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AQUAMAN Is a Fantastic, Technicolor Journey Under the Sea (Review)

AQUAMAN Is a Fantastic, Technicolor Journey Under the Sea (Review)

James Wan‘s Aquaman is impossibly fun. Taking on the first solo movie about the Atlantean King is behemoth task, as the general–and incorrect–perception of Arthur Curry is that he’s the punchline of the DC Universe. Wan dispels that myth with ease in the action-packed adventure, creating something utterly fantastical.

Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry was completely inspired choice, and both he and Wan craft a charming, funny lead who is a descendant of the Nick Cardy era comics and Super Friends but not simply a facsimile. Though the trailers hinted at the scope and spectacle we should expect from Aquaman, the film still manages to surprise, submerging a sprawling Shakespearean family saga in the depths of the ocean.

For those new to the character, an introduction to Arthur explains the star-crossed relationship that created him. We meet lighthouse keeper Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison) and Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), a fugitive from the underwater world of Atlantis, and soon their young son Arthur. Wan quickly establishes that the magical fantasy of this film is centered around love, and the idea and importance of home, no matter where that might be.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Black Manta is a particularly moving take on Aquaman’s arch-nemesis. The film gives him a definitive backstory that synthesizes the character’s eclectic history and creates an empathetic antagonist with a personal connection to Arthur. But Patrick Wilson’s Orm is the real threat of the movie. Aquaman’s regal, traditionalist half-brother threatens to destroy the surface and drives the hero to finally take his place as the bridge between the two worlds. The pair’s rivalry has long been at the core of the comics and that melodrama provides Aquaman’s undercurrents.

Still, Aquaman never takes itself too seriously. Its technicolor playground has more in common with the hilarious intergalactic spacescapes of Thor: Ragnarok than the gritty realism of most DC films. Kidman shines during a killer action sequence which also introduces some of the incredible costume and production design that makes Aquaman such a joy. That sequence also showcases Wan’s unreal talent for shooting action as Kidman expertly takes down a group of high-tech Atlantean soldiers, and the camera sweeps around the room catching every exhilarating moment.

Manta’s introduction includes one of the standout comedic moments from the trailer, and manages to elevate it as Momoa takes control of a submarine and saucily queries “Permission to come aboard?” The sequence takes advantage of Momoa’s comedic timing, with hilarious music beats and intentionally indulgent slow motion shots of Arthur’s luscious hair. This is one of Aquaman’s biggest strengths: it’s genuinely funny. And not in the tired, cynical, Deadpool way. It has a sincere humor, one that respects the audience and the film itself while still lavishing in the wonderful ridiculousness of a buff merman with jean chains saving a submarine full of sailors.

Aquaman also pays homage to its many eclectic influences, while Wan elevates the material, making something greater than the sum of its parts. Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis’ New 52 comics run is a clear stylistic guide, and there are hints of Blade Runner as we head to the stunning seascape of Atlantis: Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score even has Vangelis riffing theme. When Momoa and Amber Heard head off on a treasure hunting mission, elements of Romancing The Stone, Goonies and Indiana Jones emerge. And perhaps an inversion of Indiana Jones, Amber Heard’s Mera is often the hero saving Arthur, and the romantic aspect is organic and secondary to who she is as a character.

Thanks to Wan’s dextrous direction–keep an eye out for moments in which he flexes his horror chops–Aquaman’s genre straddling sets it apart from its superhero cohort. Wan weaves comedy, sci-fi, high fantasy, and action into something that constantly surprises. Jam-packed with brilliant action, spectacular visuals, and likable characters, Aquaman is never afraid to have fun, which makes it a bright spark in 2018.

4.5/5

Images: Warner Bros.

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