Aquaman's reviews have been mixed since its release, with some critics citing it being too cheesy as a negative point - but perhaps they're just missing the movie's point. Aquaman has gotten flak for being bloated, poorly paced, and too long - some of which are fair, to an extent - but being cheesy, campy, and cliched are fundamental choices that are made long before production begins. Such judgments aren't necessarily fair, because they fail to take the movie on its own terms.
Aquaman follows Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) as he fights to usurp his half-brother, Ocean Master (Patrick Wilson), the jingoistic ruler of Atlantis. The film, which is directed by horror filmmaker James Wan, also features appearances by Amber Heard's Mera and Willem Dafoe's Nuidis Vulko, as well as other comic regulars intent on supporting or stymying Aquaman's rise to power. The surf-and-turf adventure story has proved enticing enough for audiences, propelling the film to pass Wonder Woman at the worldwide box office.
Critics (and detractors) might find themselves tripping over Aquaman because of how it strays from what has become the norm of superhero movies. We are living in a post-Dark Knight, post-Infinity War world, one in which superheroes are expected to go above and beyond their regular fare of bombastic fight sequences and hammy one-liners. But Aquaman abandons the seriousness of the modern comic book movie. Sure, the stakes are high - the armies of the sea stand to wipe out life on the surface - but the film is not really about those stakes. It's about the simpler pleasures that comic books are capable of providing: excitement, humor, and light-hearted fun. Is Aquaman cheesy? Absolutely. Is it campy? Absolutely. Does it know that it's those things, and more? Absolutely.
From the very beginning, Aquaman dove straight into its cheesiness - and stuck by it. Aquaman made sure to rescue everyone on the submarine as fast as possible and even quickly end his fight with Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) so that he could make it back for happy hour with his father. Then, the movie presented audiences with a montage of photographs of the two of them enjoying themselves that evening. All of that happened within the first 10 to 15 minutes. From then on, Aquaman kept trying to one-up itself on the cheesiness, finally clicking in its entirety when Momoa comes out of the waterfall with King Atlan's Trident, as well as in the final battle when Vulko says, "The king is risen." It's not meant to be a funny line - it's biblical - but it comes off as comical because of the juxtaposition of its grandiosity and the fact that Dafoe plays a merman. That's what Aquaman does; it manages to make even its self-serious moments not all that serious. It's fine with people laughing at it, even if it hadn't planned on them laughing. So long as they react, they're golden.
Of course, Aquaman is not a perfect movie. It has flaws, and any given viewer is well within their rights to dislike it. But as people watch Aquaman and Mera smell (and then eat) the roses and enjoy the beauty of Sicily before their fight with Black Manta, they have two choices; either they can dig in and go with the cheesy flow, or they can resist it. Better to accept that Aquaman doesn't take itself too seriously - and that maybe audiences shouldn't take it too seriously, either.
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