DC Comics was founded in 1934 and has seen incredible success throughout its 85 years in existence so far. Spawning some of the world’s most memorable and influential super heroes ever–such as Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman–it is safe to say that DC has had a massive impact on pop culture and media.
Despite the immense success of DC as a whole, the company’s film branch–the DCEU–has seen its fair share of flops in its six year run so far. Man Of Steel, Batman Versus Superman, and Suicide Squad; the DCEU’s three inaugural films, all plagued with poor direction, incoherent stories, and general fan disappointment. These films left a black eye on DC, casting a shadow of doubt across the superhero creating icon of the world and threatening to shut it down entirely. The only thing keeping the DCEU’s credibility intact was the wild success of Wonder Woman–but one money making heroine can not carry a an entire film franchise. That’s where Aquaman comes in.
Releasing on December 21, 2018 Aquaman was the closing of a year that the DCEU needed. The film serves as the definitive origin story for the classic Atlantean/human hybrid that is Aquaman–but with a fresh new twist on the character. Instead of presenting the stale, boring, and predictable fish man we’ve know for decades, fans were blessed with Jason Momoa. Dangerous, wild, and the epitome of male sex appeal, Momoa is a far cry from the straight shooting, clean cut Aquaman fans have grown tired of. If this film does anything right, it’s handing Momoa the reigns and allowing him to sculpt a new and exciting Aquaman.
Despite resounding fan approval, Aquaman was not so positively received by critics. Earning a mediocre 64% on Rotten Tomatoes and a respectable 7.5 on IMDb, the film still ranks among the most critically acclaimed DCEU films of all time. Many critics were fairly split on their opinions regarding this film, but they are near unanimous regarding its star: “Momoa anchors the film, imbuing the big guy with surly charm, like one of those early Marlon Brando characters who was a jerk most of the time, but so magnetic and wounded that you couldn’t help but care about him,” said Matt Zoller Seitz, a film critic for Rogerebert.com.
What pleases fans (and likely upsets critics) most about this film is the simple goofy hilarity. The whimsy of Momoa and the film itself is a much needed break from the DCEU’s typical dark, brooding, “maturity.” Don’t get me wrong, the film’s core story of redemption, family, and acceptance remain consistent and serious throughout, but that’s not to say these values dominate the movie. Tense moments are broken up with comedy, violent fights are sprinkled with slapstick, and emotionally charged lines are riddled with one liners. For the most part, this intersection of seriousness humor is well executed; throughout the film, there is rarely an emotional moment that feels undercut by humor–a common problem with many superhero films today. The jokes hit home and legitimately make viewers laugh out loud. It helps that Momoa is so easy for viewers to become infatuated with; how could you not love that guy?
If there is something to complain about in this movie, it is nothing more than inconsistency. Beautifully choreographed fight scenes in some scenes are often replaced in favor of obnoxious laser gun battles, legitimately interesting storytelling is often undercut by vague underwater mythology, and potentially interesting characters are dropped and left underdeveloped in favor of just turning the camera back to Momoa. On top of this, the introduction of supervillain “Black Manta” is unnecessary to the story being told and exists only to set up a sequel.
Conversely, all the visuals in the film are simply stunning. From torrential monsoons, to impossibly beautiful underwater cities, to the breathtaking views of Italy’s coastline; Aquaman provides a variety of gorgeous settings and visuals that are second to none. It is plain to see that the majority of this film’s $200 million dollar budget went into visual design and CGI.
Regardless of anyone’s opinion regarding the film, Aquaman has already made one billion dollars, cementing itself as the highest grossing DCEU film of all time. Aquaman and everyone involved in its creation have effectively kick started a dying film industry, and–more importantly–brought new life to a beloved comic book superhero. While the future of the DCEU is still uncertain, one thing can be assured: Aquaman is here to stay.