The story of Arthur “Aquaman” Curry is one which should not be; the son of a lighthouse keeper, Thomas Curry, and the Queen of Atlantis, Atlanna, who met after when she fled an arranged marriage and found herself on the rocks beneath his home, their child of two worlds often regarded as a second rate hero with a superpower which most often engenders mockery, unlikely to save the floundering DC movie franchise.
Yet after the critical and commercial success of Wonder Woman following the disappointing and fully justified criticisms of Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice and the mixed bag of marginal improvement which was Justice League, Aquaman is swimming strongly against the current, by far the most entertaining and colourful of the DC Extended Universe so far.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it also the one most strongly influenced by, among a great many other things, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in that unlike the tiresomely dour perniciously emotionally repressed aggressive masculinity of Zack Snyder’s trilogy of doom and destruction, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman knows how to have fun, a rock god in an extended rock video interspersed with bar brawls, globe hopping and aquatic adventure.
Working from a script by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, director James Wan is aware from the outset how ridiculous the premise is but rather than fighting against the tide willingly dives right in and allows his cast to indulge themselves and splash about in a story which parallels Marvel’s Thor as first born and rightful king Arthur fights for the throne of Atlantis with his ambitious younger half-brother Orm, Space Station 76‘s Patrick Wilson reuniting with Wan, his director on The Conjuring.
Atlantis far more than an undersea city, like Black Panther‘s Wakanda it is a hidden nation state of fabulous technology, an illuminated wonderland of magical delight and outrageous costumes right out of Jupiter Ascending for Mera (Amber Heard) who has guided Arthur to the home he has never seen beneath the waves in hopes of uniting the tribes of Atlantis and preventing war with the surface.
The narrative predictably powered by sibling squabbling, backstabbing and betrayal, at least the Atlanteans’ resentment of the world above is justified following decades of whaling, pollution and crowded shipping lanes, a catalogue of undeniable offences against their shared planet in which the ocean contributes nothing yet bears the brunt of what happens above, Aquaman the bridge between the two worlds who must find common ground.
The quest of Aquaman and Mera to locate the mythical Trident of Atlan which will establish his claim lifted straight from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Momoa is always watchable in whatever he does and here he is playing to his strengths as an action hero and a flippant jester, confident in himself and with no patience for rules or authority, saving Atlantis and DC not because it is expected but because it is what he must to get a quiet life.
Occasionally too closely patterned like a video game with end of level baddies to be defeated after each puzzle, the epic battle shifts the earlier Verne-meets-Lovecraft tone of adventure and mystery towards Attack of the Clones territory with the increasingly preposterous weaponry and explosions, but in the end it is not that Aquaman talks to the fish that makes him a king, it is that the mighty army of the oceans listen and obey his command.
Aquaman is currently on general release and also screening in 3D and IMAX