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Aquaman - Film Review

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by BeardedReviews (subscribe)
I love the moment the lights dim, the curtain widens and the movie starts. Going to the cinema is one of life's great activities and should be enjoyed as much as possible.
Published December 29th 2018
DC's only movie of 2018 is a smash

Aquaman has opened to great success around the world, with Australia one of the last areas of the world to see it. Aquaman is part of the DCEU, the cinematic universe of DC characters that began in 2013. Aquaman is the sixth movie to come out, following on from Man of Steel (2013), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), Suicide Squad (2016), Wonder Woman (2017) and Justice League (2017). The film is set to be followed by Shazam (2019) and Wonder Woman 1984 (2020).

The DCEU has had a colourful history so far, and has received (quite unfairly in my opinion) a lot of negative reviews. Man of Steel reinvented and updated the character of Superman and brought a modern take on the character to the screen, rather than just recycling the Christopher Reeve version of the character, as Superman Returns tried to do in 2006 and failed terribly. However, Man of Steel's dark and gritty take, combined with an ending that saw half of Metropolis lying in ruins, left many people unhappy with the film, and rather than judging it for what it was, many people slandered it for what it wasn't.

If Man of Steel was poorly received, the negativity that hit Batman v Superman was a tsunami. Batman v Superman continued to explore a grittier and dark side to these God-like characters and with a very violent and burnt out Batman involved, people were horrified by the film's tone. It was also hurt terribly by Warner Brothers demanding the film be reduced from 183 minutes to 151 minutes, which gutted much of Superman's story and left the film somewhat uneven and choppy. The restored footage in the Ultimate Edition, which was later released on DVD, shows a much better film and when viewed as a direct follow up to Man of Steel, director Zack Snyder created a series of two films that work as a great story arc for Superman, whilst setting up a bigger universe for other directors to play in. Sadly, whilst Man of Steel has slowly grown in popularity, Batman v Superman remains an internet blogger's favourite punching bag.

Warner Brothers then went into full panic mode after the response to Batman v Superman, despite it making $874 million at the box office, and ripped apart the two in production follow up movies: Suicide Squad and Justice League. In the process of reshoots and editing, they killed the director's vision for the films and turned them into a mess, with an uneven tone and disjointed narratives. Whilst Suicide Squad managed to do well at the box office, Justice League was a disaster for the studio, and for fans such as myself who were desperately looking forward to seeing the third part in a three-part Superman storyline arc: birth, death and resurrection, sadly instead we got a bastardised film that was neither critically liked, or received well by fans.

Since then, the DCEU has laid dormant, as we waited for Aquaman with hopes of returning the series back towards the type of movies DC is more known for.

Aquaman had a tough task, in that it has to rise above the disaster of Justice League and bring back the true DC fans such as myself, whilst also appealing to the mass audiences who are addicted to the formula of Marvel movies, where the focus is more on comedy and keeping things light.

Further making things complicated, is that the character of Aquaman has long been the butt of many jokes. His character has een considered 'lame' by many for decades, and mocked as the silly member of the Justice League. The cheesy Super Friends TV cartoon from the early 1970s did not do the character any favours. Whilst Batman and Superman have long had movies and TV shows, many thought Aquaman would never have a successful film due to his reliance on being mostly around and in water. Naturally, the film was very expensive to make, but box office wise, Aquaman is currently on track to become to the biggest film in DC history.

Much of the credit to the character turning the tide (pardon the pun), is owed to director Zack Snyder (who directed Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and was the original director of Justice League before Warner Brothers got their hands on it). Snyder cast actor Jason Momoa in the role of Aquaman (for Justice League) at a time when Momoa was struggling to find work, having been type cast after his role as Khal Drogo in the TV show, Game of Thrones. The casting of Momoa was unexpected, as Aquaman is generally portrayed as a blonde haired pretty boy. Momoa has the size and presence that helped shield the character from the usual jokes thrown at him, and no one was going to dare imagine his Aquaman riding a purple seahorse like he did in the Super Friends cartoon series (a concept mocked in The Big Bang Theory TV show).

Aquaman appeared first, briefly, in Batman v Superman, before making his true theatrical debut in Justice League. However his appearance in Justice League was, like most of the characters, hampered by the films studio mandated 119 minute run time, which removed much of his characters back story or development. It was an introduction to the character, but in the way you might meet someone at a party. You now know who they are, but don't really get to know them at all due to the noise and dancing going on around you. It's not a time to find dig below the surface.

The film is directed by Australian director James Wan, famous for the horror movie franchise: Saw, as well as for the later Fast & Furious movies. Wan is very skilled visually, and brings many of his skills to the table. The cinematography of Aquaman is exquisite. His use of camera movements through scene transitions is very clever and allows the film to seamlessly move back and forth through time periods.

Aquaman, is essentially an origin story, but it creates the origin story through telling a new story that continues on after the events of Justice League, as Arthur Curry (Aquaman) must finally accept who he is and take his rightful place as King of Atlantis. Like Man of Steel, the story uses flash backs throughout to show the younger years of the character.

More so than any other DCEU film, Aquaman is a fully fledged fantasy movie. Fantasy is a very difficult genre to get right, but unlike other fantasy films released this year, such as, The Nutcracker and A Wrinkle in Time, two films that bombed badly at the box office and failed to get audiences invested, Aquaman gets the balance right and allows to you to keep your disbelief suspended throughout.

