The DC live-action universe has already had its fair amount of peaks and valleys, as Warner Bros. attempted to create its own massive franchise to compete with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But while there's plenty of fan interest and money to be made, DC has only had one critical success in its first few years of filmmaking: Wonder Woman. James Wan's Aquaman is the next blockbuster to hit theaters, with fans hoping it would be the shared universe's second critical darling.
Hiring James Wan is the key to Aquaman's success. The Conjuring director fearlessly embraces everything that comes with the hero, figuring out how to effectively stage underwater action, and choreographing impressively fluid fight sequences both on the land and in the sea. Water is integral to Aquaman's story, and I'm certain there came a point when Wan got sick of everything having to be so wet on this set. But this movie plunges us into Aquaman's realm, and it's supremely effective.
There's so much cool world-building in Aquaman, with Atlantis and its many regions receiving distinctive treatments. While we do get to see some Atlanteans who aren't royals or guards, it would be nice to see Atlantean civilization and its citizens explored even further in future films, much as the Thor films gradually opened up Asgard by the end of that trilogy.
Of course, it wasn't all blind praise thrown at Aquaman. The movie's does have faults, with some outlets finding them more crippling than others. Specifically, the dialogue has been criticized for being clunky and sometimes downright cheesy. Indiewire's review took special umbrage with the screenplay, comparing to Marvel movies with:
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.
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.
Indeed, Aquaman has been getting some praise for its bravery and ability to cram tons of crazy concepts into one blockbuster. Screenrant's Matt Singer enjoyed how ambitious James Wan's DC movie was, saying:
There are some legitimate criticisms you can level against Aquaman. You could never say, however, that this movie doesn't go for it. It goes for everything --- maybe too much, when all is said and done. Just because you can turn wine into flying wine knives doesn't mean you can make actual miracles happen.
The refreshing thing about Aquaman is, for all its technical wizardry, the plot is surprisingly old-school, owing a lot to the adventure serials of the 1930s and '40s that later birthed the Indiana Jones movies. It's a MacGuffin-seeking treasure hunt, with Arthur and Mera globe-hopping to collect clues; one scene in a desert crypt almost feels like the rare bright spots of the early Tomb Raider movies.
You can judge for yourself when Aquaman arrives in theaters on December 21st. In the meantime, check out our 2019 release list to plan your trips to the movies in the New Year.