Look, I know I’ve said some negative things about superhero movies in the past. They’re not really my thing. For the most part, I find them to be bloated, boring and pointless.
Y’all. Seeing “Aquaman” was the most fun I’ve had in the theater in quite some time. It genuinely made me laugh — a lot — and hey, I’ll admit it, I cried no less than three (!) times. Is it because it’s the holidays? End-of-year stress? Am I having a mental breakdown? Or is this movie actually just a rollicking good time? Hard to say!
Let’s get the plot out of the way first; as with any good action movie, it doesn’t really matter. Arthur (Jason Momoa) — aka Aquaman — is a half-human, half-Atlantean who is called upon by Mera (Amber Heard) to take back the throne of Atlantis — yes, Atlantis exists, wake up, sheeple — from his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), a power-hungry leader who seeks to unite the seven kingdoms of Atlantis, thus becoming Ocean Master (!). Orm has plans to wage war against the “surface-dwellers,” their delightful term for humans, and Arthur needs to stop him before it’s too late. Beautiful. What more do you need out of a movie like this?
Arthur was the result of a love affair between Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), an Atlantean princess, and lighthouse keeper Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison). Atlanna washes up on the coast after escaping an arranged marriage. Tom saves her, and first comes love, then comes baby Arthur, then comes Atlantean foot soldiers hell-bent on returning their princess to the sea. The fight scene that ensues was actually one of my favorites of the film. Director James Wan, best known for horror movie franchises (“Saw,” “The Conjuring,” “Insidious”), clearly put a lot of planning into the movie’s staging and camerawork. The camera spins around and above characters, lingering on the action, a welcome change from the muddy fight choreography seen in most action flicks. We really see Nicole Kidman roundhouse kick people. It’s fantastic.
Sensing her family will never be safe as long as she remains on land, Atlanna returns to the sea with a promise to come back one day. Did I cry at the numerous shots of Tom down at the dock, watching the sunrise, patiently waiting for his lost love to return to him? You bet your fucking ass I did.
Let me just pause here to discuss how much I love Nicole Kidman. She knows when to ham it up — say, when throwing a trident through a television, or eating a goldfish straight from the tank — and when to lay on the waterworks. She is all in with this role, baby. And her long sea wig looks amazing. It’s also nice to see her second comic book movie appearance (tell me y’all didn’t forget about “Batman Forever,” aka Batnipples, The Movie), a medium perfect for actors who know how to chew scenery.
Speaking of chewing scenery: Wilson’s Orm is completely, deliciously outrageous as a vengeful, power-hungry king, and Willem Dafoe as Vulko, an advisor to the throne who has been secretly training Arthur for years, gets honorable mention for his dedication to playing it straight-faced. As does Dolph Lundgren, who plays Mera’s father, King Nereus. I mean…y’all. Patrick Wilson. Nicole Kidman. Dolph Lundgren. Willem Dafoe. Oh, and JULIE FUCKING ANDREWS as an ancient sea creature. This cast is a like Mad Libs on crack.
The actors really lean into the schlock, and damn it, it works. Unlike say, “The Predator,” in which the actors tried to ham it up and simply failed … miserably … everyone here knows they’re in a silly movie filled with silly things, and they just fucking go for it. But what are some of these absurd things, you may ask? Why, here’s but a sampling of what you’ll witness, should you choose to spend your hard-earned cash on this transcendent piece of art:
- Giant crabs weaponizing hunks of sea lava
- Jason Momoa wearing a duster jacket like it’s 1996
- An octopus playing war drums before battle
- A goat doing a double-take directly to the camera
- An action montage set to a Depeche Mode song
- Atlanteans riding giant sharks and seahorses, and oh yeah, MEGALADONS
- Scuba armor that makes it look like all the Atlantean foot soldiers are wearing bell-bottoms
- Uh, did I mention Julie FUCKING Andrews voices an ancient sea creature? Get that DC money, girl!
- Pitbull’s “Africa” cover of the legendary Toto song playing as Arthur and Mera head to the Sahara desert
I’d also like to give a shout-out to the CGI team, because the movie is, well, mostly CGI. But it was actually layered, rich and compelling — I felt immersed in an undersea world, as absurd as the world was. The only questionable CGI was Willem Dafoe’s age-smoothed face in some flashback scenes, but hey, they did what they could. (You look great, Dafoe! You don’t need age-smoothing.)
I’ve also got to credit my boy Randall Park, who was a scene-stealer in “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” and now exists in the DC extended universe, as well — he plays a conspiracy theorist who tries to convince the public Atlantis is real in a fun lil’ news scene.
The movie does have its problems, of course, but the film’s sublime grandiosity overshadowed its flaws. But yes, there were too many villains — that old, inevitable superhero movie problem — particularly Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), whose character was compelling but felt shoehorned into the plot. And the movie could have been 30 minutes shorter. But hey, at least it wasn’t over three hours (looking at you, “Infinity War”).
You can tell genuine artistic thought went into the action pieces, sets and camera movement. That doesn’t sound like much — I mean, it’s the bare minimum — but man, was it refreshing to see, particularly in a hilarious chase scene in Italy that involves multiple characters crashing through walls. Similarly, the transitions between worlds (on land and under the sea) and timelines (baby Jason Momoa, grown-up shirtless Jason Momoa) were done seamlessly, filled with interesting, clever edits. Some actual thought went into this action movie, guys! Crazy.