REVIEW: Aquaman – DC Is Better Down Where It’s Wetter

These are broad strokes the film is playing with, which may explain why it is already doing so well internationally; it is a universal tale that transcends borders and language. It speaks to every culture. While many may read the dialogue as corny (and it does lean heavily on the exposition side to where they end up repeating a lot of the same information), it is done so with the intent of being classically arch. The acting is all done in the sense of embracing this hammy over-the-top style, yet never campy. Aquaman’s and Mera’s romance is played with the classic “two people who hate each other that eventually find love” style of It Happened One Night (capped off by a scene of literal explosions going off when they kiss for the first time, in case it was too subtle what type of film this was). Both Momoa and Heard sell it because they have such lively chemistry together. This over-the-top storytelling tends to run the risk of being read as ‘corny’ for some audience members, and there is chance Aquaman will be seen that way for some. But for this writer, it was the right amount of classic comic book charm.

Jason Momoa being cast as Aquaman was a clear statement from DC that this wasn’t an Aquaman to joke about. He was a badass. Wan has a lot of fun with the character and allows Momoa’s charm to shine through and makes the ‘bro’ angle work in his favor. It gives Arthur a relatable everyman sense to him, sort of ditzy but with a good heart. A fighter but also a sensitive guy who just wants to get a beer with his dad. Momoa’s mixed-race ancestry also helps develop the original comic’s subtext of Arthur being a child of two worlds into a more direct literal text. Torn between two worlds that he believes have no place for him, yet deep down do need him. His connection to both makes him stronger than any one individual. This thematic working shows that while James Wan is looking to make a big rousing fantasy adventure he isn’t just making mindless entertainment, there is something to say underneath the surface. Amber Heard also shines as Mera, whose character is bound to be an instant breakout character leaving people asking ‘so why wasn’t she a member of the Justice League?’

Wan has surrounded himself with an impressive team of technical wizards to bring his vision to life. Production designer Bill Brzerski steps up his game by creating a vast world of Atlantis and the other kingdoms of the Seven Seas. A lot of time was put into designing this world and the logic behind how it works. The visual effects team on board have put all their efforts into bringing these worlds to life. However much they spent on this movie, it looks like they spent a lot more. Cinematographer Don Burgess (whose past credits include Spider-Man, Forest Gump, and The Conjuring 2) moves the camera with such elegance and grace. Action sequences are like mini-films in incredible tracking shots, with single takes that feel like splash pages come to life. Characters are framed in larger than life mythic poses like they are posing for a comic. The score by Rupert Gregson-Willams is bombastic and operatic, and the choice to make Aquaman’s theme a heavy metal guitar is obvious but inspired. The old fashion nature of the movie even comes in by getting a pop ballad by Skylar Grey titled “Everything I Need” to play over the end credits like a 90’s Disney movie (although the film does feature a few too many awkward needle drops in the middle of the movie).

Now while the film is a hell of a good time, it isn’t without its weakness. As stated earlier the exposition is heavy in the beginning, and while there is a lot of information for the audience to know, much of it ends up being repeated over and over again by multiple characters which can get tiring. This is probably done to where the dialogue is easily translated for other countries (and based off the foreign box office it is working). The film does try to cram a lot into one movie, as the pacing is fast and almost relentless where there is no point to breathe. Jumping from one scene to another, often meaning jumping from one action scene to another, which the film has plenty of. While it would be advised to see the film in IMAX the 3D aspect is slightly more of a miss. In establishing shots or character-based talking scenes on Atlantis it is stunning, but in some of the action scenes so much is flying at the viewer it can be distracting with no clear place to focus except on the technicolor explosion going on in front of you. This complaint is more on the nitpicky side and doesn’t actually affect the quality of the movie, but I do have to ask: in a world that has Superman and two separate alien invasions, why is Atlantis the concept the scoff at?

The weakest point of the movie is the villain Black Manta. Manta looks great, a perfect translation of page to screen and actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II gives the role a sense of danger, yet his placement in the film is off. His purpose in the film is mainly to set up a sequel. He still gets a part of the main action and the film wisely regulates to him a glorified henchman in the second act, but the film tries to make this his origin story as much as it is Aquaman’s. Trying to intertwine the two men’s origin to make their comic book rivalry all the greater. Yet it comes at the expense of developing Patrick Wilson’s King Orm and his relationship with Aquaman. Orm is a big-arch villain with a reasonable motivation and a good solid performance by Wilson, yet the love/hate between Arthur and Orm could have been one of the central backbones of the film. Making Black Manta a major threat would have been like trying to fit Doc Ock into the first Spider-Man film back in 2002 while also developing Peter Parker and Green Goblin. In that respect, the film has more in common with a Phase 1 Marvel film where so much time is spent developing the hero it tends to come at the expense of the villain. But since the movie is called AQUAMAN and not Black Manta or Ocean Master, it is a better decision to keep the focus on the title character.

Aquaman may not be for everyone, and many might be put off by its old fashioned simplistic often extremely silly nature, but those aren’t faults. Those are design choices to create a superhero mythic fairy tale and give the audience a good time. Aquaman hearkens back to an old type of popcorn movie, a massive crowd-pleasing fantasy film with vibrant visuals, classic mythic storytelling, and arch characters with a real sense of fun and adventure.

What did you think of Aquaman? Did you like it? Dislike it? How would you rank it among the rest of the DC films? Among this year’s superhero movies? Let us know in the comments below.

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