‘Aquaman’, the sixth film in the DC extended universe released this week in a number of markets to roaring numbers. While the box office predictions for the film continue to revise in the upwards direction, its actual merit and the total box office haul this film would have will be, to an extent, determined by the reviews it gets and how well it performs critically, an aspect that has hurt four out of the five DC films preceding it, barring ‘Wonder Woman’ of course. Quite frankly, a lot of eyes rest on this one particular facet: its critical performance, and I wouldn’t normally begin a review this way, but the air of unfair criticism around DC movies and the unwarranted comparisons to Marvel are too real not to talk about.
Aquaman’s initial critical reception fares comparatively better than all of its predecessors (Except WW reigning at 93%) who couldn’t even make it past the 50% mark on Rotten Tomatoes, but it is especially disheartening to see some of the reviews out there, especially those of some Indian critics criticising the very things that received an easy pass for some inferior Marvel productions. Yes, I’m sorry that the film is chock full of CGI to the lungs, however excellent that might be. It’s a pity they couldn’t shoot Momoa, Heard, Wilson, Kidman and Dafoe actually talking underwater. If it isn’t established already, I am a believer in the DC universe, having virtually grown up with their lore, and have supported all the DCEU productions with at least a viewership and a fair, opinionated review afterward. In the golden age of superhero movies, we as an audience are extremely lucky to witness such movies from both factions, but if this review can fight out some of the bias out there, I’ll consider the job done.
As for the film itself, DC fans can breathe a sigh of relief, partially knowing that the possible future of the DCEU depends on the success of this film. While commerce for ‘Aquaman’ is still highly variable since it opens in the US a week later, we can be assured that ‘Aquaman’ is a definite improvement over the trainwreck that ‘Justice League’ or ‘Suicide Squad’ was. I am also possibly on the side of the minority with this, but ‘Man of Steel’ still remains the best DCEU movie for me till date, followed strongly by ‘Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice’. In that, ‘Aquaman’ is more in line with ‘Wonder Woman’. It doesn’t take unnecessary risks in major plot points, and is more or less a ‘safe’ outing with a serviceable storyline, without any of the trappings that made previous outings too ‘dark’ to comprehend, both thematically and aesthetically. However, that coupled with some stunning visuals, Momoa’s charismatic lead act, and commendably well-choreographed and well shot fight sequences make ‘Aquaman’ one of the most worthy popcorn blockbusters of the year.
‘Aquaman’ serves partly as origin story for the eponymous superhero, tracing his origins and his relationship to Atlantis, and partly dwells upon Arthur trying to stop his brother Orm from becoming Ocean Master and declaring war upon the surface world in the present day. In order to do that, Arthur must embrace his Atlantean instincts and search and a retrieve a long lost, legendary trident belonging to King Atlan, the first ruler of Atlantis, and with the ability to control virtually all aquatic life. The film charts out Arthur Curry’s journey from when we last saw him in his first major role in last year’s ‘Justice League’ as a man torn between the land and the sea but trying to do the right thing, and while ‘Aquaman’ considerably builds on that struggle, even involving a backstory between Queen Atlanna and Arthur’s biological father, it finally comes full circle to showcase his transformation to the king of the deep who would eventually unite the seven kingdoms of Atlantis.