Aquaman (Jason Momoa), real name Arthur Curry, has a tale to tell about how his parents met. It was a dark and stormy night, and his father Tom (Temuera Morrison) was a lighthouse keeper who noticed a figure lying on the rocks - it was a woman (Nicole Kidman) and he brought her inside, only for her to act with some hostility towards him. She was suspicious of his motives, having struggled in her undersea home of Atlantis, of which she was Queen Atlanna, but she realised with this kind man she could enjoy a new life away from the ocean, and by and by settled down with him, giving birth to his child, who would grow into Aquaman, half-human denizen of the waters...
It's safe to say few had any great expectations for this, another entry in DC's try at creating a universe in a manner that had seen their chief rival Marvel win hit after hit at the international box office. Yet the surprise was that Aquaman was an enormous success, equalling the only other real DC effort of this cycle that had been ardently appreciated, Wonder Woman; part of that was thanks to the East Asian market, as it went down like free ice cream there in a culture that was less allied to realism in its fantasy movies. It may sound like a strange thing to say, but in the West the idea that a fantastical premise or styling wasn't believable was a genuine sticking point there, not so Eastwards.
Thus Aquaman's stirring series of candy-coloured seascapes and costumes that paraded across the screen as if saying, "Yeah, I'm riding a giant seahorse, you got a problem with that?" were actually quite captivating to the eyes, a confection that may have been bizarre, even goofy, yet was presented with such lack of embarrassment that it made you wonder what your misgivings about it were worth. There were those who refused to go along with director James Wan's purposefully weird and wacky approach, but it appeared the majority of those who caught this were appropriately appreciative of his efforts, and "got" his unapologetically nutty techniques.
This was, after all, a story about a musclebound bloke who can not only breathe underwater, but hold regular conversations and swim like a torpedo around the deep too, so what was Wan going to do, go for gritty realism? Of course not, he looked back to the excesses of the Silver Age and decided to take them seriously, so while there were wisecracks from Momoa to help you settle in, the stakes were high when it introduced the pollution angle for the younger viewers to engage with, that being a hot button topic at the time this was released. Though the ecology angle was not its main concern, the idea that all our waste products could be returned to clog up the land was a reminder of how much garbage winds up in the ocean - an Aquaman bugbear here providing the impetus for his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) to move towards war with us landlubbers.
Meanwhile, a mermaid princess (after a fashion) named Mera (Amber Heard with My Little Pony hair) was on hand to assist Aquaman in countering Orm and whatever other bad guys might be around, including Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who bears a grudge against him after Arthur failed to rescue Manta's father (arrogantly, since they were trying to commandeer a submarine illegally at the time, causing death among the crew, so you can see the hero's point). Yes, there were the over the top punch-ups, but something about Wan's vision for this movie compared favourably with the Italian peplum series of the fifties and sixties where body builders played Hercules, Atlas or Maciste in oft-eccentric takes of Roman mythology. It was not the sole influence, but it had the same appeal, not merely in Aquaman but in many a superhero piece, it was just that this was more blatant about it. With one of the most varied casts in a genre movie, Dolph Lundgren rubbing shoulders with Willem Dafoe, you may have pondered what else they could do with the character, but as it stood, this was daft and enjoyable, with an awareness of history and your place in it too. Music by Rupert Gregson-Williams.