This past weekend, I saw Aquaman, the latest installment of the critically-maligned DC movie franchise. Now that I've seen the film myself, I'll say this: I was both pleasantly surprised and a bit disappointed.
Horror Master Meets Superhero
When James Wan, director of The Conjuring (2013) and Furious 7 (2015), was confirmed to be directing Aquaman's origin story, my interest was piqued. I've adored Wan's films and have been closely following his career.
To put it mildly, Wan—whose own Hollywood origins can be traced back to the torture porn and spookiness of the Saw and Insidious franchises, respectively—was an odd and very unexpected choice that could be either brilliant or disastrous. I was curious how he'd approach the most ridiculed member of the League. Was it even possible to marry the dark atmosphere of Wan's approach with a character so opposite of dark and serious?
At long last, November rolled around, bringing the first reviews and reactions from early fan screenings. The initial impressions were extremely positive, citing the breathtaking visuals, characters' relationships, and a novel approach to the superhero origin story as the main strengths.
Granted, these screenings were specifically for people who are inclined to like films based on comic book properties. But the glowing reactions built up the hype even more in the weeks leading up to the December debut.
I couldn't help but get a bit swept up in the current of Aquaman hype. Everything I'd seen from the film was gorgeous, and my familiarity with Wan's previous work made me confident Aquaman would be something truly special that could rival Wonder Woman as one of the best films in the current DC/Warner Bros. lineup.
Having seen the film myself, I'll say this: I was both pleasantly surprised but also a bit disappointed.
What Makes 'Aquaman' Great
Without question, Aquaman is a feast for the eyes. Even the quieter moments—which, admittedly, are few and far between and likely to be interrupted by explosions—are visually delicious.
The aptest comparison would be to say that watching Aquaman is a similar experience to watching James Cameron's Avatar (2009) for the first time. Much like Pandora and the Na'vi, Aquaman's depiction of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis is so rich and detailed, you'll have to remind yourself that it's not actually a real place you can visit.
In fact, Atlantis would make a great theme park…
[I'm looking at you, Universal Studios. Make it happen!]
It's rather surprising that Aquaman hasn't gotten any love from the Academy as of yet. Fans will surely consider the film's omission from visual effects categories a major Oscars snub.
Another feather in Wan's cap is his portrayal of the characters.
Though he won't be winning an Oscar for his depiction of Arthur Curry, Jason Momoa's performance is solid because the script plays to his strengths.
Rather than having Momoa become Arthur Curry, the story was written—by Geoff Johns, James Wan, and Will Beall—so the character of Aquaman/Arthur Curry is more like Jason Momoa.
Usually, this happens when a studio wants to capitalize on an actor's popularity while side-stepping their limited range as an actor, but it actually worked here.
[James Wan didn't actually get to choose the cast himself, so I'm inclined to give him a slight pass here. It was actually Justice League director Zack Snyder who cast Momoa for a blink-and-you'll-miss-it Aquaman cameo in Batman v. Superman.]