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Aquaman reviews hail ocean king as 'surprisingly jolly', praise Momoa's performance

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Feb 26, 2020, 3:48 PM EST (Updated)

The most bodacious entry into the DCEU yet, Aquaman’s fight for peace between the underwater world and that of the surface has been all anyone’s been talking about since its dominance of comic conventions and talk shows alike. Now the first reviews of the Jason Momoa-led solo adventure are out and the James Wan superhero film is earning mostly positive reactions from critics that seem to have been expecting more of the same from the DCEU.

Strong box office tracking is one thing, but solid reviews are what keep fans coming back weekend after weekend. Following up on initial social media reactions, the reviews note the investment in humor, the overwhelming visual splendor, and Jason Momoa's lovable dummy.

But let’s hear it from the critics themselves:

According to Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson, James Wan's talented direction and "a game star make for a surprisingly jolly swim." The typically morbid DCEU took an adventurously silly turn in order to make a film "alternately garish and graceful" while still having imperfections due to conventions typical in comic books movies, like larger moves of fleshing out the universe.

Variety's Peter Debruge also notes the "waterlogged worldbuilding," which stunts the acheivement of the pleasantly "irreverent" take on the oft-mocked hero. Debruge praises Amber Heard's Mera, excited that Momoa's co-star is his problem-solving and tailfin-kicking equal, as well as the film's heroic star. 

Todd McCarthy from The Hollywood Reporter was so taken by the scope of Wan's film that he said its narrative "feels closer in nature to ancient myth than do most comics-derived epics" - something that also seems to link Aquaman to Wonder Woman. While the film's length was also an issue for McCarthy, he was "grateful to have Momoa for company," as the lead uses his imposing physique and disarming lightness to great effect in the film.

Over at Polygon, Karen Han explained that this lightness was the main reason for her enjoyment, as the "beaming sense of fun is a through-line for director James Wan," who she says creates spectacle after spectacle of wonder in and out of the water. Uproxx's Mike Ryan had a similar experience with the film, describing the "sensory overload" as a mixed blessing, but ultimately deciding that it was "certainly more enjoyable than most of the other movies this DC universe has produced." EW was a bit more mixed in its assessment, feeling that the movie was caught between tones: unable to "decide if it wants to be silly or serious."

All that taken into account, critics seem taken with the film's leads, its commitment to lightheartedness, and its unrelenting visual spectacle at play in both action sequences and those simply set under the sea. Will that make the film good enough to rival Wonder Woman or the films offered up this year by Marvel?

Judge for yourself when Aquaman hits theaters on Dec. 20.

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