A lot has been said about the recent string of DC movie failures from the last half-decade. With the notable exception of Wonder Woman (2017), which was a legitimately great movie in its own right, Warner Bros seems to have been afraid of letting these movies be what they always should have been: silly, cartoonish and fun, in keeping with the children’s entertainment upon which they’re based. That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be treated with the seriousness that is their due, just that they can’t be joyless, grimdark flagellations and expect for people to actually care about them.
Now, Aquaman (2018) is by no means a great movie, but it is a very good one: like Wonder Woman, generally on par with Marvel’s Phase 1 movies, and much of this is because director James Wan was allowed to cut loose and actually do silly, kind-of dumb things that only make sense in comic books (or the movies that they’re based on). So here, without any further ado, are the five most fun, silliest and all-around bonkers things that are actually in this movie that, when all is said and done, actually make it worth seeing in theaters.
5 . Ocean Master IS Shredder – One thing that has to be said about this movie (and, in fact, will be repeatedly throughout this list) is that they got the look and feel of everything in its soggy little world perfect: from the Tron (1982)-inspired technicolor to the Thor: Ragnarok (2017)-adjacent synth-pop score to the wonderfully bizarre choice in costumes for all of its principle characters. From Queen Atlanta to Princess Mera, to its titular King Arthur to his Loki-like brother, they are the best example yet of how spectacular this four-colored world of DC superheroes can be when not everybody necessarily needs to ape Batman’s black-on-black aesthetic.
Although Aquaman’s familial nemesis, Orm the Ocean Master, has several luscious costume changes throughout the film, by far his best happens just in time for the climactic, three-way, underwater battle. He dons a rich, purple costume covered in bladed plates of Atlantean steel, crowned in a truly remarkable helmet that convincingly contorts with his face (meaning that he can be expressive while under what would otherwise be a rather obscuring mask). And as any child of the 80s can tell you, the entire getup is ripped straight from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ iconic nemesis, Shredder. The resemblance is too perfectly spot-on to be anything other than a direct homage, and marks the character as both equally silly and equally menacing as those other amphibian superheroes’ antagonist: something that it both intentionally hilarious and perfectly in-sync with the madcap tone established throughout the rest of the movie.
4 . Octopus drummer – One of the most iconic scenes from the movie – in a sequence that played front-and-center in all of its promotional marketing – is a kingly duel of honor between Orm and Arthur. The victor of the conflict wins the Atlantean throne, having proven himself the worthiest to rule. The loser wins an excruciating death in an underwater pit of lava.
The ceiling of the brothers’ underwater holding area opens. Orm exits first, giving a grandiose speech about his birthright as king. Arthur exits, posturing to match his brother’s grandstanding. They square off against one another, tridents in hand, ready to make the crushing first blow. And then the scene cuts away to a bouncing, bubbly octopus furiously pounding away on a set of drums. It’s as awesome as it is bizarre, and pretty much par for the course for the movie’s “rule of cool” sense of tone and worldbuilding.
3 . Mera wears a dress made out of jellyfish – This ‘ring of fire’ conflict between Orm and Arthur isn’t just some intimate combat between two ideologically opposed brothers. It is a massive spectator sport. Set up in a gladiatorial ring with seemingly half of the sunken kingdom in attendance, it is as major even as anything depicted in movies like Gladiator (2000).
Given their stature in Atlantean society and the gravity of the event, the high born nobles and diplomatic envoys are dressed in their finest ceremonial attire. For many, these are their martial vestments: pretty much the same enameled scale armor or Storm Trooper power armor that we’ve seen them in for the preceeding scenes. Some, however, like the red-headed Mera, get a notable upgrade to their usual accoutrement. IN her case, she gets an entire, bioluminescent dress made out of seemingly living jellyfish, which swim with her in unison in imitation of a more traditional garment. It is, needless to say, spectacular.
2 . Sharks riding into battle with laser beams on their heads – Given the Shakespearian plot of the film – royal brother pitted against royal brother, scheming factions maneuvering against their rivals and amassing massive martial and political source among the seven underwater kingdoms – there are a few elements that we do and don’t expect to see over its runtime. Think the Thor movies for comparison, which were so intimately indebted to the Bard that notable Shakespeare obsessive Kenneth Branagh was brought in to direct the first film.
Needless to say, of all the things that I came into this movie expecting to see, one of them wasn’t sharks with freaking laser beans on their head! Seriously, the Atlantean shock troops, featured in the many, many battle scenes that dominate the film’s B-plot, ride on top of any number of different species of shark. And, in keeping with the film’s science fantasy premise, each is armed with lasers. If I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought that Dr. Evil directed this movie (which, all things being equal, is about what this film was going for).
1 . Aquaman actually gets to wear the Aquaman costume – Since first appearing in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice’s (2016) mid-movie cut-away trailer, and continuing on into Justice League (2017), Aquaman has had something of an image problem. Leaning hard into the painfully dated 90’s image of the character (a grizzled, hook-handed badass whose mere existence is a reflexive rebuke of the characters perception as a useless, seahorse-riding joke), Jason Momoa’s Aquaman has always carried with him the impression of protesting too much. With his orange scale shirt replaced with omnipresent silver tattoos, he was a walking symbol of fragile and utterly superficial masculinity.
But Warner Bros was apparently all-in on Zack Snyder’s ‘too cool for school’ take on the character, so I had resigned myself that we would never get to see a comic-accurate version of the character’s costume: something that was easily cooler-looking that the surfer bro look that had, until now, defined this version of the character. And as the movie worked through its overwrought narrative, and Arthur looked exactly the same as he did in the previous movies, I resigned that I would never see him look any differently. Low and behold, however, that getting his orange-and-green comic costume was depicted as a major third-act bit of character growth, and he went to fight his Shredder-looking brother in the film’s final fight looking the way that he should. I seriously never thought I would see it happen, and it was as perfectly realized on-screen as Wonder Woman’s Amazonian armor was in her movie last year.