Monday, April 22, 2019

Aquaman

Directed by James Wan.
2018. Rated PG-13, 143 minutes.
Cast:
Jason Mamoa
Patrick Wilson
Amber Heard
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
Nicole Kidman
Temuera Morrison
Willem Dafoe
Dolph Lundgren
Randall Park
Djimon Hounsou
Leigh Whannell

I grew up watching Super Friends. It was the campy, 1970s version of today's more serious-minded Justice League animated fare. It's relentlessly goofy now, but back then, it was THE definitive superhero show. It's also the reason I hated Aquaman. I guess it was nice that he could talk to fish and breathe under water, but that's all he did. Dude was useless on land. Even at our tender ages, my friends and I understood that even though most of the Earth's surface is covered by water most super villains operate on land where Aquaman was about as helpful as a fish stick to a plant. He was the guy who had one job...one job: be available when the real heroes needed a shark attack. That's it. When my friends and I went outside after the show and played "Super Friends," (like actual playing - not on a smartphone or tablet you young whipper snapper) everyone wanted to be Batman or Superman. Since representation matters, Black Lightning was also a popular character in my neighborhood. If those guys were taken, Green Lantern and Flash were respectable choices. Anytime a girl played, she picked Wonder Woman. Even lower tier characters like Hawkman and The Atom went before the fish guy. He was reserved for when we had a lot more kids playing than usual and ran out of heroes. To no one's surprise, that guy kept trying to angle our plot into the ocean so he'd have something to do.

My hatred ran deep, grew, and festered over the decades. Then, in 2017, the live-action Justice League movie came out. It wasn't the greatest thing ever. It wasn't even the best DCEU movie. Still, it was better than When Harley Met Jokey," and a thousand times better than A Tale of Two Marthas." Sure, it undid nearly every good thing Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot did with Wonder Woman, but Aquaman was somehow kinda cool. 'Okay," I thought. 'I'm down for 20,000 Leagues Under DC.'

In true DC fashion, even though we've already met our hero we're getting an origin story. So, instead of starting with He Who Threatens Marriages we kick things off with Aquamama (Kidman). She washes up by a lighthouse in pretty rough shape. The keeper, Thomas Curry (Morrison), takes her in, nurses her back to health, the two fall in bed and in love in some order, they have a little boy, name him Arthur, but don't live happily ever after. Turns out she's from the underwater city of Atlantis, and she's a pretty big deal. She's important enough that some henchmen come to drag her back into the sea. She fights them off, but agrees to go with them anyway to protect her family. Fast forward a bunch of years. Arthur (Mamoa) has developed into the latest man Mrs. Dell constantly apologizes to me for constantly ogling, hasn't seen Aquamama since that fateful day, and become a superhero. We witness him save a sub from some hi-tech pirates. During this, he willingly lets one pirate die. Of course, that dude is survived by his pirate son, David, aka Black Manta, who then wants nothing more than Fish Boy's head on a platter with some chips and a bit of tartar sauce on the side. But that's only the subplot. The real story is that the current ruler of Atlantis is tired of us surface dwellers, dumping our literal and figurative crap into the ocean and, more or less, wants to kill us all. And the only one who can stop him is his half-brother, you guessed it, Hunka Hunka Burnin' Hawaiian...I mean The Main Mane...er...uh...His Body Is What I Imagine My Body Looks Like Between Trips to the Mirror...ahem...Aquaman.

This is one of those movies that seems to borrow so heavily from so many other films that every bit of it feels pre-ordained. If even one second of Aquaman surprises you, you've probably never seen a movie, and you've certainly never seen a superhero flick before. And those superhero boxes get checked with thoroughness and quickness. Lost parent? Check. Villainous half-sibling? Check. Reluctance to get involved? Check. And so on. Almost every element of other great, and not-so-great, genre films is represented and easy to spot from several miles away. Even specific plot points feel so borrowed we can't help but yearn for the earlier movies which did them better. It's like eating fries that you've reheated in the microwave. You remember how perfect they were fresh out of the grease and dusted with salt. Now that you've nuked them, they taste like the potato community is rebelling against you and only a gallon of ketchup, or the trash can, can keep them at bay.

On the other hand, Aquaman is one of those movies where none of that plot stuff really matters in terms of our enjoyment of it. Every demerit we give it can be overlooked in the name of fun. Despite stretching out to nearly two and a half hours it doesn't drag. There are plenty of big action sequences to keep us from thinking about time. They are well-shot and exciting. Between these scenes, the movie is unapologetically goofy. Jokes are often bad, but delivered with such confidence and flare, we can't help but laugh. It's like a never-ending string of dad jokes so bad they're hilarious. There's also the obvious social commentary about how poorly we treat our planet's most precious natural resource. However, this is not a film requiring deep examination. This is for saturating a stack of napkins with the artificial butter coating your hands because you've been ramming fistfuls of popcorn into that chasm you call a mouth.


