Like Wonder Woman, this adventure marks a move in the right direction for the Justice League/DC Extended Universe. Aquaman isn’t great, but it’s definitely more fun and engaging than the non-Wonder Woman entries so far. James Wan’s direction is quicker and lighter on its feet than infamously dour movies like Batman v Superman. And this is the first of these attempted epics that actually feels like an epic. It centers on a quest that hops continents and new (undersea) worlds; it introduces a mythology; it culminates in a satisfying battle. It even has bona fide sea monsters. Much of the credit for Aquaman‘s success goes to the casting. Kidman brings unusual emotional depth to her brief appearance; she has chemistry with Morrison in a rare superhero-parent backstory that works. Heard is appealing as Mera, especially in a sequence in which she discovers some of the little pleasures of the surface world. Most of all, Momoa is a fun presence; his not-so-bright, biker-dude Aquaman and Ezra Miller’s squirrelly Flash are definitely the two most surprisingly enjoyable takes on heroes so far in the DCEU. Momoa plays the turn nicely when Aquaman realizes that he may not be able to beat his adversary, and he handles his final ascension well. He has good comic instincts.
Some of the movie’s story elements will ring bells for viewers: There are distinct shades of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Romancing the Stone, and Black Panther, among others, in the film. And there are probably too many different lands and armies to pack into even a two-and-a-half-hour-long movie. The visual effects aren’t quite up to snuff, and there are too many keyhole-camera shots, rollercoaster camera moves, and belief-defying injuries (e.g., a guy takes a fall that would wreck a tank but comes out OK). But while the DCEU still has a long way to go to get within spitting distance of rival Marvel, Aquaman continues the positive trend started by Wonder Woman.