Thor, Black Widow, Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Black Panther. This has been my crew, my squad, my ultimate hero lineup for years. Whenever asked to choose Marvel or DC Comics, I proudly yelled Marvel. No contest.
The Avengers, Agent Carter and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have been the superheroes I needed — complex, gritty and troubled, without a hint of comic book camp. But lately, I need a fan support group just to get through all the death and destruction facing the Avengers.
As the real world feels darker and more dangerous with bomb threats, mass shootings, out-of-control wildfires and turbulent politics, I need a superhero who gives me hope and reminds me to not take everything so damn seriously.
He saves submarines from being hijacked and is always up for adventure. He's like an underwater Thor, complete with annoying power-hungry half-brother. But Aquaman also wants to be left alone. He's not really into politics and superhero fame. He's an antihero who drinks like a fish and would rather buy you a beer than try to save the world.
He's optimistic, empathetic and ready to help with a huge smile on his face.
But what made me really appreciate DC Comics' Aquaman? Unlike Marvel superheroes who always seem to struggle with internal demons and tragic backstories, Aquaman is well-adjusted and jovial.
Granted, since the gritty film reboots of the Batman and Superman franchises, DC Comics have their own versions of damaged and depressing superheroes. But since 2017's Wonder Woman film, DC movies now seem more cheerful and escapist.
Warning: Minor movie spoilers ahead.
Aquaman's mother, Queen Atlanna, played by Nicole Kidman, is ripped away from him and his human father, Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison), when Aquaman's young, but he doesn't dive into the ocean seeking revenge against the Atlantean royal family. He doesn't go on a bad-guy-killing spree. He smiles, jokes and shares pints with his dad at the local pub.
Granted, much of Aquaman's charm is due to Momoa's built-in swagger. This isn't the uptight, blond-boy comic-book version of Aquaman. This is a superhero we'd want to go drinking or surfing with. He's approachable without having a Tony Stark ego.
Momoa steals most of the Aquaman movie with his relaxed hang 10 surfer approach to dealing with both his insulting half-brother, Atlantean King Orm (Patrick Wilson), and new vengeance-driven villain Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).
But it's also how Aquaman treats the women in the movie that won me over. Mera (Amber Heard) might look like she's cosplaying a sexy Ariel the Little Mermaid with a tight green costume and red wig even RuPaul would scoff at, but she's not in the film as a love interest. She fights her own battles.
Mera isn't about to be a pawn in yet another royal arranged marriage. And she's definitely not there to flutter her eyelashes at Aquaman. Most of the time, she's putting Aquaman in his place and teaching him about the underwater world she calls home.
Queen Atlanna is also a warrior. When we see her at the beginning of the film, she's injured and vulnerable, but eventually trusts and falls in love with the lighthouse keeper Tom who nurses her back to health. It's clear the movie's real love story isn't between Aquaman and Mera, but between his parents.
Although Queen Atlanna is banished by her royal family, she fights for her survival. She's a deep-sea Furiosa.
What also makes director James Wan's Aquaman great is its sense of wonderment about the underwater world of Atlantis. I'll never look at an octopus the same way again.
Sure there are plenty of exciting battles where Aquaman shows off his power to command all sea creatures with his mighty trident in hand, but we also get to see the everyday Atlantis where whales and giant turtles are part of the underwater kingdom's public transportation system. We see a lot of world building that makes me long to reinvest in sea monkeys.
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The movie ignited my imagination more than the latest roster of Marvel movies. And even though it glosses over the problem of humans polluting the oceans with our never-ending supply of trash, there isn't a preachy moment. There isn't a depressing sequence where Aquaman gives up on himself or humanity. I didn't feel one second of pending doom and gloom in the two-and-a-half-hour movie.
Aquaman's a guy you can trust with the world, both land and sea. He's optimistic, empathetic and ready to help with a huge smile on his face.
Wan's Aquaman movie has a sense of humor about itself that makes this the kind of superhero the world needs and deserves right now. So I'm a DC Comics fangirl now… or at least until Marvel's Captain Marvel and DC's Shazam create a new tug-of-war in 2019.
First published Dec. 22, 5 a.m. PT.
Correction, 10:17 a.m. PT: This post initially misstated the franchise that created Shazam. Shazam is a DC character.
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