Within that confining structure, Aquaman knows exactly what it is. The ocean dwellers all descend from the legend of Atlantis, and they share a Hellenic architecture and style befitting the ancient Greeks, but most importantly, Aquaman borrows a theatrical oomph like an actor in the odeon pitching his voice all the way to the back bench. Free of subtlety or restraint, most of the performances are borrowing from Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending. Wilson and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as a furious mercenary pirate are well-suited to this and Momoa is in the next level down with Dolph Lundgren’s sea general and Willem Dafoe’s advisor, but Amber Heard’s romantic interest, clad in a terrible red wig, is playing her absurd dialogue far too straight.
As truly terrible as Heard is, even she has some cool action in Wan’s digital playground. The imagination behind Aquaman constantly provides something to gawk at, whether it be the aforementioned spectacles or the as-yet-unmentioned giant octopus that plays the drums during Atlantean gladiator fights. There’s more going on in Aquaman beyond the passable fight choreography and laser blasts of the usual superhero fare. Weapons, specifically the tridents that royals use to fight each other, feel like they have physical weight in the world, augmented by some strong sound design gonging out whenever they hit the ground. This kind of godlike power makes sense as a distinction between DC and Marvel, far moreso than Zach Snyder’s nihilism against Marvel’s joyful fluff. There’s so little that’s recognizably human in Aquaman, but when we’re talking about, repeat, armies of sharks and giant crabs whaling on each other, then there’s a place for that.
That’s not to say that Aquaman is bereft of emotion. Arthur’s parents, played by Atlantean Kidman and human Temuera Morrison, serve as the beating heart of the film, something I did not expect to find in Aquaman. Setting aside the queasy fact that Kidman is a mere 12 years older than Momoa but she’s playing his mother, she and Morrison have sweet romantic chemistry and that serves as enough of a rooting interest to justify the film as a whole. Aquaman is by no means a great movie, and it’s no prize to say that it’s one of the better DC films after their piteous output, but a film that posits a scenario where Julie Andrews sat in a dressing room and considered the best way to voice a sea monster is a film whose existence I can get behind. C+