REVIEW: Aquaman (2018)

Theatrical Release Poster – Warner Bros. Pictures

The following is a review of Aquaman — Directed by James Wan

If you are reading this as a die-hard Aquaman-fan, I’m sorry but I have to start off my review like this: I’ve never thought that highly of the character. I didn’t make dumb water-jokes about him, but, for the longest time, the first things I thought about when I heard someone mention ‘Aquaman’ was, first, Alan Ritchson in CW’s Smallville and, then, the fake James Cameron film from HBO’s Entourage.

But it isn’t just that I didn’t think highly of the character, I haven’t enjoyed what has been done with the character since he first appeared in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and then Justice League. Though I am and have always been a fan of Jason Momoa — ever since his time as a series regular on Stargate: Atlantis — I did not warm up to his character in Justice League, and I ended up thinking his corner of the DC Universe, as it was presented in that film, was confusing.

Which is why it makes me happy to say that while I don’t think the film is a home run for Warner Bros. and DC Comics, it, along with Wonder Woman, stands out as a DC Cinematic Universe film that actively made me excited for the potential of a sequel in the next couple of years.

James Wan’s Aquaman takes place sometime after the events of Justice League, and it follows Arthur Curry, the exiled half-Atlantean superhero who is the son of a human lighthouse keeper (played by Temuera Morrison) and the Queen of Atlantis (played by Nicole Kidman).

After having enjoyed a night at the local bar with his father, Arthur and his intoxicated father are greeted by Mera (played by Amber Heard), the daughter of King Nereus (played by Dolph Lundgren), who informs Arthur that his help is needed as his half-brother Orm (played by Patrick Wilson) is preparing an army to unite the seven kingdoms of the sea by force for the purpose of going to war with the humans on land.

While chased by the supporting villain Black Manta (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Orm’s soldiers, Mera and Arthur travel from the deep sea to the dry desert of Sahara on an adventure to find a magic trident which would allow Arthur to prove that he is the true heir to the throne of Atlantis.

Speaking frankly, the opening of the film had me worried. Though Nicole Kidman being an action star was fun to watch, I thought the build-up of her relationship with Arthur’s father was clumsy — and I thought the behavior of Kidman’s character was inconsistent with the behavior of the rest of the Atlanteans presented later in the film. I mean, she literally swallows a goldfish in an attempt at comedy that completely fell flat for me.

It was only when some bikers had an odd request of Curry later in the first act that I started warming up to the film. It put a smile on my face as Wan steered the film ahead with a breezy and bright tone that I really enjoyed. I learned to love Mera and Arthur’s interactions just as I started to really like the Aquaman-character that I had been less than thrilled by in Justice League.

I was wowed by the gorgeous world of Atlantis under the sea (in spite of the understandable overuse of CGI), charmed by the fun presentation of certain sea creatures (like an octopus playing the drums, or great white sharks at the front of Orm’s great, big army), and spellbound by some of the Atlantean designs, like the drop-dead gorgeous underwater royal dress that Mera wears in a scene in the middle of the film. I was thrilled by the popcorn movie spectacle that Wan presented me with. In short, this corner of the world that Aquaman inhabits won me over.

But even though I do still stand by the idea that the film does find its footing after the clumsy opening, there are some problems with the film that bothered me to such an extent that I didn’t always feel transported to a world under the sea. And it really begins with the writing of the film. I think the dialogue is frustratingly fearful of the potential of having the film feel convoluted.

There is so much repetition and exposition that it felt like Willem Dafoe and Dolph Lundgren’s characters existed solely to be vehicles for such explanatory and repetitive dialogue. The film hits you over the head with what is what, and it made me roll my eyes at the film. Furthermore, I thought that both the original score as well as the soundtrack music that played during the film were poorly chosen and extremely distracting.

Finally, I want to mention something that has bothered me about pretty much all of the films in the DC Cinematic Universe which started with Man of Steel. Since that first DC-Snyder film, the criticism of weightless destruction has been attributed to their films.

Either intense battles cost too many lives that the films care little for or the films are so frightened by that criticism that they go too far in the opposite direction by having the final battle in the middle of nowhere, which then leads to the somehow inevitable unintelligible visual effects-heavy finale that we saw in both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Wonder Woman.

Unfortunately, I think Aquaman does still have that classic DC problem with weightless destruction and were it not for the fact that the big final battle takes place underwater with seahorses, sharks, and sea creatures of legend, then I think it would’ve been a bigger problem for me. It’s not like Arthur smashes Orm into a skyscraper filled with hundreds of frightened civilians.

James Wan has created an unwieldy underwater superhero epic that is mightily entertaining in spite of how unoriginal and insignificant it ultimately is. Aquaman is overlong and packed with so much story that you might be exhausted when it is over. It is an overwhelming cinematic full-course dinner that’ll make you full, even if it does somewhat feel like Wan and the writers mashed up two Aquaman movies and turned them into one. James Wan’s Aquaman is a small step in the right direction for DC Comics on the big screen.

7 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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