Is DC's latest big screen gamble going to sink or swim? Aquaman, which stars Jason Momoa as a half-human, half-Atlantean hero who sets off to reluctantly reclaim his birthright in Atlantis, is set to hit theatres on Dec. 21, and the reviews are in.
Early word-of-mouth seemed positive, but now that the official review embargo has lifted we know what the critics really think -- and the response seems to be a mix of pleasant surprise and I-can't-believe-they-did-that glee. "Aquaman is not bad?????" Vanity Fair critic Richard Lawson tweeted incredulously, while Uproxx's Mike Ryan tweeted "I think it wanted to kill me with sensory overload. At one point Aquaman is mad he didn't pee on an ancient artifact. I think I liked it? This movie is wild."
Here's a roundup of what critics are saying:
"Plot-wise, the result is a hot, foamy mess, my friends, but a mess that washed over me like a tidal wave, a mess so wild and candy-colored and eager to have a bitchin' time that it’s some of the most fun I've had at a theater this year, anchored by a Momoa who is having the time of his goddamn life and director James Wan's genuinely gorgeous vision of an entire universe under the ocean waves." - Collider
"Aquaman's as formulaic, excessively thrashy, and mommy-obsessed as any other entry in the DCEU, but its visual imagination is genuinely exciting and transportive, and dare I say, fun." - Vulture
"If you've ever wondered what pure joy looks like on screen, look no further than the latest film in the DC Universe, Aquaman. It's littered with moments that marry grand spectacle, rousing music, and dramatic stakes with results sure to elicit ear-to-ear smiles from anyone from ages 8 to 80. Director James Wan (Insidious, The Conjuring, Furious 7) has infused his DC adaptation with a flair we rarely see in filmmaking these days. It's as if, with every single take, he said: 'Well, if we're going to make a movie about a muscle-bound man who talks to fish, let's make this really crazy.'" - io9
"Wan's film isn't quite as clever as I'd hoped, or as the trailers suggested. But it's far from the disaster I initially assumed it would be after seeing Justice League's illegible underwater digression. Aquaman embraces the goofiness of all that pretend, throwing so much into its visual kaleidoscope that the green-screen-iest of green-screen fake swimming doesn't rankle too much. In that way, the movie is a kind of pleasant deluge, not an assault on the senses so much as it is a winsomely over-eager ramble. That's a much more pleasant mood than we're used to from this side of the superhero-movie aisle." - Vanity Fair
"Given the drastically uneven quality of its DC Extended Universe entries, Warner Bros. looks to have come closer to giving its target comics audience what it wants than with anything other than Wonder Woman." - The Hollywood Reporter
"What's different about this DC hero film, that stands out from the others is the way it embraces its fantasy elements. Aquaman has always been the hero that was made fun of. When first thinking about the character, thoughts of the show Spongebob and characters Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy come to mind. The cartoonish man that can talk to fish is what stands out. The cool thing about Aquaman, is the fantasy elements aren't cheesy. Some of the dialogue may be, but the little kids will love those lines. It's a film for everyone." - Black Girl Nerds
"Whether you come out of Aquaman enjoying it or not, there's no argument that director James Wan went for it. With Aquaman, this is a swing for the fences type movie. (I'll come back to that cliché I just used in a minute.) Wan isn't really interested in making a small scale movie to introduce Aquaman – a character most people don't know that well beyond what they know from old Saturday morning cartoons – instead, Wan plunges us into Aquaman's weird, might as well be alien world." - Uproxx
""There are some legitimate criticisms you can level against Aquaman. You could never say, however, that this movie doesn’t go for it. It goes for everything — maybe too much, when all is said and done. Just because you can turn wine into flying wine knives doesn’t mean you can make actual miracles happen." - Screencrush
"The biggest surprise here is how, after the running time of a standard-length film has elapsed, Aquaman suddenly kicks the movie up a level for the finale. At just the moment this critic's eyes tend to glaze over in superhero movies — typically the villain goes nuclear and a portal to another dimension opens and threatens to destroy the planet — Wan unleashes a massive underwater battle on par with The Lord of the Rings. It's confusing but not quite incoherent as opposing sides exchange underwater laser fire and creatures the likes of which we've not yet seen make their first appearance." - Variety
"Heavy exposition crowds Aquaman through much of its first half. Awkwardly nuanced attempts at somewhat cartoon-ish humor are also present, making some of the water here a little unclear (often seeming as though certain bits of Aquaman were unsure which tone it wanted to commit to). However, each of Aquaman's flaws are complimented by brilliant action-sequences, stylish swagger, and an epic, massive adventure, like the character himself." - Comicbook.com
"I would watch Arthur Curry splash around throwing punches twenty times rather than return to a color-drained and depressing cityscape where the hero is sad and mad. Aquaman may be preposterous, but it’s an exceptional way to turn off your brain for a few hours and see where the tides take you." - The Mary Sue
"I found myself still having a good time, rooting for the hero, and (for the first time ever) rooting for the DCEU to succeed. With Aquaman, the good most definitely drowns out the bad, with great instincts and direction from Wan and a strong, charismatic performance from Mamoa that makes it difficult to resist this movie. Is it perfect? No. But it certainly is the most fun DC movie to-date, and in this reviewer’s opinion, the best film in this DCEU canon." - Nerds of Color
"Momoa had enough badass swagger in 2017's Justice League to make you curious as to what he would do with his own solo vehicle. Unfortunately, the bloated, waterlogged film is loaded with crummy CGI, cheesy costumes, and groaner dialogue delivered by actors who are too good to traffic in such nonsense (Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson). The best that can be said about this epic misfire is that you get to see a pink-haired Dolph Lundgren riding a giant seahorse and an octopus playing the bongos." - Entertainment Weekly