We need to talk about Aquaman – and the case for more fun superhero movies

I feel like I’ve been on a rollercoaster. And a log flume. And the flying Dumbos. Heck, I’ve been on every ride in the theme park. And that’s because I’ve just been to see Aquaman – the latest movie in the DC extended universe (DCEU).

And boy does it have it all. And not in the sense that it had everything that made it a perfect movie. I mean it in the way that director James Wan has made a film that runs a hundred miles an hour from start to finish. And when you consider it’s over two hours long, that’s a lot of covered ground. He literally threw everything in front of a camera, added a constantly-wet Jason Momoa and this film was the outcome.  

The DCEU films have had a rocky time of it. Of the six that have been produced and released, Aquaman represents just the second one that I’d deem as any good. The chronology of this story takes place after the events of 2017’s better-forgotten Justice League but it definitely should have come first.  

The introduction of Aquaman in Justice League didn’t do this iteration of the character any… well, justice. In the comic book universe, he’s seen as a bit of a joke. And because of that, I wanted more time than Justice League allowed to get to know who Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is.

As such, this film represents the introduction of the character that we should of gotten before we saw him thrown into the deep end to fight alongside Batman and Superman. And from the get-go, you can see where director James Wan has put the events of Justice League to one side and threw himself into this semi origin story for the long-haired, rock ‘n’ roll version of the half-human, half-Atlantean Arthur Curry.

Momoa’s Aquaman is a far-cry from the blonde-haired, blue-eyed figure in a lot of the comics

Maybe four or five times in Momoa’s first scene as Curry, we see him flick his long hair back and smolder down the lens as a Van Halen-esque guitar lick screeches. From the start, Aquaman is over the top bonkers.

And that’s what I loved about it! It embraced a lot of superhero tropes and had fun with them. The film feels very self-aware. James Wan must have known he’s putting a different movie on the screen every 20 minutes. And Momoa seems well aware of who he is and how he’s seen. And that lets him lean into the character in the way he does.

Arthur Curry is joined for most of the film by Amber Heard’s Mera – an Atlantean who drags him to where he needs to go and tells him how to get out of a fix. I was worried Mera wasn’t going to have enough to do and that she would make her way to the end of the film without any character development. But instead of anything close to a damsel in distress, Mera is very much depicted as Aquaman’s equal. In fact she was the one guiding his story, saving him more than once and having her own legitimately bonkers action scene where she kicks ass and takes names.

It’s these moments where soldiers run through walls as if they’re made of paper, where Jason Momoa has time between punches to make a very out of place joke or where Nicole Kidman spears a TV because Stingray is on that make Aquaman something the other DC films aren’t. It’s just so much fun.

Amber Heard’s Mera is dangerously close to being the best female character in the DCEU.

Wonder Woman got close but was still overshadowed by the dark shadow of the other DCEU movies. Aquaman on the other hand is light and interesting and it looks awesome. The VFX are much improved over the last few DC outings – and the world which is set up and played in is incredibly well-presented.

And while I’ve seen blogs and reviews asking for an explanation as to how characters can  talk underwater, this isn’t something I need. I just accepted it – because who cares?! The film is so much fun and had me engaged all the way through so I didn’t feel the need to stop and question it.

While I thoroughly enjoyed this film, there was no interest from the other camp in my house. Mrs Izzard is not a fan of superhero movies, she thinks that they’re all the same and doesn’t understand why there needs to be so many. And while I might agree that there’s only so many times you can see Henry Cavil’s weird moustache-less face contorted with worry that he’s destroying the character of Superman for a whole generation, I think Aquaman represents something slightly different.

Because when we talk about Aquaman, we need to talk about the case for more fun superhero movies.

I don’t understand why there’s now an expectation for superhero films to be serious pieces of filmmaking. If you look at the last few Marvel movies, there’s been a lot of emotionally-driven storylines and the addition of cultural and political undertones. And don’t get me wrong – I really enjoy all of these films and think Marvel in particular has enabled the genre of superhero movies to be considered as more than box office fluff. But I’m fine with without some of that stuff, I just really like seeing something on screen that’s all-out, unapologetically nuts.

And that’s what I saw in Aquaman. I didn’t find myself questioning why someone can push a submarine out of the depths of the ocean without getting the bends. Instead I just accepted that’s just something Aquaman can do because it takes place in a movie doesn’t care about exposition or explanation.

Superheros in their very nature are crazy to try and get your heads around. Yes Superman explains that his powers come from earth’s atmosphere and Cap’s shield doesn’t get scratched because it’s made of the strongest material on earth. But do we really need to spend our time worrying about these sorts of things? Aquaman doesn’t think so. It doesn’t worry about these trivial things. Instead it relishes in its own craziness.

In the real world people can’t fly, or move things with their minds or shoot fire from their hands. Apologies if you thought otherwise and I don’t want to be the one to break the news to anyone. But can’t we just put a few things aside and enjoy a nuts movie about a bloke that can talk to fish?

What James Wan has done with Aquaman is remind us that there’s fun to be had in superhero movies – especially after the last emotionally-heavy outing of the Avengers in Infinity War. And these light-hearted, dangerously fun superhero movies are the ones I’ll certainly be buying a ticket at the cinema to see.

So I say out with the bleak tones and of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and in with an Octopus playing the drums (yes that’s a real thing that happens in Aquaman). And if we can all go to the cinema and have fun in escaping for just a few hours, maybe we’ll all enjoy ourselves a little bit more.


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