Aquaman is all sorts of wild fun and it doesn’t care who knows it


Aquaman is James Wan at his kookiest. At times so gaudy it hurts, this is bound to become a new camp classic for anyone missing the ’80s.

Aquaman was always going to be a hard sell. A serious story about a man who talks to fish and lives in an underwater kingdom? Entourage might have done its best to posit it as the ultimate comic book movie, but in reality an inherent silliness was always going to linger like day old fish. Instead of aiming for the stars, director James Wan goes lower, taking what Marvel did with last year’s Thor: Ragnarok and using it to great aplomb. Playing like a modern-day parody of ’80s fantasy films like Clash of the Titans, Aquaman embraces the camp, the zany, and the weird, to create a movie that’s one part fish soap opera and another globetrotting adventure you’ll be unable to take your eyes off of.

Narrated by Jason Momao’s Arthur Curry, the film starts off by showing the origins of his birth. We see his mother, Atlanna (an utterly flawless Nicole Kidman) run from an arranged marriage and fall into the arms of lighthouse keeper Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison). The two are “destined for each other,” but Atlanna is forced to return to the undersea city of Atlantis and leaves her toddler son, Arthur. He notices his ability to speak to ocean life and eventually grows into the hulking Jason Momoa. When Atlantis’ new king, Orm (Patrick Wilson), declares war on the “surface world,” Princess Mera (Amber Heard) goes to search for Arthur in the hopes that he, as the “one true king,” will claim his birthright and defeat his half-brother.

Arthur’s story draws from the Bible, sea shanties, and, yes, Arthurian legend to make a story that’s so epic it jumps off the screen with power. When Momoa first arrives in the frame, shirtless no less, it’s a moment of raw power simultaneously created for maximum thirst potential. Make no mistake, if you’re already attracted to Momoa, this movie might be life-threatening as every line he says — usually over his shoulder with hair in his eyes — is nearly pornographic in how obvious it is in intent. The actor and script don’t rely on just sexuality, however, turning Arthur Curry into less of a frat bro and more into a conflicted man angry at the world. Sure, he can still enjoy a beer and take wacky pictures, but once he’s immersed in the world of the Atlanteans, he comes to discover the sins of his past, that he hasn’t been a good person, and seeks to change it.

Ironically, there’s more of an interest in turning Arthur into an observer. Since audiences, having seen Justice League, already know about Aquaman on land, the script takes its time acclimating Arthur to the world of the sea. (That being said, revisiting his scenes in JL will help you avoid saying “how does he KNOW these people?”) What the script is more interested in is the fractious lives of those in Atlantis, and boy, is it is good. The film’s first half provides solid exposition — the vegetables of the movie, if you will — but diving into the sea is akin to entering a feast of desserts.

Social media comparisons to Lisa Frank are apropos, as Wan takes extreme pleasure in making Atlantis look like a bright, neon-and-pastel-tinged dream. People may ride on armor-clad seahorses in this world, but I’d have rocked them on my binder in fourth grade! The film goes for broke with the wavy way characters — obviously working with blue screen — mimic being underwater. Everything is obvious, and yet there’s a tacit awareness of said obviousness. When Arthur and Orm fight, seeing a scoreboard with cultivated headshots of them, the one of Arthur being shirtless no less, makes sense! It’s a world where Dolph Lundgren is a jacked sea king, people.

Actually, it’s hard to believe James Wan is making an Aquaman movie and not auditioning to remake The Little Mermaid. This may star Momoa, but Amber Heard cements herself as the film’s true alpha. As Mera, the movie situates her as a princess underestimated by the men around her, though the script doesn’t attack the gender issues are strongly as it should. While Atlantis rips itself apart, Mera and Arthur go on a globe-hopping adventure to find the lost trident of Atlan that feels ripped off from Stephen Sommers’ Mummy movies, with Heard rocking a long coat and boots as she uses her intelligence to figure out what Arthur doesn’t. Her relationship with Arthur is played more for cute flirtation than actual romance, leading to a few fun pokes at The Little Mermaid.

Patrick Wilson’s Orm threatens to undo everything, not just as the villain but as the performer going so over-the-top in his performance he can’t see the bottom. But he actually ends up making Aquaman the perfect embodiment of weirdness it is. He’s the love-child of Gerard Butler’s Phantom and Oscar Isaac’s Prince John, filled with nothing but shouting and curt one-liners. The character is conceived as a man who believes his own hype (created by him). He’s so delightfully campy that it’s joyous to watch.

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Aquaman totally knows it’s bad and understands that’s what people will love about it. The movie is bonkers in execution, from color palette to storytelling, but the whole thing is just an amazing hodgepodge of weird. It’s like a beautiful aquarium. You don’t believe these fish wouldn’t eat each other, and half the fun is waiting for them to figure it out.