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You can tell that Warner Bros. is swinging for the fences with Aquaman. They get a home run, but that doesn’t mean this is a runaway success creatively.

While the events of Justice League are mentioned, this movie functions like any other origin movie and furthermore feels like a super soft reset of the DC film universe. If you haven’t seen any DC Extended Universe films before Aquaman, this is a good place to start.

Aquaman begins before Arthur Curry was born and follows him to the present day when the ambitions of an Atlantean ruler prompt him to become a hero to rule them all.

Clocking in at 143 minutes Aquaman is a true blockbuster with numerous set pieces, lavish outfits, brilliant art design, big consequences, and all the excitement you would expect.

After listening to audiences and critics complain about how dark their films are, Aquaman is Warner Brothers’ retort. This is the most “Marvel” DC movie yet. If nothing else, they have mirrored the fun tone and adventure of the Marvel Studios films. It also lacks complex villains like those early Marvel films.

I will miss the symbolic seriousness that Zack Snyder brought to the universe, but it’s clear that’s all gone now.

Instead, we have a light, humorous romp through the DC Comics underwater world aimed squarely at a younger crowd.

The deep underwater world-building of Aquaman can be attributed to story-writer Geoff Johns who was the Chief Creative Officer at DC Comics. He knows his stuff and you can see it on the screen in Aquaman.

I haven’t seen this effective world-building since Lucas was making Star Wars films. In fact, the current caretakers of the Star Wars universe could learn a thing or two from Aquaman.

However, the biggest weakness in Aquaman is the screenplay written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, who both have a track record as television writers. The plot is familiar and borrows heavily from Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and every other superhero origin movie. You will see every development coming from 20,000 leagues away.

The screenplay is flooded with cheesy dialogue. The antagonists all have one-note motivations. And while the tone is light, almost all the humor falls flat. They needed someone to punch up the script.

What elevates Aquaman is the great direction from James Wan, the natural charm of Jason Momoa as the title character, and the full-on blockbuster effects.

James Wan, who cut his teeth on successful Conjuring movies and Furious 7, shows he is a serious blockbuster director with Aquaman. This was a challenging film. The epic scope and the extensive use of special effects in almost every scene could bury most film directors. But Wan proves he is one of the best in the business with this film.

Where Aquaman swims is during the action scenes, and there are plenty of those. Momoa already looks like a hero before any computer graphics, but he’s super convincing in fight scenes. And James Wan understands what it takes to put you in the middle of the action.

Wan couples sweeping camerawork, a brilliant eye for visual flourish and solid action direction into a visual feast.

But it’s Wan’s ability to portray heart in Aquaman that makes this film stand out and makes it more than just a bunch of stunning action scenes. It also captures that essential element that has sunk other DC Extended Universe films besides Wonder Woman.

The cheesy dialogue is paired with some cheesy acting. This is not a serious film.

Patrick Wilson is convincing in his role as King Orm. I loved seeing Dolph Lundgren in a real film as King Nereus. Willem Dafoe is underutilized as Vulko.

But it’s Jason Mamoa that carries this film. I felt for a long time that Momoa was poised for superstardom. (And by a long time, I mean his work in Stargate: Atlantis… how ironic.)

His charisma and presence are on full display in Aquaman. Even the most coldhearted cynic would be hard-pressed to not be charmed by Momoa. And for geeks looking to get their significant other in the theater, Momoa supplies plenty of eye candy throughout the film.

Given the rocky history of the Aquaman character, it’s possible that only Momoa could redeem him.

While Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) was fine and has a suitably kick-ass look, I have to admit that I miss that echoey electronic voice that has been present in every incarnation since the 70s. I get why they wouldn’t do that, but I miss it all the same. He’s a challenging foil, but I wish there was more to his character.

One other thing, and this is big… I sincerely wish we had never seen Arthur in his Aquaman outfit in trailers and photos for this movie. They completely robbed me (and everyone else) of what could have been a triumphant reveal at an important juncture in the film. Shame on them. If I had seen that outfit reveal in the movie it would have been ten times more thrilling. Instead, they wasted it on ads.

Overall, I enjoyed Aquaman. It’s a robust escapist movie with action scenes that are large and exhilarating. The movie is a visual stunner and Momoa does something that no one else could… he makes Aquaman cool.

The shortcomings in the plot, dialogue, and acting are bolstered by the heart and hope in Aquaman. Don’t look for anything deeper than the kiddie pool though.

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