Despite Lacking Character Growth, “Aquaman” Impresses Overall
Having seen the terrible reviews for “Justice League,” I was anxious about “Aquaman.” Would this movie flop, too, or would it compete with “Wonder Woman?”
Would “Aquaman” be able to match the ever-growing Marvel franchise in its ability to entertain? Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. The movie was engaging and comedic, and didn’t leave me feeling like I had wasted two hours of my life.
All of the actors played their roles well, but “Aquaman” did have some glaring problems, the main one being that it felt formulaic and myopic.
The movie opened well, providing us a quick look into the early life of Arthur Curry, or Aquaman (Jason Momoa). Arthur is the son of Thomas Curry, a lighthouse keeper, and Atlanna, the princess of the underwater nation Atlantis. Arthur is born with the power to communicate with marine lifeforms.
There are two main antagonists in “Aquaman” David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who later christens himself as Black Manta, and Arthur’s half-brother (Patrick Wilson), who is also Atlantis’ ruler King Orm.
When Arthur fights with a group of pirates who are attacking a submarine, he leaves their leader, Jesse Kane (Michael Beach) to drown in the ocean. His son, David, swears to avenge him, aiding King Orm on more than one occasion to defeat Arthur. The importance of family and our inability to accept when family members leave our lives is a theme that recurs throughout the movie.
While the plot of revenge allows for Arthur’s character growth as he reflects on how he’s made an eternal enemy for choosing to condemn Black Manta and his father, it leaves Black Manta feeling like a flat and overdone character.
Every time Black Manta is offered a reward or compensation, he refuses, stating that killing Arthur is the reward.
Even if we ignore how cliché Black Manta sounds as he declares this, throughout this movie he stays as this character who has nothing to drive him but his rage. He even turns down treasure, one of the only things that mattered to him when he was a pirate. His lack of growth becomes even more bothersome when considering that he is the only black character in the movie, excluding his father who dies within ten minutes of being introduced.
I find it distasteful that the only black character is not only initially a pirate who makes a living off of theft, but is also a character entirely centered around his rage and violence. Hopefully in the sequel, we will see Black Manta grow as an antagonist, as it was implied at the end of the movie that he will return.
To be fair, both Aquaman and King Orm also start off as characters blinded by the loss of their mother and are consequently prejudiced and judgmental.
But unlike these two characters, Black Manta does not waver in his willingness to ignore the suffering of others, lacking engagement with other characters throughout the movie.
We see Arthur begin to reconsider his hatred toward the Atlanteans as he journeys with Mera (Amber Heard), Arthur’s love interest and daughter of one of the underwater kings. And King Orm seems to reevaluate his opinion of Arthur when he realizes his mom is still alive.
In a way, Black Manta’s inability to recover from his father’s death and the hatred that follows exemplify the turmoil of losing a family member and the degree to which it can consume a person.
However, his storyline could have been handled in a way that didn’t leave the character feeling flat, such as having Black Manta demonstrate more doubt in his determination to kill Arthur.
The filmmakers could have made Black Manta grieve for his father in later scenes, allowing the viewer to empathize with him. In the end, the problem with his character may have been due to a lack of interaction with the other characters beyond physical fights and payments.
Having said all this, “Aquaman” is well made. The movie’s pacing made it engaging throughout, and its fight scenes were captivating. Its jokes also met positive reactions.
While the costumes may have been a bit over the top, when considering the actual outfits the characters wore in the comics, they were almost exact replicas.
The movie was also pleasantly thought-provoking, dealing mostly with how we concieve of authority, how we judge people based on bias and how easy it is to ignore the plight of others.
As the movie depicts the workings of Atlantis and King Orm’s close-minded domination, it makes us think about how difficult it can be to accept those unlike us.
Overall, “Aquaman” left me satisfied and looking forward to the next installment.