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Despite the critical and commercial successes of Wonder Woman, the DC Extended Universe seemed to be on the rocks after the dismal Justice League. With the latest continuation of the franchise coming out an unlucky 13 months later, Warner Bros needed a win to secure the franchise's future. For the most part, Aquaman is that win. It doesn't have the same love from critics that Wonder Woman garnered, but the reception is still positive, and in terms of a financial win, it's shaping up to be a big one. Maybe even the biggest we've seen since the days of the Dark Knight trilogy, but that remains to be seen.
Much like previous standalone titles in this cinematic universe, the movie thrives by building its own world and not worrying too much about connecting to a larger universe. By letting the titular hero be the focus, and nothing else, audiences will surely enjoy the simplicity of this superhero flick. Jason Mamoa is charismatic, funny, and an all around badass in the part of Arthur Curry, even the iconic orange and green suit isn't something one can make fun of. He plays a character torn by two worlds, the one he lives in, and the one he must engage with. That other world being Atlantis, one of the Seven Kingdoms of the Ocean, once a powerful island empire, now a sunken city that thrives underwater.
Patrick Wilson plays Arthur's brother, Orm, best known in the comics as Ocean Master, who delivers a noteworthy performance that arguably rivals Michael B. Jordan's Erik Killmonger and Josh Brolin's Thanos. Sitting on the throne of Atlantis, he's fed up with how humans on land (surface-dwellers as they call them) how polluted the seas, and is now calling on the other Kingdoms to wage war upon them. A plan that would not have gone through if it weren't for Mera, the daughter of King Nereus. Amber Heard plays the part of Mera with a commanding presence, momentarily dragging Arthur along to find the trident that belonged to the first King of Atlantis. It cleverly flips the script on the trope of the hero knowing all the answers and having the sidekick bumbling along. As the movie progresses. both feel powerful and respectable characters in their own right, making them feel more and more like equals rather than one being better than the other.
When the action starts up, it really hits the ground running. Director James Wan, having handled Furious 7, delivers action spectacles with long tracking shots, pan around shots, and very few cuts. If there's a fight going down in this movie, you can rest assured it will deliver. Once we go below the surface and venture into Atlantis itself, the visuals crank up to eleven, and we enter a captivating world the likes we haven't seen since Avatar. Coupling it with the synthetic beats of the music gives it a distinctive atmosphere that feels more like Blade Runner than your typical superhero movie. Perhaps it's the attention to detail that makes this movie stand out so much, with great care comes a great production.
There's no denying that Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is fantastic in the part of Black Manta, but he's not in the movie for very long. Granted, in a movie that's two hours and twenty minutes long, there's only so much you can fit in before it gets overstuffed. However, one can't help but wonder if we would be better off not seeing the iconic suit until the sequel, which is sure to go into development after this weekend if it hasn't already. While the humor was appreciated, it almost got to the point of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 and Thor: Ragnarok levels of comedy, and I, personally, did not care for either of those movies undercutting any serious drama with a cheap joke. Fortunately, the movie showed better restraint, allowing the dark, dreary, and even the emotional moments to play out without resorting to humor.
Aquaman was the ultimatum chapter of how Warner Bros would go about with their DC film universe, if it didn't do so well, a reboot wouldn't be too far down the line. Fortunately, they managed to find themselves back on solid ground, although it may take a couple more years, and a movie or three, for this franchise to become bonafide box office gold. For now, we can sit back, relax, and enjoy this fun, underwater adventure packed with stunning visuals, outstanding effects, strong action, and strong performances from the entire cast. The continuation of the DCEU is out of Wan's hands, it's now all up to David F. Sandberg and Shazam to carry that winning streak forward next April.
Rating: Multiple Viewings