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Truthfully, I might not be the best person to be reviewing any sort of DCEU movie as I have an unnatural bias toward liking these movies (Suicide Squad is even my favorite one) but I’m going to do it anyway because, while I absolutely love these movies and can give them the benefit of the doubt, I still do understand what they are and what they aren’t. That being said, let's dive into it.
The Non-Spoiler Review
I’d give this movie an A grade. It tells the story beautifully and concisely and it doesn’t try to be too many things. The choreography of the fight scenes is done so creatively for the most part, that I was finding myself liking them more than any other movie. And don’t get me wrong, I take fight scenes very seriously—they need to be easy to follow and interesting. I’ve been paying close attention to fight scenes since Shadowhunters’ first season made a mockery of them. Anyway, it’s safe to say that anything wrong with this film definitely aren’t its fight scenes. I’ll stop talking about fight scenes now.
One thing I have to commend this movie for is how it balances a bit of everything in it. There are touching scenes that flow smoothly into bad-ass scenes, there are comedic moments that segue nicely into plot points. Arthur as a character is great for this because sometimes when he cracks a joke it’s not played up for laughs from the audience, it comes from his own character trying to make the joke to lighten the moment or make himself feel less awkward or to just be snarky and the other characters sometimes just ignore it completely. It reminds me a bit of Ragnarok in the sense that it took what would be a very serious superhero movie and added a bit of humor to break that up (though Aquaman lets the serious moments have weight too).
There is quite a bit of backstory in this movie but it’s done so creatively. It never feels like you’re being taken out of the movie just to say “oh hey, this thing in his past happened and it’s what’s going to help him win now”. The flashbacks are there like connective tissue meant to add to the story, not take away from it and its done well.
I also put this movie as one of those that you can take a non-comic fan too and they’ll still enjoy it. It’s easy to follow, doesn’t take a million years to get started, doesn’t require past knowledge of any of the previous five movies (other than a slight reference to Steppenwolf), and it is genuinely entertaining. Overall, just a great film.
The Technical Review - Spoilers
I wouldn’t say I have the prime knowledge on how films are made and what makes a good film so generally when I’m watching something I tick off a few boxes to determine if it’s good: does it invoke deep emotion? Is the villain well written? Does it have balance? Do the characters have very clear motivations? Is it fun? Is it re-watchable?
Generally if these boxes are ticked I chalk it up to a good film (or, if it makes me cry I forego all other boxes and say it’s the best film of the year, 10/10 would see again, everyone else go home), so let’s go through these “requirements” together.
Does it invoke deep emotion? Aquaman begins with an Up style explanation of how Arthur’s parents met, fell in love, and why Atlanna left. This whole sequence from beginning to end was a range of emotions starting with the good humor of Atlanna introducing herself (“Atlanna, Queen of Atlantis” “Tom, Keeper of Lighthouse”) to her tearful departure back to the sea (“Where I’m from the ocean carries our tears away” “Not here. Here you feel them”). This checked that box immediately but I feel it’s important to note that there were several other times throughout the movie that I felt the emotions in it, from Black Manta’s origin to Arthur telling the Karathen that he isn’t a king or worthy of Atlan’s trident, I was there with the characters, I felt them.
Is the villain well written? The thing I love the most about anything is the villain and what I like about Aquaman is that it masters the two villain challenge. Where Suicide Squad didn’t know what to do with Joker and had Enchantress be a stereotype cut out of a villain, Aquaman has Orm and Black Manta exist in a way that works well. The movie starts out with the tragedy of Manta’s dad’s death and the driving force for his revenge, but it also doesn’t forget that Orm exists. They work together, quite literally, and Orm’s use of Manta is a good way to involve him in the plot and his tumble off the cliff in Italy is a good way to remove him thoughtfully from the narrative so that Orm can take center stage. Other than working the two villains excellently, they both also have good motivations for what they do. I’ll go into this more later, but for now I’ll talk about Orm. As a villain, Orm is great because in the beginning he seems to be doing good, while manipulating things very carefully, and if there’s one thing that I love my villains to be its smart. Orm doesn’t kill anyone in this movie for a really long time and on my first watch I thought he was just an annoying villain instead of a sinister one right up until he killed the king of the Fishermen. But the thing about that isn’t that it came out of nowhere—we’d been shown the whole movie that he was not against violence through his “brave” attack on the sub, his persistence that they must destroy the “surface world,” his glee at fighting Arthur in the Ring of Fire, and his willingness to kill Mera after she saves him—it doesn’t come out of nowhere. His killing finally reveals that he is a villain and that we need to stop him.
Does it have balance? Oh God. Let me just go on a 1,000 word babble on just how perfectly balanced this whole movie is, alright? I’ve been talking a lot about balance up until now and I think it’s because I haven’t noticed balance like this in many other movies this year. In Aquaman, the theme of fathers and sons is made clear—we understand that Manta’s father means a great deal to him through their conversation in the sub, but we more fully understand his anger after that death through Arthur agreeing to go to Atlantis after his own father almost dies in Orm’s first attack. Then there’s Arthur saying “you don’t want to talk about this? Good, neither do I” near the beginning and then having to talk to the Karathen in order to get the trident. “You killed innocent people, you ask the sea for mercy” vs not killing Orm at the end when he could. The bookends of starting with Atlanna promising to come back before she leaves and then actually being reunited with Tom in the end. Ahh, this movie is just so beautiful and I love it.
