The DC Extended Universe got off to a shaky start with the dull Man of Steel misrepresenting Superman, Batman v Superman packing seven or eight movies’ worth of story into just one, and a rushed Suicide Squad movie spelling out exposition to the audience. However, then Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman came along to salvage the franchise, proving that standalone movies with care for their characters could be the way forward. James Wan continued this winning streak with Aquaman. It wasn’t a perfect movie, but it was definitely a vast improvement over Man of Steel. Here is DCEU: 5 Things James Wan’s Aquaman Did Right (And 5 It Did Wrong).
10 Right: Fun tone
Zack Snyder curated the DCEU with a gloomy tone that had Superman and Batman killing people, shots that were so darkly lit that it was hard to see what was going on, and over-the-top attempts at being the edgy alternative to Marvel. Thankfully, Patty Jenkins remedied that with the lively, lighthearted, humorous tone of Wonder Woman. Warner Bros. realized that the way forward with their filmed DC Comics universe was to stick with this fun tone, so they let James Wan go wild with the fun aspects of Aquaman and the movie is all the better for it.
9 Wrong: Sound design
Part of the excitement of seeing a movie on the big screen is having your senses attacked, but Aquaman was just so unnecessarily loud. A lot of Hollywood blockbusters have the problem where the action is way too loud and the dialogue is way too quiet, so you can’t hear what anyone’s saying, but you do hear too much of what everyone’s doing. Aquaman is a particularly egregious example of this, starting with the opening action set piece in which Atlantean guards swarm the house and capture Arthur Curry’s mother. The tender, emotional moments fall by the wayside as the rest is just deafening noise.
8 Right: Jason Momoa’s performance
Casting the role of Aquaman must have been a challenge for Warner Bros., because for decades, the character had been a laughing stock. They had to cast someone truly mesmerizing and charming and badass to get audiences to care about him. And they got the most mesmerizing, charming badass in all of Hollywood: Jason Momoa.
Momoa was the perfect choice to play Arthur Curry, and his performance in Aquaman is easily the best part of the movie. If it wasn’t for Momoa’s effortless charisma and commitment to the role, there’s no way that Aquaman would’ve worked anywhere near as well.
7 Wrong: Attempting Marvel-style quips
The dialogue in the MCU has been mostly quip-based since Joss Whedon, the king of quips, established the franchise’s house style as such with his Phase 1 capper, The Avengers. The DCEU has never been as successful with quippy dialogue, and in Aquaman, it seems as though the studio requested that the screenwriters include some Marvel-style quips, and they just don't work as well.
For example, Arthur Curry confronting some pirates on a submarine and saying, “Permission to come aboard,” doesn’t have the same ring to it as Tony Stark approaching an invading alien and saying, “Earth is closed today.”
6 Right: Main villain
Orm is the primary villain in Aquaman, and he’s everything a villain should be. As the half-brother of Arthur Curry and a competitor for the throne of Atlantis, he has a personal connection to the story’s hero that adds an emotional element to the stakes beyond the political reasons for their conflict. Orm is somewhat sympathetic, since he wants to invade the surface world to prevent them from further polluting the oceans, which actually makes sense. It’s reminiscent of Erik Killmonger in Black Panther — you can see where he’s coming from, even if you disagree with how he’s going about it.
5 Wrong: Secondary villain
As great as Aquaman’s primary villain is, the secondary villain leaves a lot to be desired. Black Manta doesn’t really have a place in the plot, he barely presents a threat to the hero, and his motivations are unfounded. He’s mad at Aquaman for supposedly killing his father, but Aquaman didn’t kill his father — he just neglected to save him in order to save all the innocent people that he and his father were on that submarine to kill in the first place. Black Manta is a massive hypocrite. His entire role in this movie seems to have been to set him up as the villain for the sequel, which isn’t good enough.
4 Right: Worldbuilding
One of the toughest things to do in a big-budget epic blockbuster is worldbuilding. To establish the story’s world without interrupting the story itself is a difficult task — one that’s been mastered by the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, and the Wachowskis. James Wan can now be added to that list, because the worldbuilding in Aquaman is spectacular. Every scene functions as a part of the plot and as an introduction to some location or procedure or organization within the world of Atlantis. Along with Patty Jenkins’ design of Themyscira, Wan’s design of Atlantis has helped to give the DCEU a real sense of place.
3 Wrong: Interrupting every exposition scene with an explosion
Pretty much every time some characters are exchanging exposition throughout Aquaman, the conversation is interrupted by an abrupt explosion that blows all the characters away. It happens when the Atlantean politicians are talking shop. It happens when Aquaman and Mera are talking to Vulko in a sunken ship. It happens when Aquaman and Mera are searching for the trident in Sicily. At a certain point, it becomes tiresome and predictable. Surely there’s another way to segue from a quiet dialogue-driven scene to an action scene than simply blowing everyone up. Reusing that moment over and over again is just lazy.
2 Right: Massive final battle
Fans go into superhero movies expecting a big battle sequence at the end. As a result, only a few of those battles — the Battle of New York in The Avengers, Wolverine saving the young mutants from his relentless clone in Logan, Diana taking on Ares in Wonder Woman etc. — stand out among the crowd.
The final act of Aquaman, which sees the Seven Kingdoms of Atlantis go head-to-head in an epic battle, is one of the climactic battles that stands out. Armies made up of all kinds of sea creatures (sharks, whales, squids, even brine) go to war in a breathtaking cinematic spectacle.
1 Wrong: Not exploring the environmentalist message further
The villain’s motivation in Aquaman is to destroy the surface world for having polluted all the oceans. This is a real-world issue. Humanity actually has polluted the oceans and we are callously wiping out marine life with our absurdly wasteful culture. Arthur Curry believes that humanity is worth saving, so he saves it. But humanity doesn’t learn any lessons from it. The movie doesn’t explore the environmentalist issues it raises further than giving the bad guys a valid reason to hate the human race. It would’ve been exciting to see the film dive deeper into this topic and hold a mirror up to humanity.