Jason Momoa wins big in Aquaman (2018) – an enthralling, joyful festivity of sea monsters, tight suits and (unfortunately) disposable villains.
My most memorable experience with Aquaman (before The League of Justice (2017)) was Robot Chicken and its mocking the character in episodes starring all of the iconic superheroes. Other than that, Aquaman was often a subject of memes.
All in all, this wasn’t DC Studio’s proudest creation.
Yet thanks to Jason Momoa, and this first live-action Aquaman (2018) movie, I got the chance to look beyond the nasty jokes.
What is Aquaman (2018) about?
In James Wan’s film, Aquaman (Jason Momoa) lives his life on the surface, but as the rightful heir to the throne of Atlantis, he is a threat to his ambitious brother – Orm (Patrick Wilson), the current evil ruler of the sea kingdom. When Orm becomes a grave danger to the balance between underworld and the surface, Aquaman is brought into the undersea war against his will as the only person who can stop the global conflict.
The person who gives Aquaman (2018) its soul is no other person than Jason Momoa.
Jason Momoa swims in the role like fish in the sea
Jason Momoa breathed life into the fishy joke that Aquaman was before. His half-serious, half-dramatic approach fits the character perfectly – Aquaman is a badass with a heart and a kind of warmth that you naturally root for. Through grunts, squinted eyes and dozens of shirtless appearances, Momoa creates a character that looks badass, and erases the image of the effeminate minor sidekick.
That is also thanks to the script, which provides Aquaman with a genuine reason for the mess he’s involved in. Aquaman longs for peace, yet his roots are calling him. In that sense, Aquaman bears resemblance to classic characters like Aragorn – a guy from whom wearing a crown feels fake. However, as he’s drawn into the plot devised by his nemesis, Aquaman transforms – from a muscled drunk to a hero.
As a concept and as a protagonist, Momoa’s Aquaman is a win.
Aquaman (2018) lacks an equally credible antagonist
While Jason Momoa rocks as Aquaman, same can’t be said about his main nemesis, King Orm.
Patrick Wilson, who plays the villain in Aquaman (2018), has proven himself to be a versatile actor. But even despite his love for horror genre and playing dark characters, King Orm in his interpretation feels awfully flat. The dreadfully shallow character is a result of the speeding plot that refrains Wilson from any piece of the film to himself. He is forced to build Orm from scratches, and it’s a lifeless patchwork.
His reasoning is, therefore, flawed too. Contrary to every fantastic villain that DC and Marvel have conjured over the years, King Orm is a big kid, whose ridiculous craving to become an Ocean Master (what a dull name too) causes a total mayhem including Godzilla-like beasts and killing other undersea kings. Character-wise, it’s a reason that none of us can buy – he already has an immense power in his reach, so why bother?
The kind of sidekick to King Orm’s is Black Manta (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) – a pirate-turned-mercenary, who develops a deadly suit with laser beams that fry everything in his eyesight.
In the very beginning of the film, Black Manta is given a fair reason to hate Aquaman (the hero leaves Manta’s father in a sinking ship), but this whole character reminded me more of Power Rangers than any serious bad guy. On top of that comes an uncomfortable way of throwing Black Manta into the plot when there simply isn’t any better idea on hand. As a consequence, Black Manta’s side-quest is as unnecessary as Jared Leto’s Joker in Suicide Squad (2016). Despite the awesome visual design, it’s a nope.
Enough of the hate – what’s good in Aquaman (2018)?
A brighter side of Aquaman (2018) is – apart from Momoa – Amber Heard, who constitutes a wonderful pairing for Aquaman. They share an onscreen chemistry and strive for turning the action-packed razzmatazz into a funny (if honestly a bit kitschy) entertainment. Heard looks awesome as the conflicted queen and she adds a great balance to the mostly male-led sea territories too.
I also find praiseworthy the fact that James Wan managed to sneak his horror craftsmanship into the film. The war sharks, undersea undeads and all kinds of fairytale creatures are infused with the horror spirit, which enriches the fun with Aquaman (2018) greatly. Mixing these darker parts with joyful inspirations ranging from Star Wars to Kong: Skull Island (2017) and even Indiana Jones series brings a superhero film that is a wicked conglomerate of concepts that – miraculously – doesn’t eventually turn into a pile of crap. The glue simply holds.
Finally, Rupert Gregson-Williams also deserves a kind work for his score. Aquaman (2018) brings in a huge amount of orchestral panache and blends it with electronic trumpets and basses to fill the flashing images with an equally unconventional music. While it’s nowhere near an iconic theme like Hans Zimmer’s Dark Knight (2008), there is cunning thinking in this soundtrack (I will remain silent about including Pitbull though).
To be fair, Aquaman (2018) has been a much more difficult thing to pull of than any other superhero title in a long time.
In comparison with the ghastly, flesh-devouring Venom, the well-established Spiderman or even Black Panther, Aquaman needed to strike a balance between a fish-controlling guy in a slinky suit and a hefty-looking badass, with bombs blasting behind him as he walks in glory (and slow motion). I was almost sure that it’s going to be a disaster and I surprise even myself by liking this motley.
Aquaman (2018) – Culturally Loved or Hated?
For what it’s worth, the entertainment value surpasses its faults in design, and even with its derivative antagonists, James Wan’s movie has its own soul.
Hate Grade: 3/10
Director: James Wan
Writers: Will Beall, Geoff Johns, James Wan, David Leslie Johnston-McGoldrick
Starring: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Defoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman
Music: Rupert Gregson-Williams
Cinematography: Don Burgess
Where to watch: HBO Go
If you liked Aquaman (2018), here’s a few movies you might also enjoy:
- Justice League (2017) – it’s the first appearance of Jason Momoa as Aquaman, and with a similarly cheesy vibe
- Wonder Woman (2017) – Gal Gadot rocks as the DC heroine, and her standalone film is an equally engaging film that broadens the DC universe
- Venom (2018) – this Marvel movie starring Tom Hardy, similarly mixes gritty, horror-like vibe with humor