Directed by James Wan. Screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beal, from the characters by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris. Starring Jason Monmoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman. Length 143 minutes.
Arthur Curry, son of a human and the queen of Atlantis, would rather keep on living on earth as a regular man, despite his exceptional powers having already partially exposed him to the world as a metahuman during his adventure with the Justice League.
But in the depths of the ocean his half-brother Orm is getting ready to wage war against the mainland, and the beautiful princess Mera believes that only Arthur can avert it. To do that he will have to find the lost trident of the king of all Atlanteans and claim his place as heir to the throne of the seas.
For Arthur, this will be the beginning of an adventure that will force him to come to terms with his origin and his calling to be a hero.
In the already overcrowded landscape of the superhero genre, this movie by James Wan (who became famous thanks to some horror titles including the succesful Conjuring) somehow represents a pleasant novelty, avoiding the usually bleak structure of DC universe heroes and intruding on the light-hearted and at times plainly trashy terrain of some of Marvel’s installments, just when its cousins, with Infinity War's many losses, have in turn taken a “graver” path.
Then again, Aquaman, while not forgetting a brief appearances in the Justice League’s adventures, explores its own independent universe, with marine depths full of dangers and revolutionary technology, people with eerie appearances (giant crab’s pincers and exoskeletons) obscure forces and monsters which, nonetheless, present themselves to the eyes of the audience as an extremely hectic and exciting “playground”.
Much relies on the fact that we enter this world (or more accurately these worlds) with the same reckless attitude of the protagonist, a reluctant hero, but all in all always enthusiastic.
Despite his dramatic past (born from an impossible love, broken by iron rules that seem to condemn sea and land to an inescapable opposition) Arthur Curry is a good giant, a big tattooed guy who enjoys a beer and a selfie with his admirers.
The imposing physicality of his performer Jason Momoa (who’ll surely not win an academy award for this role, but dives into the action with no restraint) sees the hero face fights and challenges always with a cocky smile, without ever enjoying the violence, but rather preserving a kind of childlike spirit against which the determined cruelty of his opponents (his half brother Orm and the pirate Black Manta) comes out on the losing side even on a conceptual plain.
Especially since the incredibly strong Aquaman has also many moments in which he shamelessly exposes his vulnerability of abandoned child, showing on the screen a never before seen hero updated for the #metoo era, granitic and boisterous but at the same time in need of the embrace of a mother and a companion.
With more than two hours of runtime, the film is positively hypertrophic, but almost never gets boring, and even the numerous plot detours (which precede journeys on the other side of the planet, even outside the ocean, in a treasure hunt where the main prize is a mythical trident) are in the end accepted in the spirit of an adventure flick in which the romantic tension between Arthur and his determined co-protagonist contributes to the rythm of the story.
Enriched by flashy cameos from Willem Dafoe and especially Nicole Kidman, Aquaman does not possess the epic greatness of Wonder Woman, but deftly avoids the swamps where too often in recent years (once Nolan’s philosophical Batman trilogy had been archived) the DC heroes have fallen into, weighed down by the maybe a little bit too obvious tragedies of their protagonists and by performers not always up to the task.
We’re not dealing with a sophisticated movie, but it’s definitely a show enjoyable both for the story and the visuals, directed at a vast audience willing to be carried by the curents of the sea on a journey of discovery that always opts for a sense of wonder against the constraint of plausibility, without losing the ability to strike authentic emotional notes.
Problematic Elements for the viewer: some scenes of violence within the limits of the genre.
Luisa Cotta Ramosino is an Italian television writer and creative producer; she is also a regular contributor to the website Sentieri del cinema and Scegliere un film, an annual collection of film reviews.