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To be honest, and I'm not saying anything you all don't already know, Warner Bros.' efforts to rival the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been unsuccessful at best. Riddled with controversy and backstage politics, what is known as the DC Extended Universe has been a doomed project for years. Fans all over have watched some of the world's most iconic heroes be severely mishandled on screen. After Justice League (2017) failed to compete against Avengers: Infinity War (2018) both at the box office and in the eyes of critics, Warner Bros. needed to take a step back and figure out a way to revamp their business model. Who better to save the sinking ship than Arthur Curry himself, the Aquaman? With a fresh new style previously unseen in the otherwise dark and gritty DCEU, it's safe to say that Aquaman (2018) is a big step in the right direction.
Our story begins with the first meeting of Arthur's (Jason Momoa) father, Thomas Curry (Tamuera Morrison) and Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman). We see a little bit of Arthur's childhood before the King of Atlantis, who was set to be married to Atlanna, sends in his forces to return her home. She leaves and Arthur is left with his father. She gave birth to another son named Orm (Patrick Wilson); however, her love for Arthur leads to her sacrifice to what is known as The Trench. Fast forward to the modern day and we see a band of pirates attacking a submarine. Jesse Kane (Michael Beach) leads the attack as his son David (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) works alongside him. Arthur defeats the pirates and leaves Jesse to die, lighting a fire under David who vows to kill Arthur. Soon after, David attacks Atlantis per the order of Orm who seeks to declare war on the surface world. His betrothed, Mera (Amber Heard), disagrees with his decision and chooses to sneak away from Atlantis to ask Arthur, the rightful king, to help. After Mera saved his father's life, Arthur agrees to return to Atlantis. Once there the two meet with Vulko (Willem Dafoe) who tells them Arthur needs to find the Trident of Atlan in order to claim his birthright and prevent Orm from starting a war. The three are ambushed and Arthur is captured by Orm's men. Orm speaks to Arthur, blaming him for their mothers execution and offering him the chance to leave Atlantis with his life to never return. Arthur declines and challenges him to a duel, which he is about to lose however Mera rescues him at the last second.
Now on the surface, the two travel to the Sahara Desert, where they unlock an ancient message from King Atlan who guides them to the trident. Meanwhile, David is given weaponry and armor from Orm who wants him to capture Mera and Arthur and return them to Atlantis; also Orm learns of Vulko's betrayal and imprisons him. Now in Sicily, Mera and Arthur solve another puzzle that leads them closer to the Trident of Atlan. Shortly after, the two are attacked by David, now known as the Black Manta who severely wounds Arthur. The two narrowly manage to defeat Manta and his men. Mera steals a boat and the two make their way across the sea, but they are ambushed at The Trench by trench monsters. The two abandon the boat and make their way underwater where they find themselves in a wormhole that teleports them to the center of the Earth. Once there they are greeted by Atlanna who survived her execution and she leads them to where the Trident is being held. It is guarded by Karathen, a tentacled creature tasked with protecting the Trident from anyone who is not worthy of its power. Arthur takes the Trident and proves his worth as the true king of Atlantis. Concurrently war has broken out between Orm and his allied tribes and the last holdouts against Orm's rule. Just in time Arthur, Mera, and Atlanna return to stop the war and Orm once and for all. Arthur defeats Orm and is declared ruler of the seven seas. The film closes with Atlanna and Thomas reuniting for the first time in decades.
Oh, we also have a mid-credits scene where David basically vows to get revenge on Arthur... again.
It's largely a well put together film, but I do have issues with it as always. To start off let's talk about the CGI, which is somewhat forgivable considering most of the movie is underwater, but some scenes were just frivolous when it came to its special effects use. Even on land some of the scenes could have dialed it back a bit. This movie rivaled MCU films when it came to scenes that could have been done practically yet weren't for the sake of budget, probably. Also I feel some of the fight scenes were just a little over the top. Every time Aquaman turned his head we didn't need a slow-motion shot complete with a random guitar riff in sync with it. Also I feel this movie had trouble understanding its own plot lines, which is understandable because it had more than it needed. Black Manta could have and should have been saved for the inevitable sequel rather than have all of three scenes in this one. All of the story lines wove into one another eventually but it took a good amount of time for it all to come together an resolve.
As for the positives, I'll probably have more of these since I honestly really liked this movie. The acting was pretty solid all around even if the cast seemed odd going in. Dafoe and Lundgren especially did well in their respective roles, even if on paper they seemed like strange choices for a superhero movie. Pacing was natural for the most part, especially for all the exposition needed since this was of course our first big screen Aquaman solo flick. Most of all, though, I loved how comic book-y the overall film was. Over the past number of years DC became known as those superhero movies that were dark and serious, a formula that was tweaked in Justice League but did not quite click. This film is so much more colorful and feels much lighter than previous DC movies. The story wasn't too grounded and it felt like a real adventure that we could all step back and just enjoy the fun of. This was needed majorly after how poorly DC movies have done over the past few years. I feel taking a drastically different stylistic approach was not only bold but necessary. After the past few stinkers DC has put out it was about time Warner Bros. threw caution to the wind and went in a completely different direction. Not for nothing, but it's also nice to see a DC movie that doesn't include either Batman or Superman. Granted, Aquaman is pretty well known, but DC has such a vast number of interesting characters that would make for great films, and I feel if Aquaman is successful we'll be able to see more variation in the coming years. Of course, in short, the movie simply felt good and made the viewer feel good by the end.
Going in, I really wanted to like this movie although I feared it would suffer the same fate of every other DCEU flick. Much to my surprise it did not and it even surpassed my fairly low expectations. Jason Momoa alongside the rest of the pretty loaded cast put together a pretty great film and though it wasn't without its problems, it is indeed a turning point for Warner Bros. and proves that they can still be a viable alternative to Kevin Feige's MCU. Aquaman earns itself a strong 7 out of 10 from me and in my estimation is currently the best film in the DCEU, narrowly edging out 2016's Wonder Woman. To those who haven't seen it, I highly recommend you give it a shot if superhero movies are your kind of thing. As always, thanks for reading and I look forward to speaking to some of y'all about one of this holiday season's biggest blockbusters.
(Trailer courtesy of Warner Bros.)