Visually, this film is a feast. There are so many brilliant visual scenes, its hard at times to take them in. A very large percentage of this film takes place under water, as Wan didn't want to take Aqauman out of the ocean, just to make it easier to make the movie. This was one issue with Aquaman in Justice League. He didn't have a lot of water to use, so he was just basically a tough guy for much of the movie.

The underwater movement of the characters is filmed more in the style of Superman flying, rather than swimming, with the actors filmed on wires and then all the water (and character's hair) created through CGI post-production. But the effects work, and whilst somehow Aquaman was not nominated for a visual effects Oscar, this is some of the best visual effects for 2018.

Jason Momoa shines as Aquaman. He gives the character a lot of strength and is very imposing in the action scenes. However, it's the more dramatic moments that really work for Momoa, as he shows much more acting capability than one might expect. He has a charm that works to humanise the character, given Aquaman a lot more depth than Khal Drogo.

Momoa is well supported by the rest of the cast, although I felt that the casting of Nicole Kidman was the weakest aspect of the film, as she didn't come across at all as a queen of Atlantis. Her dialogue was delivered in way that didn't feel right for the scenes she was in, and she looked awkward with much of what was occurring around her.

The movie is full of action, and at times is an overload of visual excitement. The film uses two villains to keep Aquaman and Mera (played by Amber Heard) busy. The main villain is King Orm, aka Oceanmaster, played by Patrick Wilson. Orm is Arthur's half brother, and he despises the humans who live on the surface and pollute the oceans. He wants to attack the surface and needs all the armies of the ocean to do it. Wilson does a great job of standing toe to toe with Momoa, which is not easy, as Momoa makes his own bodyguards look tiny (there is a famous meme about this). Wilson gives Orm enough menace to be threatening, but also enough humanity to make him not entirely unsympathetic, and his character does have a point about how we treat the environment.

The second villain is Black Manta, played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Manta only has a small role in this film, but is quite impactful, and should be a bigger villain in future movies. I enjoyed his character quite a bit, and whilst his back story was minimal and a little rushed due to time, he has great potential to be a strong villain in future movies.

Amber Heard also does a great job of standing toe to toe with Momoa as Mera. Mera does enough in the film to show how strong a character she can be, however, in this film, she is relegated to sprouting exposition for much of her dialogue, or ribbing Arthur for not understanding something, or for smelling badly.

Some of the strengths of Aquaman are also some of its weaknesses. The film has to introduce a very large world to the audience, and as a result, we travel through the seven kingdoms on various quests, and you don't get time to digest one major new world before you're whisked away to another. The film is also somewhat uneven in tone at times, with Wan deciding to add pop music in a few places, which feels odd for the DCEU, and gets in the way at times of an interesting score by Rupert Gregson-Williams.

The storyline also suffers a bit from repeatedly having Arthur learn about Atlantis, and then going to a new place to find something. Adding a romatic element for Arthur and Mera (which is usually part of the comic books), felt a little forced and probably could have been only hinted at in this film and left for the next film.

The final act of the movie features an epic fight scene, as big in scale as any movie battle scene ever produced. The underwater nature of the world of Atlantis, allows Wan to show a fresh set of ideas and create very cool animals to participate in the action. The fact that the Atlantian soldiers all ride great white sharks like horses, should give you some idea of the scale of this movie. And yes, Aquaman does ride a seahorse, and its badass!

Aquaman has enough in it for kids to enjoy it, whilst also playing to the bigger kids, such as myself. Whilst it's a very different film to Batman v Superman, or what Justice League was supposed to be, it still works well within the cinematic universe, as this was always intended to be its own thing. DC is well served by trying to make their films unique and supporting their directors. Each film should have its own flavour and be its own thing, whilst still retaining the basic elements of the universe it resides in. This separates DC from Marvel and allows the superhero landscape to be more varied, which can only be a good thing.

The film is a little bit violent, so be aware for very young kids, and for the faint at heart, there are lot of monsters in this film, especially the trench scene, and James Wan is a horror director, so he knows how to bring the scares. Motion sickness is also a problem for some (like myself), so be aware that there is a lot of movement of the camera, and an almost sea sick feeling might occur.

Aquaman is a big success and has restored many fans faith in the universe. Not since Man of Steel has a DC film landed in cinemas without having been compromised by studio interference. Even Wonder Woman, which was a great success for DC in 2017, was weakened by studio interference, with the third act being effected by the studios men in suits, and naturally, the third act is the only weak element of the movie.

If you haven't seen any of the DCEU films, or even if you just didn't see Justice League (which many didn't) this film is enough of a standalone that it doesn't matter. If you feel it might be 'more of the same' of what you've seen already this year, I beg you to think again. Having seen all the comic book movies this year, I would easily put this as the most creative, different and action packed of them all, including Infinity War. There's enough for everyone to enjoy this film, which is why it's been such a big smash at the box office during what is usually a quieter time at the cinemas. Aquaman is no longer a character to joke about. He rules the seas and this Christmas and New Year, he rules the box office.

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Your Comment
I agree that Justice league was rubbish.
by May Cross (score: 3|5489) 343 days ago
Where was your comments about Wonder Woman. You gave a rundown on all of DC's films except for the well received, both commercially and critically, Wonder Woman?
by simon (score: 0|4) 339 days ago
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