I tend to not really listen to film critics when it comes to movies, especially comic-related fare, so I didn’t care about any ratings dramas. When Aquaman was a huge hit, I was stoked because it came from the fans. Then I watched it and I have things to talk about.
I think it’s reasonable to judge a film based on source material and comic books have such a vast fanbase that you kind of look at it as a two-pronged problem. Is the movie filmed and cast well, what about the acting or even the writing? Those things for most movies are already something critics look at but when you factor in comic books, things get kind of difficult. See, I feel there are a lot of critics out there that have no business judging comic book movie origin points if they’ve not read the source material before. Sure, you can critique it on the core things I mentioned above, but it’s not terribly easy for someone with no clue to go in and judge the writing, characters and backstory if you don’t know what’s going down. So, that’s that issue I have but there’s another – the fandoms.
Fandoms have this incredulous way of taking something you love and either acting legitimately positive about seeing something they’ve read and loved come to the big screen or they clutch it tight to their chest and immediately assume the worst. Pre-judging a comic book film solely based on casting or a Director or even its placement within a timeline of films can sometimes be their first move. I feel like Aquaman was getting the side-eye pretty much immediately due to the complicated critiques given to the Batman, Superman and Justice League movies. While Wonder Woman did wonderfully, no pun intended, there seemed to be a pretty strong campaign behind it. With Justice League taking the smacks that it did from folks online, there were quite a few people contemplating why Aquaman was even happening at all.
And, I mean, if you want — I think I can help kinda clear that up even though I believe the movie stands on its own.
When we look at the rather muddled and dark versions of DC films up to now, it’s clear they were going in a different and more edgy direction than Marvel has been. To be fair, Batman was never a lighthearted romp ever and Superman’s story, specifically in the storyline arc that those films come from, was a definite dark series. If you even check out the animated films that line up with the eventual live action titles, it’s even shown there. Justice League: Doom is an animated film that pulls zero punches and I think it tells a compelling story that would make for a beautiful live-action film. It shows a story can be dark but still have some smoothed out moments and that doesn’t have to mean you’re always shooting it at night. Justice League seemed to turn a lot of people off and when set up next to the MCU, it just felt dour.
But that one shining ray of hope was Jason Momoa’s entrance into the DC Universe as Arthur Curry aka: Aquaman. Sure, Justice League showed iced gray-blue eyes on Arthur which didn’t quite get explained when you see him in Aquaman — but who cares? Brown and then gold? But what about the blue!? They were blue as an adult! Don’t give me that “But the Aquarium scene” nonsense! I watched the movies back to back in order to write this and I kept going back to the eyes. Did they think we’d forget? Did James Wan lose the contacts? I mean, re– you know what? I’m going to stop. This so isn’t about Jason Momoa’s chocolately-gold gorgeous eyes that I could–and there I go again.
This isn’t a thirst piece, I promise. What this is, however, is taking that moment where Batman Wayne (I’m not calling him anything other than that, so get used to it) meets up with Arthur and taking note that he was the most compelling character in Justice League. As Batman Wayne is questioning him, darting his eyes around the room to see the paintings on the wall, you realize that Arthur has quite a damn story going down. It’s something they barely even hint at in the film and I truly hoped for an Aquaman movie purely for that reason. I wondered how a blonde Aquaman from the comics could be turned into this rather interesting human side to this Arthur. With Momoa’s inclusion of his Māori heritage into the film via Arthur and Arthur’s past, it had me thinking about the tweaks done to the actual comic Arthur Curry. Would they be for the better?
Then I’m checking out Patrick Wilson’s Orm Marius, also known as Aquaman’s Evil Seabro, aesthetic and realize it’s almost like they swapped the look of the comic book characters. Orm Marius in the books had dark raven hair and Arthur was the blonde cutie who could converse with clams. That was kind of when I started to realize this part was always meant to be built around Momoa. These little swaps and inclusions were made to appease fans but still keep to what their vision was. Sometimes when movies do that, they tend to overproduce the stuff around the cast to prop them up because they don’t trust their actors but it doesn’t feel like that here. It feels like they wanted to explain Momoa as Arthur in an authentic way that paid almost a quite homage to his Polynesian roots while still holding to the underwater diorama and story they knew was expected of them.
I kept waiting for Jason Momoa to ‘King of the Bro-cean’ this whole thing and just give a lot of hair flips and coy looks when not beating up mechanical dolphins. While he did give a lot of fan service with his long wet locks and over-the-shoulders, the rest of it felt natural. See, Momoa has always felt like, at least to me – an accidental beauty. Hell, maybe it’s what makes him irritating to some men out there, you know? He comes off as this fun and lovable giant that has a body that people lust over but he doesn’t even seem to notice and/or take that too terribly serious. He’s a huge Saturday Night Live fan and loves late night talk shows, enjoys comedians and wishes he could be ‘as funny as them’ to the point of gushing. He loves talking about fantasy worlds and things like Dungeons and Dragons, he shrinks back or makes jokes when you talk about Game of Thrones’ Khal Drogo being sexy and it’s in those moments you kind of see the real guy.
That’s what I saw in Momoa’s portrayal of Arthur Curry. I saw a guy who was just trying to be a dude and then realized exactly who and what he was but couldn’t quite commit to the huge job hoisted on him. There’s a scene in Aquaman where he’s having a breakfast beer with his Pops and he’s recognized. It starts off with selfies that are wooden and uncomfortable, but a few drinks later and he’s the life of the party. It feels so authentic to Momoa and, through that, takes Arthur to a level that he didn’t quite get to in the comics. He makes Arthur in the books look almost wooden and snooty, which is quite fascinating when you see that Patrick Wilson emotes more of that as Orm. Maybe underwater blondes don’t have that much fun. Who knows.
The thing of it is, I feel like folks want to count out Momoa at times as Aquaman because of his look and his demeanor not matching with the comic books, but is that so bad? The point that I caught is that it gives such love and style with a ton more culture than the books had before. The Aquaman books were always gorgeous and well-written but it missed a bit of this flavor for me and when I saw the culture that Momoa brought to the film, it brought me to care far more. Perhaps we need to get on-board with Momoa because he chews the scenery around him in this movie the same as his other far-more-seasoned actors do and he adds a touch of earth to the oceanic surroundings.
Jason Momoa’s Arthur is, quite honestly, the perfect combination of land and sea which is a direction that needed to happen for Aquaman to get out from behind the trappings of Justice League’s critical pitchfork brigade.