You watch Aquaman with a slight tinge of sadness. This isn’t due to the quality but down to what the DC Cinematic Universe could have been. Aquaman is an origin movie handled with great care, well-staged scenes and a freedom that seemed to be lacking from the other DC entries, even the much loved Wonder Woman.
It does have the benefit of a hero that is already slightly familiar to the audience. Aquaman has already featured in last year’s Justice League and was one of the only characters to come out of that movie fairly undamaged. That is more than a little bit down to the performance of Jason Mamoa.
Mamoa plays Aquaman with a swagger that many other superheroes lack. He is a reluctant hero who helps out of a small sense of duty. He is also a man who clearly likes to get drunk. He is Will Smith’s Hancock without the lack of actual superhero ability. It makes Mamoa likeable and actually relateable. Unlike most of the DC Universe superheroes, Aquaman feels like a character you could hang-out with, something Marvel seems to have cracked while their closest rivals lag behind.
This character building is also helped by a good use of flashback in the origin story. This isn’t a linear origin movie and although it begins before Aquaman’s birth (with a fantastic Nicole Kidman led prologue) it manages to throw the audience straight into the action with a great submarine set piece. This opening alone introduces Mamoa as a capable bad-ass with a cocky but cool attitude.
This is just the beginning for the action though and Aquaman is a movie which rarely relents on this front. It ably guides our hero from one set-piece to another and each builds upon the last. From duels for honour and kingdoms through to a laser shoot-out in Greece, Aquaman keeps you on your toes and keeps you invested from the opening scene. It isn’t just Mamoa getting the brunt of the action either, with his co-star and female lead Amber Heard getting some very cool moments of her own.
Aquaman does manage to effectively build a world around the character. It could easily stand-alone from the wider DC Universe but still feel as epic. The two colliding worlds of “The Surface” and “Atlantis” are realised perfectly and within the latter is family rivalries, ancient dynasties and warring factions that could lead a whole individual franchise of it’s own. This includes great turns from Willem Defoe, the aforementioned Amber Heard, Kidman again and villain Patrick Wilson.
This is the more unfortunate aspect of the movie. Wilson is a decent enough villain but is clearly over-shadowed by Mamoa’s Aquaman and never really feels like the threat he should do. Compared to the secondary villain who gets the better of the origin and the better of the fight sequences. Yahya Abdul-Mateen plays Atlantis powered pirate Manta and suffers solely from a lack of screen time as he is the much more compelling of the two characters.
This isn’t the only “superhero origin movie” trope that Aquaman suffers from. It does have moments which lean towards the corny and predictable and follows the well-worn path of heroic redemption that plagues almost every superhero origin (Marvel or DC). This does also mean some of the more predictable elements arise and it is easy to see where story-elements are going. Although one key scene is fantastic, offering a little bit of romantic satisfaction for the softies in the audience.
Overall, Aquaman is a well-realised and almost perfectly executed origin movie. It has an epic feel while still establishing the character in a relatable and likeable way. Mamoa is great and holds the film together effectively. It does suffer from some of the typical origin movie faults but not enough to hold the movie back. You just wonder how much better the DC Universe could have been if all the movie had been handled this well.
Rating – 4
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)
As always get in touch below with a comment but also like our page on Facebook (Views from the Sofa) or follow us on Twitter – @viewsfromsofa