Do the characters have clear motives? Hell yes they do. Not only do they allow Arthur to want nothing to do with Atlantis and then give him a reason to go (and then further make him involved in the plot), they also allow Mera to have her own journey of motivations, going from just wanting to protect her people and then moving to needing Arthur to succeed so she can go back home without being executed. The villains have clear motives as well, from revenge to protecting the oceans. Speaking of protecting the oceans, one thing I really love about this movie is that no one ever tells Orm he’s wrong. No one ever says that they shouldn’t fight the surface world because it’s not actually that bad, but because fighting isn’t the answer. We see this through several characters but the most prominent is the Fishermen when the king says they should be going to the surface world to educate them, not kill them. It’s wonderfully stated and seems like a running theme that started with Wonder Woman that war isn’t the answer (“only love can save the world”).
Is it fun? “Is it fun?” I say mockingly to the question I asked myself. I’ve seen this movie three times and it isn’t because I just love the DCEU so much (I do) it’s because this movie is so entertaining. I’d gladly go see it again! And, at the end of the day, a good movie really only comes down to this box, if you go see a movie and this question can be answered with a yes then it was a good movie. I love the humor and the story and the cheesy romance (I’ll talk about the romance in a minute because oh, boy!) and just how goddamn gorgeous this whole movie is. Did I talk about how it’s gorgeous yet? Because this movie is. It really is.
Is it re-watchable? Re my last question, yes. My requirements for re-watchability vary on what I’m watching: if it’s a mystery or has a good twist ending then I have to be able to pick up on the signs I missed before; if it’s pretty straight forward I need to be able to find the foreshadowing' if it’s fun and lighthearted I need to be able to feel that every time. For this movie I can check off lots of these. It may not have had a twist ending but with all the little things that are mirrored in the end I found myself still catching them even in my third viewing after I’d missed it twice. I also attribute Mera and Arthur’s romance to what draws me back to watching it again and again because they’re just so fun to watch together.
The Fangirl Review - Spoilers
I’m just going to start this right off the bat with just how fucking gay it was to use Depeche Mode in this movie. I know that comparing Manta and Arthur meeting to Atlanna and Tom meeting was a way to further prove that “the ocean brings people together” and that whole thing with love being close to hate and yadda yadda good storytelling blah blah, but then Manta goes and paints his Arthur-killing-bug-looking-suit black all while the song "It’s No Good" plays in the background, specifically the pre-chorus (they thoughtfully cut the song right before he gets into the “don’t say you want me” lyrics) though they didn’t exclude the lyrics “I have all the time in the world to make you mine.” I think what they were trying to accomplish here was the use of the lyric “you can run but you cannot hide” but, after I finished laughing about the fact that Depeche Mode was even in this movie, it just read real gay to me and it was wonderful.
I’m going to talk more about how pretty this movie is. The first time they go to Atlantis I almost cried over how pretty it is. Literally sat there with tears in my eyes because holy fuck, this movie is pretty. I think I’ve said the word "pretty" too much so by laws of writing I have to pick a new one. Not only is the water just mesmerizing (you can bet that I was watching their hair move any time they were underwater) but the cities. Every place they went to was grand and glowing and beautiful. I want ten thousand fanfics just about the inner-workings of these cities and the people that live there because we got a sad amount of them in this movie and I want more.
CAN WE TALK ABOUT MERA FOR A MOMENT??? Sorry, that was a bit sudden, but she’s just so gorgeous throughout this whole movie. I’m not saying Mera made me gay but, I am saying that if I wasn’t gay before I went into this movie I definitely was after because MERA. Oh, lord this woman is beautiful. Have you seen her eyes? Have you seen the way this girl fights in this movie? That moment in the wine store where it all breaks and she uses it to kill the guys coming after her, oh it was so good. There’s also that outfit of hers in that weird jellyfish dress and damn was that A Look. I think that was my favorite outfit of hers.
And if I’m talking about Mera then I have to talk about her relationship with Arthur, but before we dive into that I’d just like to say, for the record, Jason Momoa is less shirtless than I thought he’d be in this movie and I feel sad for all the people who were hoping to just look at a shirtless Momoa for two and a half hours, but I hope that his gorgeous locks (have I met my quota on the use of the word "gorgeous" yet?) were enough to satiate them all.
Now onto the straight couple that made me believe in love again. I come down pretty hard when it comes to straight romances in anything nowadays because it feels like whoever is making these things just expects them to get together at the end (and I think the audience expects it too) so some of them don’t even feel like they try. A man and a woman will just look at each other for one second and then an hour later it’s the end of the movie and suddenly they’re making out. What I appreciate about Aquaman is that they try. There are several little moments throughout the movie where you can see them start to care for each other more and more and then we eventually start getting those tropey moments that you’d have to be heartless not to love. They work together and they have cute moments and they’re with each other from Italy to the end of the movie. They’ve got each other’s backs. The friend I went with turned to me and said “that’s gay” every time they did something cute together—that’s how good this romance was. And then Mera is the one that initiates their epic kiss (god I love pretty/epic kisses so fucking much) and it’s so cinematic and powerful and then, my favorite bit, that little kiss on her head at the very end—ah! I’m telling you, it made me believe in love again.
This movie was truly a joy and I would gladly see it a hundred times. It’ll be great to add this DVD to my collection once it’s out. People often say that the DCEU is horrible and going downhill and that it’s too dark, but I think Aquaman, like Wonder Woman, will make people see that the DCEU isn’t going anywhere and that it’s not bad. Aquaman was good fun. Really, when it comes down to it, that’s all it had to be.