Everything I saw, read and heard about 'Aquaman' before it came out had me convinced it wouldn't be my cup of tea. My impression was that this would be yet another bloated studio tentpole with cheesy dialog, a generic story and artificial looking CGI. However, once it opened, a passionate film fan I respect a lot started spreading so much obviously genuine enthusiasm for the movie that I eventually got over myself and watched it.
I think it was the moment when Nicole Kidman swallowed a goldfish that I started to suspect I might actually enjoy this movie. That suspicion, however, turned out to be wrong, because I didn't just enjoy it: I ended up ADORING it. The weirdest thing: the film DID contain all those elements I had feared - and yet none of that seemed to matter. It just works. It shouldn't, but it somehow does, which is why I've since come to the conclusion that director James Wan is some sort of genius wizard filmmaker. Don't let the generic superhero tropes and cheesy dialog fool you into thinking this was a typical mainstream movie (though I DO suspect those things managed to fool the studio executives into thinking exactly that: which is probably how James Wan got away with it), because in truth, this is the least generic, most bonkers big budget studio flick I've seen in ages. It's the film 'Valerian' wants to be. It's crazy; it's over-the-top; it's beautifully designed with incredible attention to every little detail in every frame; it doesn't take itself seriously for a second, and yet it fully commits to - and loves - its characters and the world they inhabit.
I was awed, literally awed by the design of the Atlantian society and technology; the worldbuilding and visuals are so distinct and original - which caught me completely off guard, because I didn't expect that in a 200 million studio picture for the masses. When the music score went into full synthesizer mode as "Aquabro" and Mera arrive on the collapsed bridge leading to the underwater city, and the screen virtually explodes with the most colorful creatures and underwater vehicles imaginable, I had a stupid grin on my face out of pure joy and adoration for this stunning display of artistic vision (the stupid grin stayed on my face for the remainder of the movie). And the film didn't let up. 'Aquaman' never loses steam; there's no weak third act (at least in my opinion); the wondrous discoveries and beautiful, unexpected designs and creatures keep coming until the very end. Although it has a very different tone, I was actually reminded of watching 'LOTR: The Return of the King' for the first time.
It's true, 'Aquaman' delivers the typical, clichéd, cheesy superhero tropes in spades, but those generic story beats - some of which were probably demanded by the studio - seem to be all surface; they're not what James Wan (or his characters) are really interested in. It almost seems to me that the director only used those tropes as camouflage to sneak in nods to every film of every genre he ever loved and get really creative with the worldbuilding. His biggest accomplishment, however - the film's greatest strength - is something that only few blockbusters ever achieve: he successfully combines a genuine sense of wonder and awe with complete, unabashed fun.
So, to sum up this review: against my expectations, the superhero film I least expected to like managed to do what not a single superhero movie so far had done for me; it filled me with an urge to immediately see it again, because I was so in love with its bonkers, "everything-but-the-kitchen-sink" approach to filmmaking. Naturally, I now hope James Wan will also direct 'Aquaman 2', as I'm sure if given the chance, next time not even the kitchen sink will be safe.
P.S. (for new IMDb users): In case you don't know whether to trust this review or not, because you have no idea what my tastes in film are, just click on my username - gogoschka-1 - and you'll see what my favorite movies are.