PLOT An amphibious sea king must keep the surface world from being destroyed.
CAST Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson
RATED PG-13 (some strong violence)
BOTTOM LINE A spirited pulp-adventure that should make doubters take this fishy hero seriously.
I remember Aquaman, the amphibious king of Atlantis, mainly as a member of “Super Friends,” the stiffly animated cartoon series that aired Saturday mornings when I was a lad. Aquaman seemed pretty square even then, one of those golden-blonde types with a broad chest and a patronizing voice. What’s more, his “powers” seemed pretty goofy. So he can mind-control dolphins and hold his breath for years — big deal.
The new Warner Bros. incarnation of the DC comics character is not your father’s “Aquaman,” and I should know because I’m a father. Watching this lively, irreverent, slightly nutty movie at an advance screening, I kept thinking: My kids will love this. It’s a sprawling, thunderous action-adventure with a sense of humor, a dash of romance and plenty of what a pre-teen would consider “attitude.” Directed with gusto by James Wan (the “Saw” and “Conjuring” franchises), “Aquaman” is the kind of movie that will stop at nothing to entertain, and sure enough, it does.
This is Jason Momoa’s chance to crystallize the title character beyond cameos and supporting roles in past DC films (notably last year’s miserable “Justice League”). Aquaman is born Arthur Curry to a lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and what is essentially a mermaid, Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman, ageless as a unicorn). Arthur grows into a fishing village roughneck with a hard-rock edge: Viking-thick beard, Seattle-length hair. Momoa is perfect for the part, with a mixed-heritage background (he’s part Native Hawaiian) that mirrors his mixed-species character. A model before becoming an actor, Momoa can also do a hair-swing — usually before delivering a beatdown — that would make Tawny Kitaen green with envy.
A three-man writing team combines Thor with King Arthur to get this story: Aquaman must obtain a golden trident to unseat his half-brother, the evil King Orm (a very good Patrick Wilson). Amber Heard plays the flame-haired Mera, who shows Arthur the greatness he could achieve, and she brings real steam to the role: When she and Aquaman finally kiss, you half-expect the water to boil.
Amid all the underwater army battles (my favorites are the cranky crab-soldiers), a bug-eyed villain named Manta (Yahta Abdul-Mateen II) and a terrific chase scene across the rooftops of Sicily (sure, why not?), “Aquaman” poses a deep question: Is Orm wrong to wage war on the Surface World for polluting and possibly destroying his habitat? Then an underwater Godzilla-monster appears out of nowhere, and it’s back to the fun.
DC'S UPS AND DOWNS
The Warner-DC film franchise has had its ups and downs over the years. Here are four stark examples:
THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) Widely regarded as a masterpiece, thanks to Heath Ledger’s terrifying Joker and Christopher Nolan’s sophisticated yet bruising direction. The lack of a best picture Oscar nod led to a populist outcry; the Academy still hasn’t fully recovered.
BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) This somber, soggy comic-book flick, starring a passable Ben Affleck as Batman and a wooden Henry Cavill as Superman, earned dismal reviews but a whopping $873 million at the box-office. Why make the movies any better, then?
WONDER WOMAN (2017) Warner-DC bounced back with this groundbreaking, critically acclaimed production. With a soulful Gal Gadot in the title role and vigorous direction from Patty Jenkins, “Wonder Woman” broke the gender glass ceiling in the superhero genre and became a major hit.
JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017) It was back to business as usual with this groaning, bloated entry from director Zack Snyder. Godot’s Wonder Woman got sidelined in favor of undeserving characters like the Flash and Cyborg (yawn). Then again, Aquaman came off like a dope in this film, and he’s doing fine. — RAFER GUZMAN