DC's 'Aquaman' (2018) Movie Review
My History with the DC Cinematic Universe
My track record on DC’s cinematic ventures within the last few years haven’t been what I would call great. Since the release of Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel, the quality of DC movies have been severely cut down in terms of story and character. I despised Man of Steel, I didn’t care for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice although liked Ben Affleck as Batman immensely so, Suicide Squad was an improvement in character but rather messy in plot, Wonder Woman was legitimately great for the first two acts and then becomes convoluted in the climax, and Justice League was cluttered in its editing and sporadic tone with one of the blandest villains ever put on screen yet did have a number of likable characters to carry me through… minus Barry Allen/Flash who was extremely grating on my soul with his awful sense of humor. Overall, where the DCEU started out in a state of colossal train wrecks, they have slowly improved over the last few movies in one department or another. Now we have reached James Wan’s Aquaman and where does this leave us? We’re left with one really good time in the theater because this was a lot of fun for me, I had a blast with Aquaman. I hope that this DC universe can finally have a real kickstart from this point on after this after now proving that these characters can be provided with great films as long as the writing is given the proper care and not simply made for style over substance motives, I’m looking at you Snyder!
It’s Been a While…
Finally after all these years of waiting to see another great DC movie from start to finish, we have Aquaman. From Zach Snyder’s terribly moody tone with lack of character to back it up and overly bombarded narratives, we now get a DC film that knows how to have a good time with itself in a way that feels right for the tone that is set. Admittedly this is significantly campier than what any of the previous installments that have preceded before it, but it works here. At least for me it did, if a lighthearted, campy and relatively self-aware film isn’t someone’s cup of tea then I would recommend probably avoiding Aquaman. This isn’t the dark and brooding tone that has drenched the majority of the other movies in this cinematic universe, this leans more towards something along the lines of 1980’s Flash Gordon; set in an imaginatively designed world full of interesting elements, but should not be taken too seriously because it thrives on the absurdity of it all. Aquaman, like Flash Gordon, loves going for how over-the-top fantastical it can get; never pulling a punch and simply going for it while the characters who inhabit the film take its world very serious, making it all the more fun to explore. These are 1980’s Saturday morning cartoons brought to the big screen as sci-fi, blockbuster epics and it’s awesome.
The Plot is Simple, For Once.
Some time has passed since the events of Justice League, leaving Arthur Curry (aka Aquaman) as the protector of man against the dangers of the sea. His half-brother, King Orm, in his anger against humans is determined to set all out war against the people of the land. Forcing Arthur to come to terms with being born of royal blood and must challenge Orm’s place on the throne so he may save everyone who live above from the monsters that inhabit below.
Simple right? Something I could never say about any script touched by Zach Snyder’s hands. While he did have involvement in producing Aquaman, the film was left to writers and a director who knows how to keep focus, not obsess over the visual aesthetic instead of the structure of story and substance character. Gun to my head, if someone were to ask me what the plot of Batman v Superman was I’d say, “Uhh… Batman hates Superman because he doesn’t trust aliens and Superman hates Batman because yadda yadda plot contrivance and Lex Luther is there being squirrely hating them both and he makes a monster and occasionally Wonder Woman is there to set up other DCEU movies.” That is literally the best I could do. Aside from a subplot involving an assassin by the name of Black Mantis, this is strictly Arthur Curry’s story, and even with the Black Manta sub plot it still functioned as a tool to feed the character arc of Arthur and didn’t detract too heavily from the main plot so it was fine. Yes, there are twists and turns that occur throughout the film of course. It is a movie so to have a straight line would be rather uneventful to say the least, but the actual synopsis of the film at least is coherent; that’s already one major advantage over most of the other DCEU affiliated flicks.
All the characters are properly attended to within the writing and all have understandable motives, every action scene is justified by its story rather than only happening for shallow reasons to throw up some special effects on the screen, any turn in the plot is reasonable and doesn’t ever feel forced, the tone is consistent through and through, and the humor of the film never feels overwhelming or tonally breaking.
The editing was surprisingly solid because to me it came across as a more structurally sound way of blending the hero’s origins with what is going on with him currently a million times better than how it was executed in Man of Steel. From how the time frame can be changed from present to past and then back to the present held way more context to why it was flashing back to show something as apposed to what happened in Man of Steel where I had no clue where, when, or why I was watching whatever random thing it decided to show me next.
Jason Momoa’s performance as Aquaman was one of the few decent things I could say about Justice League last year; he was funny, charismatic, cool, and relatable. Now the same can be said in his stand alone movie, he does a fantastic job as Arthur Curry/Aquaman. It’d be one thing if he was cracking one liners the whole time and practically winking to the camera with every joke… like Ezra Miller as Flash in Justice League, that is an example of when a comedic character can go horribly wrong. This is a very humorous character who still takes everything that they are going through seriously and even has his own personal inner demons that he has to work through about his mother and the kingdom of Atlantis. I really enjoyed seeing his character grow and even with the subplot involving Black Mantis added to his character quite a bit with Arthur being relatively content with a murderer dying, even if he could easily save him but doesn’t and then slowly learning that not saving someone like that can still hold consequences. I thought that was a really interesting way to add depth to Arthur and create inner turmoil that makes sense to me.