The performance of The Reason Women Drool helps the fun factor remain high. My envy aside, Jason Mamoa does tremendous work as Aquaman. Most of those great deliveries of poor jokes belong to him. It's like he has a doctorate from the Schwarzenegger Institute of One-Liners. More than that, he makes the character his own by endowing him with a larger-than-life personality. The film-making team helps by making sure we know that our hero is superhuman, even on dry land. Mamoa further amplifies his character by having excellent chemistry with everyone else in the cast. He effortlessly bounces off other actors in a way that helps their own work. This is much needed because the rest of the cast is shaky, despite being filled with some very recognizable and talented people. Many of them seem to be giving what they think are appropriate performances for a comic book movie. Take Shakespearean style acting, subtract thy, thou, dost, and the like, then triple the campiness. Nicole Kidman, and particulary Temuera Morrison, as Aquaman's parents, are exceptions to this. They both engender genuine emotion in the viewer. Kidman also handles her action sequence extremely well. Morrison gets no big action moment, but tugs on our heartstrings without coming off as saccharine, in spite of the director's best efforts. His scenes with Mamoa are some of the film's best.

Mamoa also has great interactions with the film's villains, here in quantity but uneven quality. Black Manta is the more interesting bad guy, but the movie treats him as an aside, perhaps a tease of a greater role in the sequel. The main baddie, King Orm (Wilson) isn't bad, just generic. He has a great cause. Unfortunately, it's not greatly executed. Wilson's acting doesn't help. As alluded to in the previous paragraph, he went full-tilt "comic book villain," but not in a good way. It was more like he was trying way too hard. Conversely, while Abdul-Mateen's work as Black Manta is only slightly less comic-booky, it comes off as far more honest. He makes us feel why he's doing the things he's doing because his anger is palpable. Orm has reasoning of greater global consequence, and the script mostly has the right words, but Wilson never makes us internalize his character's pain. We understand that he's a mad dude, but we also feel it's all due to some mommy issues that he seriously needs to get over. A few sessions in aquatherapy and his entire storyline could've been avoided.

If there's one other thing that is indubitably a point in this movie's favor it's the visuals. Going in, audiences knew that a large chunk of it would take place in the water. The question was whether or not it would look believable. Thankfully, it does. It gives us no reason to doubt that what we're seeing is actually happening thousands of feet below the ocean's surface as the cgi is strong throughout. Scenes on land have a nice crispness to them. This is the best looking DCEU film to date, by a wide margin.

You can argue that Aquaman isn't just the best looking, but also the overall best movie in the DCEU. I wouldn't agree, but I wouldn't dismiss it as an absurd notion, either. Here's the thing: it is this universe's most fun, and therefore, rewatchable entry. While Wonder Woman gives us situational humor, Aquaman gives us a rapid fire succession of zingers. Even the action scenes are presented with a certain breeziness. As good as Wonder Woman is, and I do think it's the better movie, there is a little bit of extra weight to it that might occasionally make it a less attractive option. This movie's lightness and campiness means Aquaman is always right for a mindless snack and soda session.


20 comments:

  1. I'm going to wait for this film when it arrives on HBO as I definitely hope it's not fucking Suicide Squad. Plus, after watching that trailer for Joker. I feel like Joaquin Phoenix is someone who got the character right and Jared Leto needs to go back to school.

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    1. This is a lot better than Suicide Squad. I'll reserve my judgement on Phoenix as the Joker until after I see the actual movie. Everyone was raving about Leto's Joker after the trailers, too.

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  2. We were just talking about Avengers: Endgame on Twitter.

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    1. Sure is Dell and we all wish Earth's Mightiest Heroes the very best, Good Luck Avengers.

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  3. LOL I love the way you wrote this. I think this is the best DCEU movie there is right now. Wonder Woman may have effected me more emotionally but I hate its 3rd act and I don't hate anything in Aquaman other than Heard's performance.

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    1. I wouldn't argue with anyone that sees this as the DCEU's best. It's a damn good time.

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  4. I'll have you know, I call my mouth an abyss, not a chasm! LOL Great review bud, funny and on-point.

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  5. “A few sessions in aquatherapy and his entire storyline could've been avoided.” so true lol

    I'm glad you enjoyed it. I loved it and it's probably the only DCEU movie I'd rewatch

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    1. It certainly has the most rewatch value in that universe.

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  6. Great review! Jason Momoa has managed to make a character nobody liked into someone that everyone can get on board with, and it looked liked he had fun with the role.

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    1. Exactly! You can feel the fun he's having.

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  7. Glad you enjoyed it! I love all the nicknames for Jason in this review :D

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  8. Exactly. This movie makes the good decision to never take itself seriously. Don't get me wrong, unlike most I like the more serious DCEU movies as nice alternatives to pretty much everything Marvel does. But this had just the right tone. Just good fun.

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    1. I wouldn't mind DC's more serious if they didn't overdo it in deference to Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. They forgot that there was humor in those movies, too. They course-corrected with Wonder Woman and went too far with Justice League, but this does indeed strike the right chord.

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  9. Hahahahaha, your word play in this one is fantastic. A Tale of Two Marthas is my favourite. I think this film utilised its strengths (mainly Mamoa) quite well. It's not trying to be The Dark Knight or Avengers. I actually wish the film spent more time off solid land. I was eager to get a view into Atlantian culture and politics but the film was more eager to send Aquaman on a quest to find The Holy Grail...I mean King Arthur's sword...I mean King Atlan's trident.

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