It has some serious problems — weak villains, strong female characters who are frustratingly sidelined so the men can do the cool stuff, a paint-by-numbers game plot — but it’s still a big dumb goof of a movie that’s at the very least fun to watch, mainly thanks to the great undersea visuals and its charismatic lead. The great superhero movie rewatch goes underwater with Aquaman.
Patrick Wilson is simply dreadful, snarling his way through the spectacularly uninteresting part of Orm, who pretty much follows every cliché of the evil monarch with nothing to mitigate it or make him in any way, shape, or form interesting. He’s not even charismatically evil, he’s just a snot. Wilson can be an effective bad guy—his dudebro CIA agent in The A-Team was fantastic—but he brings nothing but a blank stare to the role of Orm.
Dolph Lundgren is actually nuanced as Nereus, but we only get hints of his greater plan. I like that we discover that he knew Orm was manipulating things, but he had his own agenda—which we never actually learn. As with “Dr. Poison” in Wonder Woman, this movie would’ve been far better off focusing on Nereus than Orm or Black Manta.
Speaking of Black Manta, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is even worse than Wilson, as his attempt at vengeful anger feels more like a teenager who’s just been told he’s been grounded. This is made worse by putting him next to Michael Beach in his first scene. Beach is a great actor, and he brings depth and nuance to the role of Jesse Kane, and you kinda wish it had been the son who died and Dad who became Black Manta. If nothing else, that would’ve made the mid-credits scene actually effective. As it is, this movie was about fighting for the crown of an undersea kingdom in order to save the surface from an invasion by a technologically superior force, and the mid-credits scene promises that Aquaman’s next foe will be—erm, the doofus he already defeated twice in this movie and a crazed conspiracy theorist? Really? Bit of a comedown, that…