DC Extended Universe was green-lighted by Warner Bros in a hurried attempt to emulate the successful & long-term cash flow formula that Marvel Studios had ensured with their shared universe concept, especially after it was best highlighted by their first crossover feature The Avengers. It was a wake-up call for other studios that still retained rights to comic-book characters, and nearly everyone decided to jump in. But the most anticipated of all was DCEU, for they had some of the most famous & groundbreaking characters in their canon and they seemed the only worthy competitors to Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Unlike Marvel, DC’s mega-franchise didn’t kick off on an ideal note, for Man of Steel was plagued with shortcomings and failed to pave a strong foundation for subsequent entries. Next up was Batman v Superman that only exposed Warner Bros. impatience to get to their crossover feature. Suicide Squad was an eyesore that made the previous two mediocre instalments look great in comparison. Wonder Woman was DCEU’s first actual success and rekindled hope that the studio might just be able to pull things off. But all of it was squandered when Justice League finally arrived on screen and buried the entire enterprise with it.
Aquaman marks DC’s first attempt to start things all over again, this time from a fresher perspective, with more emphasis on individual character stories rather than desperately trying to build a shared universe. The film is still part of DCEU but it’s also self-contained the way Wonder Woman managed for the most part. Its favourable fare with critics and over a billion dollar gross on box-office may appear as if the studio is starting to get things right but for me, DCEU’s latest is as troublesome as any of their works so far. The adventurous tone & underwater spectacle work in its favour but the story comes marred with same set of issues that affected the previous films.
The sixth instalment in the DC Extended Universe, the story of Aquaman takes place one year after the events of Justice League and follows Arthur Curry, the human-born heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis who, after learning that his half-brother is seeking to unite the underwater kingdoms against the surface world, goes on a quest to prevent an all-out war between ocean & land. Having always struggled with his unique identity and balked at the idea of claiming the Atlantean throne one day, the adventure compels him to come to terms with his own individuality and lead him to discover if he’s entirely worthy of fulfilling his destiny of becoming a king.
Directed by James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring & Furious 7), Aquaman is gorgeous to look at, for the underwater world is brought to life in splendid detail by the Visual Effects teams but the plot & characters remain as underdeveloped as ever. Wan’s direction keeps things in motion even though the narrative lacks a consistent flow, plus he is at his best during the Trench sequence which allows the notable horror filmmaker to put his fully-developed skillset to effective use, resulting in a thrilling scene that may as well be the film’s only highlight. The ecological themes addressed in the premise is a welcome element too but this aspect is only glanced at, not explored.
The story packs a rather predictable outline, character arcs aren’t handled well enough to make us care, dialogue is plain awful, action spectacle is ludicrously fun but also emotionally hollow, and the bloated runtime makes its presence felt more times than once. Production design team creates the deep-sea kingdoms in meticulous detail, and makes sure that all the props that surface in the final print have an aquatic vibe to them. Cinematography is a definite standout, capturing the ocean world in lush colours while the bright lighting provides the frames a vivid quality while also amplifying their 3D depth & rendering. Underwater photography is no picnic but it’s beautifully carried out here.
Coming to the acting department, Aquaman features a star-studded cast in Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren and others but the performances from everyone is mediocre at best. Momoa reprises the titular role and while he certainly looks the part and is a fitting choice to don the suit, he still fails to embody Arthur Curry from the inside-out. After all, the swag is there but the charisma is not. Kidman, on the other hand, stands out solely due to her bewitching screen presence. Heard & Dafoe provide fine support in their respective roles of Mera & Vulco, former playing Curry’s love interest & latter playing his mentor. Wilson does well with what he’s given, plus his input is much better than how his role is written.
On an overall scale, Aquaman begins DCEU’s road to recovery on a satisfactory note and is the respite the mega-franchise needed after the derailment it suffered at the hands of the vomitous & disastrous Justice League but it’s neither a sturdy standalone entry nor does it bear clear positive signs of a promising future. The film provides a sufficient dose of CGI effects-laden big-budget extravaganza that casual filmgoers won’t mind. Few may even enjoy its unabashed silliness and come out pleased in the end. However, those looking for any substance beneath the surface are probably going to be disappointed, for this waterlogged mess is as confused in its approach as it is convoluted in its plotting. To sum up it all up in a sentence, Aquaman is yet another middling instalment in the middling DC Extended Universe.