Okay, okay. Let’s own the obvious first. This movie gets LOTS and LOTS of bonus points for star Jason Momoa’s physical appearance. LOTS.
I also think it benefits in two other very specific ways from Momoa’s presence. I happened to see him on a convention panel soon after the casting was announced. He refused to talk about it because he didn’t want to screw things up before they even started. He was giddy and nervous. I think that this respect for what he was doing with the show drove a desire to make it succeed. Additionally, there was a lot of the Jason Momoa I saw at that con on the screen today as Aquaman. It seems that the writers kept the script within Momoa’s wheelhouse in a lot of ways, not the least of which being playing on his natural sense of humor and charm.
That is probably the greatest strength of the film: Momoa is having a blast up there. The actor is able to meld the character’s role as heir to the throne of Atlantis and his humanity because looking like a Greek god and being a guy who likes a Guiness is who he is, naturally. It’s easy to look at those biceps and remember Baywatch and assume that the physique is all he brings to the table; however, the character benefits from the keen wit and self-awareness that Momoa brings as much as anything else.
I started to type “Beyond Jason Momoa,” but the fact is that there isn’t a film beyond Momoa. There are other elements, but they are not separate from the man playing the title role.
Perhaps that is the biggest problem with the film’s primary antagonist, King Orm (played by Patrick Wilson). The character does not exist outside of the perspective of Aquaman, so he lacks the complexity necessary to make the character interesting. We’ve seen complex, very blonde characters who hate half-bloods, so we know what that looks like. The writing falls short of approaching that mark.
Manta (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) was far more interesting of a foil for the protagonist, but he was not given the screen time (in this film) to really earn that complexity or demonstrate its breadth. The actor, however, sold every second of screen time he had. The performance was all energy.
Amber Heard’s Mera had some nice twists in her script and Heard played them well. Can we talk about that wig for a moment, though? Overall, I thought that the character design was pretty spot on. I tend to think that I shouldn’t think too much about costuming or lighting or such in a film. It should all service the script. That means that if I notice a wig, it is probably a problem. This one was so terrible that I felt bad not only for the actor in it, but for the wig stylist who had to try to make that thing work. It wasn’t close to real or a good synthetic, rather appearing to be bought in a plastic bag from a Halloween store.
The rest of the supporting cast all worked well and gave the performances one would expect. Of particular note is the incredible casting of the young actors who played young Arthur/Aquaman. All of them went beyond looking enough like Momoa to adopting some clear mannerisms of the elder performer. Kekoa Kekumano, specifically, was impressively specific in his characterization of teen Arthur.
The CGI was solid, though the underwater scenes often required a bit more willing suspension of disbelief to avoid noticing human-to-CGI transitions and movement that seemed unnatural. The odd thing is that I have a sneaking suspicion that the underwater movement was probably well-researched and totally realistic. It just didn’t read as entirely realistic per audience expectation, so some variance to meet the viewers’ need might have been wise. I saw the film in 3D, and it looked pretty good, though it likely didn’t add much.
So, did I like it? YES! It was a blast! It was an origin story, so I am willing to let it grow. Also, I am a weirdo who liked Aquaman when I was little, so seeing a badass reimagining was additionally enjoyable! It was fun, well-performed, crafted specifically for this cast, and pretty. Let the rest come. The DC Universe seems to be righting itself post Zach Snyder, and Aquaman is another strong, established hero to lead the way.