Much like what James Gunn did with Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, director James Wan attempts to pull DC’s Aquaman out of relative obscurity (when compared to the origin stories of his superhero teammates) to become a cool comic book movie. Does he succeed? According to the first wave of critical reviews of the live-action movie, kinda.
Entertainment Weekly‘s Chris Nashawaty called Aquaman a “bloated, waterlogged film” that’s “loaded with crummy CGI, cheesy costumes, and groaner dialogue delivered by actors who are too good to traffic in such nonsense.” But that doesn’t mean it’s totally void of joy.
Many other critics found the flawed fun in a “vibrant ocean fantasy” that’s “weird and wonderful.”
As UPROXX’s Mike Ryan puts it, Aquaman is “a swing for the fences type movie.” Empire‘s Helen O’hara remarks, “you won’t have a clue what’s going on, but you won’t be able to look away either.”
Wan, coming off of helming The Conjuring 2 and Furious 7, directs Aquaman with a cast that includes Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, and Dolph Lundgren.
After his introduction in Justice League, Arthur Curry, half-human and half-Atlantian, is reluctant to assume his birthright throne of Atlantis, but his half-brother Orm’s coming war against the surface world sends our hero on a quest to obtain the lost Trident of Atlan to stop the threat.
Read more reviews below.
Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)
“There was never a question that at this stage in Hollywood’s comic-book economy that every superhero would eventually get his or her own standalone blockbuster. Even Aquaman. But Wan, a director who’s proven himself to be a can’t-miss ace regardless of genre (from the horror formulas of The Conjuring and Insidious to the big-budget tentpole mayhem of Furious 7) seems to finally be out of his depth. He’s conjured an intriguing world, but populated that world with dramatic cotton candy and silly characters, including a hero who’s unsure if he wants to make us laugh or feel — and winds up doing neither. Pass the Dramamine.”
Peter Debruge (Variety)
“The script is anything but elegant, full of eye-rolling lines that make the dialogue contained in your average comicbook speech balloon sound almost Shakespearean by comparison (e.g. ‘Where I come from, the sea carries our tears away’), although Aquaman clearly has a sense of humor about itself. The biggest surprise here is how, after the running time of a standard-length film has elapsed, Aquaman suddenly kicks the movie up a level for the finale. At just the moment this critic’s eyes tend to glaze over in superhero movies — typically the villain goes nuclear and a portal to another dimension opens and threatens to destroy the planet — Wan unleashes a massive underwater battle on par with The Lord of the Rings.”
Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter)
“If you want a real movie with real characters using something more advanced than a third grade vocabulary and doing things other than getting preposterously physical in, on or near water, Aquaman will be a very trying two-and-a-half hours… The laws of physics are meant to be broken, characters make easy-to-understand statements rather than have conversations and the resemblance to a videogame is more pronounced than is any kinship with real movies made before this century. However, Aquaman is so elemental in its tall-tale telling, its concentration on royalty and the overriding significance of battle that it feels closer in nature to ancient myth than do most comics-derived epics.”
William Bibbiani (The Wrap)
“Wan’s film pushes too far sometimes, but that’s because it’s pushing as hard as it can. Aquaman does nothing by halves, ultimately reaping the rewards and occasionally suffering some consequences. Those aren’t bugs, they’re features. Wan seems to be operating under the philosophy that sci-fi/fantasy should stretch the limits of the imagination, even at the cost of possibly looking ludicrous. How much you personally agree with that philosophy will probably have a lot to do with whether or not you like Aquaman. But either way, you’re in for a spectacle.”
Karen Han (Polygon)
“Love them or hate them, DC movies have shown off an undeniable sense of ambition, embracing the sheer sense of scale offered by film as a medium. Aquaman is no exception to the rule; it’s just that it’s on the opposite side of the spectrum when it comes to literal and figurative light. As far as comparable properties go, Aquaman has more in common with Super Sentai (in any iteration) or the epics of Chinese director Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers, The Great Wall) than any other recent DC film — even Wonder Woman.”
Matt Singer (ScreenCrush)
“This version of the character, which personality-wise is quite different from the DC Comics one upon which the film is otherwise based, is basically what would happen if the nice guy at your gym who always wants to share his equipment decided to move under the sea and fight crime. Momoa’s chummy nonchalance in the face of increasingly outlandish situations is the key to the whole picture. Even as Aquaman expands to monstrous scope, even when there are dudes in bright purple armor shooting laser beams from tridents while riding giant hammerhead sharks, you’ve always got Momoa in the middle of everything with a twinkle in his eye that practically screams ‘Can you believe they’re letting me do this?'”
Helen O’hara (Empire)
“Imagine if someone cut together all the biggest action sequences from the last few decades of Hollywood, resulting in a mash of Tron, Avatar, Clash of The Titans, Superman, Jurassic Park, and Gladiator. Imagine a film where an octopus gets a drum solo, and it isn’t among the top ten weirdest moments. Welcome to Aquaman, where you won’t have a clue what’s going on, but you won’t be able to look away either.”
Eric Kohn (IndieWire)
“The Conjuring filmmaker abandons the witless mess of Justice League to craft a colorful, vibrant ocean fantasy, but the considerable effort to improve on a leaden franchise can only float for so long before familiar baggage sinks its potential. Hobbled by a messy screenplay, paper-thin characters, and a hodgepodge of unimaginative showdowns stretched across bloated running time, Aquaman is the latest example of a franchise that keeps chasing its competitor’s tail.”
Mike Ryan (UPROXX)
“Whether you come out of Aquaman enjoying it or not, there’s no argument that director James Wan went for it. With Aquaman, this is a swing for the fences type movie. (I’ll come back to that cliché I just used in a minute.) Wan isn’t really interested in making a small scale movie to introduce Aquaman – a character most people don’t know that well beyond what they know from old Saturday morning cartoons – instead, Wan plunges us into Aquaman’s weird, might as well be alien world.”
Germain Lussier (io9)
“If you’ve ever wondered what pure joy looks like on screen, look no further than the latest film in the DC Universe, Aquaman. It’s littered with moments that marry grand spectacle, rousing music, and dramatic stakes with results sure to elicit ear-to-ear smiles from anyone from ages 8 to 80. Director James Wan (Insidious, The Conjuring, Furious 7) has infused his DC adaptation with a flair we rarely see in filmmaking these days. It’s as if, with every single take, he said: ‘Well, if we’re going to make a movie about a muscle-bound man who talks to fish, let’s make this really crazy.’ Then you get scenes of two characters kissing while the camera does multiple 360-degree circles around them, complete with massive explosions and frickin’ laser beams whizzing by their heads. It’s bonkers. It’s bananas. It doesn’t always work but when it does, oh wow, is it fun.”
Aquaman hits theaters on Dec. 21.