It’s fair to say that, beside Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman in 2017, most of Warner’s recent DCEU output has had a far from easy ride with fans and critics alike. That is until now, because as origin stories go, nothing could be bigger, more epic or, let’s face it, more bafflingly bonkers than James Wan’s new standalone Aquaman movie, which also happens to be the sixth instalment in this embattled franchise. Written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, the film sees former Game Of Thrones star Jason Momoa as Half human half Atlantean superhero Arthur Curry, whom we last saw join forces with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman in Justice League.
Set shortly after the defeat of super-villain Steppenwolf, Aquaman starts by taking us right back to the very beginning in a sequence which explains how Arthur’s parents met when his princess mother Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) fled Atlantis to escape an arranged marriage and fell in love with his father Tom (Temuera Morrison), only to be separated from him by Atlanna’s powerful father, forcing her to leave her infant son behind. Years later, when his evil half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), who has proclaimed himself new king of Atlantis, decides to go to war with the surface, Arthur must step in and challenge Orm for the crown with the help of princess Mera (Amber Heard) and his childhood mentor Vulko (Willem Dafoe). Elsewhere we also get the first look at Black Manta AKA David Kane, and Aquaman’s mortal enemy who seeks revenge for the death of his hijacker father at the hands of our hero.
One way you could describe James Wan’s directing style here is ultra-kitsch. While never afraid of coming across as cheesy or even slightly disjointed tonally, Aquaman goes the whole hog and embraces the weirdness without a single sign of remorse. You might say it is pure camp with bells on. Some might even call it Star Wars underwater, and there are even hints of Flash Gordon. It is colourful, strangely paced and more importantly it is absolutely hilarious in places, even if some of it might not always have been deliberate.
Momoa comes across as likeable, fearless and unabashedly extrovert. With a knowing smile and a wink here and there, we soon get the sense that the actor would have known exactly what kind of a production this was going to turn out to be. For her part, Amber Heard offers Mera as ballsy and in control of her destiny, while Patrick Wilson is remarkable as comedy villain Orn.
Did I think it was coherent in any way? Certainly not, but there is no denying that this new incarnation of Aquaman will go down in history as the most fun and most anarchic yet, and believe it or not, it works on several levels and shows that DC can do lighthearted as well as epic, just don’t go in expecting it to make much sense. A rollocking aquatic mess, but in a good way.