I saw Aquaman about two weeks ago and I have not for a second stopped thinking about everyone’s hair.
On land, they’re typically sopping wet, which makes sense because this is a film about aquatic people who can survive on both land and under water. Occasionally they have dry hair—something I took note of often throughout the film, because it seemed to dry at varying speeds. Jason Momoa, who plays our titular hero, often has hair that ranges from questionably greasy to questionably moist. Then there’s Amber Heard’s red wig, which is in no way any sort of red hair that naturally occurs on this planet.
But the Land Hair was not actually my biggest concern with all the types of hair in Aquaman. I was mostly distracted with the Underwater Hair. Here’s the situation in which Aquaman finds itself: The film predominantly takes place underwater, which makes sense given it’s a film about a sexy fish man (not The Shape of Water one). The thing is, human hair has a very specific look underwater. Unless you’re filming all of these scenes with the actors underwater, you’re not going to get the exact look of perfect Underwater Hair. Instead, director James Wan decided to go a different direction with the hair: He made it CGI.
Any animator will tell you that making CGI hair is a very difficult thing to do—almost as difficult as making CGI water! So I can only imagine how difficult it is to make Underwater CGI Hair consistently throughout an entire film. And with Aquaman, Wan and his VFX team didn’t do a bad job, but that doesn’t mean it’s not distracting as hell. The hair has some sort of weird uncanny valley thing going on; its movement and form varies from character to character. Patrick Wilson’s King Orm has hair that is always slicked back on his head. Momoa’s long locks floats in circles around his head like he’s wearing some sort of phallic, tentacled crown. When she’s underwater, Heard’s mane is like some sort of flowy superhero cape that looks perfect at all times. The only way the film can make it look like Nicole Kidman has aged 20 years is by giving her grey dreadlocks.
The hair is indicative of the film in general—something overwrought to the point of sensory inundation. Something as simple as hair is too much. We’re talking a movie that’s part undersea political thriller, part pirate film, part National Treasure: Atlantis, part costal Manchester family drama, part Ocean Gildas legend, and maybe (maybe not) part of the DC Extended Universe. This is a film that has dinosaurs. It has crabs that can talk, It has a Pitbull song that samples Toto’s “Africa.” There are fish ninjas, mermaid people (without tails) who have inconsistent unexplained powers. It’s a movie that at one point will advocate drunk driving (there’s a scene in which Jason Momoa spends an entire day in a bar drinking with his dad before driving him home). It’s a movie that introduces seven different undersea kingdoms that would be entirely different planets in an epic space opera. They go to the deepest reaches of the ocean, to Africa (that’s when Pitbull’s song plays, naturally). They go to Italy. They go to the center of the Earth (I think). To put it simply: They go deeper in the ocean than even James Cameron has ever gone before, and there is an abundance of absurdity with which no Stefon sketch could possibly compete.
It’s absolute insanity. It’s so much to take in that I left the movie, not fully understanding what I had just seen. Was there a plot? I think? From what I could tell, Jason Momoa tries to usurp control of a kingdom he knew nothing about from a man twice his age who was actually his younger brother. But I couldn’t actually find myself rooting for Aquaman. Wilson’s King Orm was trying to unite all the undersea kingdoms in order destroy the land people, who had polluted their water and were actively destroying the environment. Anyone who’s ever once gone on Twitter knows that us land people need to be wiped out. Looking at the beautiful underwater utopia, King Orm is absolutely right!
Perhaps I was too busy trying to figure out this whole hair situation to really understand what the hell was going on in this film. Unlike most debut superhero films—which usually put in minimal effort to introduce the universe, setting, and characters of each comic story—Aquaman just dives right in (pun absolutely fucking intended) to the nuanced underwater political tension.
I only have the vaguest recollection of what I watched. But I remember that hair. That goddamn hair haunts my dreams. And I remember Momoa’s muscles and various neon shapes and colors, and that nightmarish Pitbull song.
Is it good? Compared to Justice League, Suicide Squad, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Man of Steel, it’s a fucking masterpiece. Aquaman doesn’t get close to the triumph of Wonder Woman, but at least it’s a step in the right direction of creating a unique, vivid, and at times escapist superhero movie. And, if you can ignore the hair and the general plot, it’s pretty damn fun.