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Aquaman - Film Review

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by Steven G (subscribe)
Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler...Former teacher... Scientist... Published author... Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published December 27th 2018
The latest DCEU film and not too bad
Aquaman is the latest film from the DC Extended Universe, the latest in their desperate attempt to catch up to the frankly awesome Marvel Cinematic Universe.

poster, Aquaman
Movie poster (Wikipedia)


Now, a disclaimer: I have not been a fan of the DCEU on film. The films have left a lot to be desired. That changed with Wonder Woman, which was, frankly, incredible. Great origin story, even if the ending could be seen coming a mile away, with shades of Captain America. Still, great movie.

Worse, Aquaman, as a character, in the comics was always a bit of a dud. Until he went a bit rogue and all angry after he lost his hand, he was a bit if a boy scout, useless except under the ocean, and really quite the wimp. He was not many people's favourite DC character, not in a world populated by Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, et al. (Personal note: my favourite DC character was Nightwing, the mantle Dick Grayson took on after leaving his role as Batman's sidekick Robin, giving it to a series of other youngsters, the best of whom was the young woman… I digress…)

Anyway, so it was with mixed feelings that I went into this film.

I liked it. It was not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but it was not a total dud. And I think most of the reason it works is because of one reason and one reason only: Jason Momoa. He is superb as the titular character. He has the charisma to pull off a superhero and on screen, he is a dominant force. And he has the physical look. He made this film.

Okay, so here's the film, as I saw it at the time. These are from my notes.

SPOILER ALERT!
I will try not to give away too much, but it might be inevitable. Apologies in advance.

The beginning is a really strong set-up of how his parents met. Nicole Kidman and Temuera Morrison play their parts well and understated, which surprised me somewhat, having seen a quite a bit of their previous work. I like the New Zealand feel of Aquaman's home; it fits somehow.

And then the set-up for how Black Manta became Aquaman's nemesis is also done well and justifies his actions really well. You can understand why he hates Aquaman so much. That motivation is all too rare.

Quick note: there are humour touches throughout, as seen in Thor and its sequels. In fact, with the Antipodean lead actors, it's like it's DCEU's version of Thor: characters that are not exactly loved in the comics and yet given impressive films. And the humour is genuinely funny (most of the time). I have read where some think it's too much; I disagree. I also liked the way they interspersed Aquaman's younger years and training throughout the film instead of doing it as a completely linear narrative. It prevents everything from getting too bogged down at the start.

Now, we have the motivation for the undersea kingdoms raging war against the land-dwellers. It makes sense, but it also makes them not a little sympathetic. You can understand completely where they are coming from – us dumping everything into their home without a care and they're really upset by that. It's like the bad guys are environmentalists with the power to do something about it, and it's hard to feel they are totally the villains of the piece.

The look of the film is stunning. It has brighter colours than its DCEU predecessors and the CGI city of Atlantis is stunning. Not all the CGI works, by the way, but the first shots of the city are spectacular. The colour palette is more varied than other DCEU films as well.

And the look of Aquaman himself is the rogue version, long hair, beard, all attitude and anger. That's the best comics version; I am so damn glad that they went for that look and not the blonde-haired boy scout of the sea.

Quick question: Why do the inhabitants of an undersea kingdom separated from the world of man for millennia speak English?

Oh, and get ready for some Matrix-style fighting. Hasn't that been done to death yet? (Rhetorical question: of course it has.)

Another quickie: Worst version of 'Africa', the old Toto song, ever, and I've seen it at school concerts performed by 6 year olds dressed as lions and elephants.

The Aquaman/Mera romance is so clichéd it might have been pulled from the pages of a Richard Curtis RomCom. Bleh.

Creatures in the Trench – quite Cthulhu. Was that intentional, I wonder?

Jules Verne, At Earth's Core… I don't remember that from the comics… I'm not saying it wasn't there, but, you know…

Wow, is this film filled with the superhero tropes and clichés! After Deadpool, how can we take any of them seriously ever again?

This film is freakin' LONG! Two and a half hours! Bladder control is needed…

Those are some of the notes I wrote during the film. (You know the weird looks you get when you write notes during a movie?!)

So, let's look at this. The film involves Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), having started to help people in danger on the sea, being virtually forced to confront his half-brother who is going to wage war against the surface-dwellers. Added to this, the rise of Black Manta(Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who wants (potentially justifiable) revenge against Aquaman and he is fighting a war on two fronts. But with the help of Mera (Amber Heard) and the subtle help of Vulko (Willem Dafoe), he finally, well, it's a superhero film, first of a franchise. You know how it ends.

The acting ranges from mediocre to good to Jason Momoa. The special effects range from jaw-dropping to clunky. The script… well, they spent so much money on special effects and the look and the actors and everything else, why not pay someone a few bucks to write a decent script without the clichés? I mean, twenty minutes in, I called the ending. Every bit of the ending. And I got it right. And the dialogue! So, so… unreal This smacks of a script by committee, trying to fit everything in that the crowds have loved for the past 20 years of superhero flicks. It would not have been that hard to have something original.

Give me ten grand and I'll give you a superhero story that does not smack of every other superhero story! And I am a very modestly successful writer!

It was left open for sequels as well (especially through the now ubiquitous scene inside the credits). Does that mean we get the story arc where Aquaman loses his hand and gets that lightning-shaped hook (and hopefully not the water hand)? I hope so – best Aquaman story in the comics.

jason momoa, aquaman
Jason Momoa at 2017 San Diego ComicCon (Wikipedia)


Overall, in my opinion, this was not a bad film. Really, it wasn't. Second best DCEU film after Wonder Woman. An enjoyable way to spend an afternoon or evening (just don't drink too much) if you turn your brain off and revel in the spectacle. Also, it's probably safe for children to see (not too young). I reckon there are more violent and more language-heavy things on television at 7:30 each night than this film.

It's fun. Just don't expect Shakespeare.
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