The chemistry between Momoa and Amber Heard (Mera) was really good, I thought they were fairly cute together and they shared a lot of good lines between one another as well as some laughs. They easily share one of the most eye catching onscreen kisses I have ever seen on the big screen, I mean… Wow. Mera was a really fun character that I didn’t feel was only there to be the romantic interest or the damsel in distress, not once is she in some form of peril that Arthur has to save her from, if anything she has to save him. Multiple times. Mera actually functions to the plot and the main character while also being strong enough to stand on her own. I thought she was smart, interesting and simply badass quite honestly. Part of me would actually kind of like to see her own movie set in this universe, I doubt that would actually happen but I would probably enjoy it. However, I’m happy as long as she’s back for any sequels that come after this.
The villains I can’t say are the most developed I’ve ever seen, they aren’t, but their motivations are clear and the performances are strong enough to keep me completely entertained. Patrick Wilson as King Orm was probably one of the best ideas this DC universe has done yet for a villain because Wilson knows exactly how to command the screen. The character he may play could be the most paper thin, walking cliché ever written and Patrick Wilson will figure out exactly how to make him menacing. I love Patrick Wilson so much as an actor and the fact that I feel like he’s finally getting some of the spotlight in his career now is amazing to me. He’s intense at times that probably with any other actor the scene would come across as generic and he’s believable in the action sequences; Wilson very much so playing into the campiness of the action with a lot of over-the-top, machismo filled yelling which was pretty incredible to witness. Black Manta was also a decent villain added to the mix, again, his motives make sense as to why he is trying to kill Aquaman and his entanglement with Aquaman supplies a good character arc to our hero instead of being an excuse for more action beats, although he does certainly do that as well. These are villains done right and are by far the best from line-up given so far in the last few years, from a script basis as well as performances.
I just personally love how all of these characters are living in this absurd world with these immoderate things happening right in front of their very eyes, at times right down silly, yet they take it all in with a straight face. They accept this as their reality and they embrace the unrestrained nature of it all, I admired that a lot about this movie and it really added to the entertainment value that I had with this movie. If there was even one character that pulled an ‘Ezra Miller’ this whole film could have easily fallen apart and I wouldn’t have enjoyed myself nearly as much as I did.
The Action & Effects
The action is phenomenal to watch, James Wan uses a lot of his signature camera movements to accentuate the fight sequences to an astonishing extent. Yes, largely the action sequences are comprised out of digital effects, but I thought that the film still packed one hell of a punch with the action beats. I particularly liked how the action added to the pacing at just the right times; there are enough breather moments to allow for character and story development, but the action picks right back up with another incredible spectacle of a fight before it ever gets close to dragging its feet. The action a lot of the time is a surprise and usually provides progression in the story rather than grinding it to a halt; there is always some form of a butterfly effect that transpires from the action that feeds the narrative and the characters find themselves facing a completely different obstacle that they must resolve.
The effects for approximately 95% of the movie are great with beautiful color schemes and remarkably creative creature and environment designs, I loved just looking at this world and the marvelous action involving these extraordinary visuals. However there was that 5%, probably less than that honestly, that wasn’t so awe-inspiring. I personally didn’t have a huge problem with some of the de-ageing that they used for Nicole Kidman’s character, but one of the people I saw the film with did say it bothered her. I thought Kidman looked fine and I couldn’t tell, but there was the de-ageing effects that I noticed on Temuera Morrison’s character of Arthur’s father. Maybe it’s a gender thing and we both noticed something a little disorienting about the our respective sex, but I saw Morrison and was thrown slightly off by him. And I suppose others may notice Kidman more, but I didn’t. There are some green screen moments that look somewhat unconvincing, but because the visuals are so colorful and I was charmed by this world that I didn’t seem to care all that much when the effects weren’t entirely perfect.
I Had the Time of My Life
I had an insanely great time with Aquaman; I loved the characters, I was invested in the story, the tone was filled with sheer fun and joy, the world building and visuals were captivating, the action as exciting and above all it has a drumming octopus. I’m freaking sold! Seriously this is a very good time in the theater and hands down the best recent DC flick to come out in the last five years or so. Longer I’d say, but I’m only trying to count the current DC cinematic universe that is going on. I cannot say as to how faithful Aquaman is to its source material, so for anyone who is a fan of the comics or cartoon I unfortunately can’t determine whether or not this may appeal to you. If you can accept the fact that this is taking a different direction that the doom and gloom of Man of Steel or Batman v Superman, but more in the vein of cartoonish camp then you should have yourself a decent time with this. But if that doesn’t sound all that appealing to you then I would say maybe to wait to rent this on video before checking it out. No, this doesn’t feel like DC trying to capture the spirit of Marvel, this still feels very much so like a DC movie, only not as forcibly dark as Zach Snyder’s work. For those who can get on board with that then I say rush on over to your nearest cinema and have the time of your lives!
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Aquaman on Blu-Ray
© 2018 John Plocar