Grade: A-
Entire family: Yes (parental judgment required)
2018, 143 min., Color
Fantasy-Adventure
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action and for some language
Aspect ratio: 2.41:1 and 1.78:1
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos TrueHD
Bonus features: A-/B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Code
Trailer
Amazon link

Critics at Rotten Tomatoes only gave Aquaman a 65 percent “fresh” rating, but I think maybe they’ve got a trident stuck somewhere. What do they want from a superhero movie? It can’t possibly be the same things my family wants, because this 2018 action-adventure starring Jason Momoa checked all our boxes.

Epic story? Check. At 143 minutes it might be around 10 minutes too long, but we get a wide sweeping origin story that begins when the Queen of Atlantis washes ashore and is taken in by a lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison), with whom she eventually falls in love and has a son—a little demigod they name Arthur. The Queen (Nicole Kidman) had been fleeing an arranged marriage with the King of Atlantis, and there’s no running from a guy like that. She sacrifices herself so her son and earthbound husband can live—but not before instructing her trusted advisor, Vulko (Willem Dafoe), to secretly teach her son how to become a powerful warrior well schooled in the ways of the ocean and its people. There are plenty of complications, but not so many that they get tangled up with each other and end up tripping the narrative. At some point this turns into a quest story, with Arthur searching to find the powerful Trident of Atlan that would allow him to triumph over his half-brother and take the throne he’s destined to occupy because as half-man and half-Atlantean he’s in a position to unite the two worlds—or at least stop an Atlantean-led invasion of the “surface” people.

Great characters? Check. There’s an interesting Thor/Loki brother tension between the half-breed Arthur and his full-blooded Atlantean half-sib Orm (Patrick Wilson), and an equally interesting triangle forms when history repeats itself and Mera (Amber Heard) flees her arranged marriage with Orm in order to accompany Arthur on his quest. While I’ll admit that the Atlantean scenes can seem a bit hokey at times, it’s worth noting that they’re evocative of the old Clash of the Titans discussions among the gods on Olympus—more homage than misstep. And Momoa really carries this picture. He’s as charismatic as he is powerful, and he has almost as many one-liners with enemies as that master himself, James Bond.

Just the right tone and blend of comedy and action? Check. The people responsible for bringing DC heroes to the big screen have had a hard time getting the tone right, but they finally figured out that the successful Marvel formula is nothing more than a perfect balance of comedy and action, rather than taking anything too seriously. Director James Wan (Saw) resists the impulse to go overly dark, but indulges his horror side in a scene where Arthur and Mera flee and battle trench monsters that keep coming and coming like the zombies in a George Romero film. Wan said that while they opted to go with a brown-skinned Hawaiian in the lead instead of a blond Caucasian, he still wanted to bring the rest of the iconic imagery of the comic books to life—and in that he did a pretty good job.

Great creatures? Check. The souped-up battle sea horses and sea dragons and the Great White Sharks with riders are fun enough, but when you get to the giant crabs and other crustaceans you start to think that maybe Ray Harryhausen was smiling down from above as the character designers and animators did their thing. That feels like another homage, and the various factions of undersea peoples are so crazily different that it will remind older viewers of the old Flash Gordon serials.

A believable fantastic world? Check—for the most part. Some of the undersea set designs are spectacularly realistic, while others embrace the opulence of an undersea kingdom, and others feel a little more Star Wars space age. It’s the latter that sometimes pull you out of the moment. If I were editing, I probably would have hacked 10 minutes off of some of these Olympian-style Atlantis scenes that can get a little stagey and slow things down. But for them, the film’s pace seldom lets up.

Great action sequences? Check. And the humor really does balance the spectacular fight scenes that occur on a micro (mano y mano) level and also on the macro level with grand undersea battles. Epic battles—but all done with the kind of comic-book tone of fun action.

Our family liked Aquaman a lot, and there are some pretty cool bonus features that will help you appreciate what the actors went through to make the film. As if he couldn’t be any more likable, Momoa comes across even more like a guy you wish all good things for as you learn about him in one short extra that focuses on him. It’s really worth watching, as are all the other short features. This film will get a lot of repeat play. There’s a huge cast involved, with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II bringing Manta to life, but when it all comes down to it this is Jason Momoa’s film. Yes, it could have been more tightly edited, and Heard is engaging, but it’s Momoa and the creatures who carry the movie.

Language: One character flips another off, and there’s just a few “shits”

Sex: Unless you’re offended by a male torso, there’s nothing much here besides a kiss or two

Violence: The violence isn’t as ramped up as Black Panther; though there are a lot of fights and battles and people get skewered, it’s all pretty bloodless except for one scene

Adult situations: One scene takes place in a bar and there’s mild drinking

Takeaway: Jason Momoa is 38, but I hope he has a lot more Aquaman left in him. As long as the writers can keep the material fresh and continue to find the right tone and blend of action and humor, this is a series we’d love to continue

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