The most surprising thing about Aquaman is not its underwater spectacle, which is impressive at times, but rather its heart. The bookends of the film revolve around a love story between a humble lighthouse keeper, Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison), and a princess, Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), from the hidden city of Atlantis. Their tale of forbidden love, which produces the sweetest fruit in a baby named Arthur, might be a familiar trope, but it has a profound impact on everything that is to come in the film.
Needing to ensure the safety of her two loves, Atlanna reluctantly returns home to fulfill an arranged marriage that will see her become Queen. This decision creates a void in both Tom and Arthur’s (Jason Momoa) life for many years until fate causes the latter to confront his destiny.
Doing heroic deeds when needed, and drawing media attention as the mysterious Aquaman, Arthur can no longer ignore his heritage when Mera (Amber Heard), who is betrothed to his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), now the king of Atlantis, comes seeking his help. Tired of the pollution that mankind has filled the oceans with, Orm has declared war on the surface world and is rallying all the other underwater kingdoms to fight by his side. The only way to stop Orm is for Arthur to challenge him for the throne.
Arthur’s best chance at reclaiming his birthright is to locate the lost Trident of Atlan, who was the first king of Atlantis. Complicating matters is the fact that Orm wants Arthur dead and has sent both his special forces team and an American ex-military-turned-pirate named Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) to end that part of his bloodline once and for all.
Playing like an Indiana Jones style adventure, one where Arthur and Mera must visit various locals above and below the sea to find clues, there is plenty of fun to be had in Aquaman. Director James Wan does a solid job of bringing the world of Atlantis to vibrant life. The underwater sequences are often the most visually interesting aspects of the film. Wan even taps into his horror roots in the wonderful scenes where Arthur and Mera must battle monsters known as The Trench.
Where the film struggles to stay afloat is in its script. Except for the brief arc between Tom and Atlanna, Aquaman never seems to figure out how to provide the supporting characters with any sort of depth. This is especially true when it comes to Orm and his clunky quest for political power. His ruthlessness never feels chilling, and his lack of memorable moments puts him firmly on the lenghty list of bland superhero movie villains.
Thankfully, Momoa’s charisma and Wan’s action set pieces help to keep the film moving. Aquaman is not the saviour of the DC Extended Universe that many are making it out to be, Wonder Woman already lays claim to that throne, however, it is a serviceable entry that is worth dipping one’s toes back into the DC cinematic waters.