While Marvel Studios seems to have been on a role for the past few years, churning out one superhero hit after the next, DC has had to play massive catch up. It seems they've fallen into a rut of having all their movies revolve around either Superman or Batman, with all the other members of the Justice League getting pushed to the wayside (being confined to just having television series). And despite the huge success of Wonder Woman's solo film, fans seemed to be lukewarm towards "Batman v Superman" and "Justice League." It seemed that DC would continue to succeed just on TV, leaving their rival to dominate the silver screen. I say all this because one can see how much the cards were arguably stacked against this film even upon announcement. From what I could see, hardly anyone seemed to have much faith in a movie about a superhero that's largely been seen as "lame", and has been the butt of countless jokes for decades. Although his "Justice League" appearance helped to "toughen" him up a bit, it looked like he'd always be regulated to "that guy from the Superfriends who could talk to fish".
Thankfully, this film succeeded at exceeding everyone's expectations. Much like "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Antman", this film manages to show how cool Aquaman can really be when written well, while also taking the somewhat "sillier" aspects of his mythos and either making them cool, or outright reveling in the silliness, leading to one of the most fun adventures I've seen in a long time.
Taking place one year after the events of "Justice League", the half human/half Atlantean--Arthur Curry--has been slowly making a public name for himself as he rescues people and protects the ocean. But his relatively quiet life is disturbed when Mera, an Atlantean representative, tracks down Arthur to inform him that all the various undersea kingdoms are beginning to unite to wage war against the surface world; the forces led by Arthur's half brother, King Orm. With secret schemes and double crosses happening on many sides of the conflict, a high tech pirate swearing revenge over the death of his father at Arthur's hands, and the fate of the surface and the sea hanging in the balance, can the so-called "half breed" son of two very different worlds be able to prove himself as the rightful king of the sea?
As previously mentioned, Aquaman was an arguably tricky character to adapt to film, considering many of the outlandish elements of his world and powers. But the filmmakers did a fantastic job in building and fleshing out the mythos surrounding the kingdoms of the sea, and striking a great balance between giving the Atlantean legends a sense of scope and respect....while also having unabashed fun with the "cartoony" side of his world. There's plenty of homages to the classic comics and cartoons, from character designs, to people riding atop giant sharks and seahorses, to those infamous rings coming out of Arthur's head when he speaks to marine life, complete with a variation of the iconic "boop, boop, boop" noise. The undersea environments are creatively designed, with the most eye-popping colors out of all the DC films. And once the plot really gets going, it turns into a swash-buckling, treasure hunt adventure straight out of Indiana Jones.
And the characters are just as entertaining to watch. Arthur himself manages to be both a badass and a sweetheart. He's "toughened up" in terms of design, but without dissolving into "grittiness". His toughness comes from just how cool he is---being able to take down hordes of enemies, but also having no shame or qualms about hugging his dad or tenderly taking his girlfriend around a lovely city. He clearly loves his parents; holds nothing against them when he's continuously mocked for his heritage, and though he's quick to fight, he almost always thinks through his actions and chooses communication first. He marvels in wonder at every new thing he comes across, and despite the stakes being high, he still takes time to find some fun and joy in the sheer act of living. Much of this is also reflected in Mera, who is a great strategist and warrior, but also has plenty of tender and comedic moments, especially when she becomes the literal "fish out of water" as she navigates the surface world. The two of them complement each other perfectly, and help teach one another about their respective worlds. (Take note Hollywood; THIS is how you write the "warrior male" and "strong female" characters.)
King Orm isn't nearly as developed, and is mostly the classic "scheming brother wants the throne" plot. But his motivations for conquest ARE understandable, and put him slightly above a cartoon supervillain. And as for the pirate who seeks revenge against Arthur for the death of his father--the man who will become Black Manta---he gets a highly entertaining action sequence, but for the most part, is underutilized (which surprised me, considering he's a much more famous Aquaman adversary). But if the last scene is anything to go by, it's clear he'll be back in a sequel.
And I really hope this DOES get a sequel. This was one of the most fun and entertaining adventure films I've seen in a long time--harkening back to the Harryhausen epics like "Clash of the Titans". If DC keeps following this example, then maybe their cinematic universe can be reignited again.