“Aquaman” Offers A Refreshing Splash Of Silliness



Aquaman is not a great film. It has numerous errors throughout, most of which derive from the script. Much of the dialogue spoken is beyond corny – sometimes I had to remind myself I wasn’t watching an expensive remastering of Flash Gordon.

Corniness isn’t the film’s only problem, either – structurally, it’s a bit of a mess. The overarching story is both painfully overcomplicated and shockingly simple. The film insists on giving us a textbook-grade education on the long, long history of Atlantis (the film’s primary setting), but ultimately decides to go with a pretty basic ‘find the magic MacGuffin’ plot.

And if that wasn’t enough, the crash course the film gives us on Atlantean history really doesn’t pay off all that much. Take this one subplot regarding seven undersea kingdoms, for example. Despite each kingdom getting boatloads worth of exposition, only two are utilized in any meaningful way. Perhaps this was to prevent an overstuffed narrative. But, if that’s the case, why take so much time to explain each so intricately?

So, yeah. Aquaman isn’t great. It’s structurally incompetent, hilariously corny, and overall not very well written. And yet, I liked it. I really liked it.

That may seem absurd, considering all the criticisms I’ve just thrown at it. My affection for Aquaman isn’t even in a ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ kind of way – I genuinely really liked it. Why? It really boils down to one reason: how nakedly unafraid it is of its source material.

Superhero films are too often afraid to truly embrace their roots. Take 2000’s X-Men, for example. This adaptation, despite being a perfectly fine action flick, really isn’t much of a superhero film. The characters it presents arrive without proper costumes, comic-book-esque personas (save for Wolverine), etc.

This was obviously all done to give the film a sense of weight and realism. And it succeeded, more or less. But in doing so, it also stripped these characters of what made them so endurable. There’s really no difference between it and any other action film.

Aquaman, on the other hand, does just the opposite. It embraces its source material. Amazingly, in a film that adapts the story of a man that rides sea-horses and talks to fish, it never tries to sanitize some of its sillier aspects. Characters often arrive riding weaponized sea-creatures, octopuses play drums, mermaids are featured. It truly is a no-holds-barred Aquaman film.

As a lot of the film’s charm rests on all this, the effects were going to be a deciding factor. And thankfully, they’re pretty incredible. Save for a few minor missteps early on, the overall spectacle of the project is spectacular.

Director James Wan is a man I’ve always thought of as a horror director, so I wasn’t sure if he’d be a great fit for a film like this. I was very wrong. The undersea world is perfectly realized, from the Atlantean infrastructure to the armored sea-creatures.

And the cast? They’re all surprisingly compelling. Jason Momoa, despite failing to convince me of his dramatic range in Justice League, actually delivers a fairly thoughtful performance. Same can be said for all the actors, really. Amber Heard, Willem DaFoe, Patrick Wilson and co. are all pretty memorable.

Again, this is far from a perfect film. It’s barely a good film – but with a gorgeous spectacle and compelling cast, Aquaman is more than a fulfilling viewing experience.

Ratings Key:

★ – Bad (e.g., Godzilla ‘98, Pixels, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Justice League)

★★ – Mediocre (e.g., Incredibles 2, Watchmen, Alice in Wonderland, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle)

★★★ – Good (e.g., Creed II, Batman, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Pretty In Pink, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective)

★★★★ – Great (e.g., Jurassic Park, The Empire Strikes Back, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Social Network)

★★★★★ – Amazing (e.g., Dr. Strangelove, The Terminator, The Dark Knight, Back to the Future, Skyfall)