase throughout the city of Sicily, and ends with a massive confrontation between two armies that’s reminiscent of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. The movie also avoids having the character’s movements just seem like they’re flying underwater.
However, despite Aquaman succeeding in capturing the feeling that fans have when they read the comics, it ultimately falters in its other aspects. The humor feels forced at certain points and sometimes detracts from the overall setting of a scene.
While the film does a good job overall at accepting the quirky and campy nature of its source material, there are some major points where it sticks out in a way that negatively affects the movie. For example, there’s a scene where one of the villains cheesily gives a menacing stare into the camera and delivers a cringe-inducing one-liner. While a scene like this may be funny when it’s first delivered, when the same character repeats the exact same thing multiple times throughout the movie, it can quickly become tiring.
Despite these flaws, Aquaman is still a great modern superhero film, and both Jason Momoa and Amber Heard have done a phenomenal job bringing the characters of Arthur Curry and Mera to life. This film proves that DC can indeed still save whatever’s left of their cinematic franchise. With the apparent departure of two of their flagship characters, Batman and Superman, DC needs to succeed with their remaining franchises. With the promising superhero-comedy Shazam! coming later this year, and both Wonder Woman 1984 and Flashpoint slated for a 2020 release date, it seems that DC still plans to deliver live-action movies to their fans.