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Aquaman Review

December 21, 2018 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Aquaman Jason Momoa
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Aquaman Review  

Directed By: James Wan
Written By: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall, Geoff Johns and James Wan; Based on the DC comics and characters
Runtime: 143 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language

Jason Momoa – Arthur Curry/Aquaman
Amber Heard – Princess Mera
Patrick Wilson – King Orm/Oceanmaster
Nicole Kidman – Atlanna
Temuera Morrison – Tom Curry
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II – David Kane/Black Manta
Willem Dafoe – Vulko
Dolph Lundgren – King Nereus
Ludi Lin – Captain Murk
Randall Park – Dr. Stephen Shin
Graham McTavish – King Atlan
Michael Beach – Jesse
Djimon Hounsou – King Ricou
Leigh Whannell – Cargo Pilot

The DC film universe marches on after some rather disastrous failures by doing what it probably should have done before the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League. After trying to haphazardly copy the Marvel Cinematic Universe model in reverse, the brain trust at DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. have managed to put together Aquaman. For all its issues, Aquaman is a very fun comic book superhero film that’s totally OK with being a comic book superhero film.

Beginning in 1985, the prologue depicts the first meeting of Aquaman’s mother, Atlanna (Kidman), and his father Tom (Morrison). Atlanna was of royal lineage from an underwater race of meta-humans who reside in the lost underwater kingdom of Atlantis. She ran away from home in order to flee from an arranged marriage. On the surface, she found love with Tom, and they bore a child together, Arthur. When Atlanteans found and attacked their home, Atlanna was forced to leave her family in order to keep them safe. Of course, Arthur grew up to become the Aquaman, and he helped stop Steppenwolf’s invasion of Earth.

Continuing after the events of Justice League, Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman (Momoa), is still moonlighting as a water-bound superhero while ignoring his obligations to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis. After thwarting a group of pirates who attacked an international military sub, led by David Kane (Abdul-Mateen II), Arthur returns to his childhood home of Maine to enjoy some drinking time with his father.

Unfortunately for Arthur, a war is brewing in Atlantis. His younger half-brother Orm is seeking to unite all the armies of the underwater kingdoms to be granted the title of Ocean Master. Then, he would use their combined might to wage an all-out war on the surface.

While Arthur is initially reluctant to intervene at the urging of Princess Mera (Heard), a tidal wave attack by Orm that nearly drowns his father means he can no longer sit on the sidelines. With help from Arthur’s childhood Atlantean mentor, Vulko (Dafoe), they find information on Atlantis’ history and the lost trident of the exiled King Atlan (McTavish). With possession of the trident, Arthur would be able to challenge Orm’s claim to the throne and put a stop to the war. However, the deck is stacked against Arthur and Mera. They are running out of time, and the forces of an entire kingdom look to stop them or wage war with the surface dwellers they resent.

James Wan imbues Aquaman with an appealing visual style. There’s no absence of color or a washed out, drab visual color palette. Aquaman has a dynamic, comic book action-adventure style that previous DC films were sorely missing. The script does well in servicing the world building of the underwater kingdoms and Atlantis, as well as Aquaman’s powers and abilities, that weren’t really fleshed out in the previous films. Sometimes origin films can be a little boring and obligatory, but Aquaman also reinforces why that can be necessary to set up the more exciting stories later.

Additionally, Wan and his co-writers completely embrace the more fantastical, outrageous ideas of the comics and put them on full display here. In addition to the central Atlantis kingdom, several other underwater kingdoms, each with their own unique races and societies are showcased. Vast underwater urban landscapes, eye-popping and toyetic Atlantean vehicles and elaborate foot soldiers with unique suits of armor accompany sharks and sea monsters used as mounts for battles. No film has ever truly realized these types of visuals or the world of Aquaman and his circle of characters on film before. Aquaman is very successful in that regard.

Basically, Wan has created a shameless, subaquatic Masters of the Universe film on a giant budget, and that’s really hard not to enjoy to some degree.

At a runtime of 143 minutes, Aquaman is a bit too long for its own good. A lot of subplots and characters are serviced. It’s nice that the writers actually gave a mini-boss, such as Black Manta, a backstory. In fact, more of these comic book movies highly overlook the value of a mini-boss. However, there’s an odd sequence smack dab in the middle of the movie where Black Manta has a weird, slightly comedic montage. It’s like a montage that’s normally in the middle of an Iron Man movie showing Tony Stark fixing up his gadgets or armor; but here, the scene is dedicated to the bad guy who wants to murder the film’s hero.

These scenes sort of upset the tone of the movie, making Black Manta come off as a righteous antihero. Aquaman easily could have shed some of the extra water bloat by about 10 minutes.

The back half is where the film starts to overstay its welcome. It manages to finish strong, but there’s so much going on and so much CG action on overload that it almost becomes a bit of a mess. The finale is not incoherent, but there are many sides and lot of confusing action going on underwater that’s a bit hard to follow. When the conflict focuses on the sibling rivalry of Arthur and Orm it gets better.

The film actually builds up Arthur and Orm wearing their trademark comic book outfits rather than showing them just once early on and ditching them later. Once again, embracing and attempting to adapt these more iconic comic book visuals in a live-action setting is satisfying and greatly appreciated rather than dumping them because they look stupid or not “realistic” enough. Frankly, the live-action versions of Arthur and Orm’s comic book outfits look great.

Jason Momoa’s natural charisma and personality does well in carrying the film. He has a good presence and natural charm that plays well. He’s still not really the idyllic Aquaman, and lacks his iconic and classic personality. It essentially seems like Jason Momoa playing himself. That’s fine, but his energy still doesn’t seem best suited for Aquaman, much like Ryan Reynolds was never well-suited for Green Lantern/Hal Jordan, while he would’ve been a better fit for Wally West or Deadpool, whom he would later go on to play.

Patrick Wilson puts in a decent, serviceable performance as the central villain, Orm. Wilson is by no means a show stealer or top-ranked comic book movie villain, but he gets the job done. Orm is at least present throughout the film and drives much of the action and conflict. He’s menacing enough to be a physical threat and match to Arthur. At least, Wilson is a step-up compared to the likes of Jesse Eisenberg’s juvenile, incompetent take on Lex Luthor and Jared Leto’s execrable version of The Joker.

Black Manta looks really slick, and the writers aren’t afraid to actually let him talk during battle. That’s another thing. At times the film uses some “cheesy” comic book-style dialogue; but here, it sort of works and meshes with what’s happening onscreen in an action serial type of way. Once again, “Call me Black Manta,” is preferable to whatever random nonsense and noises Jesse Eisenberg was attempting to emulate in Batman v Superman.

A lot of what’s happened with the DC film universe in the past has been undeniably disastrous. But for moviegoers who enjoy comic book superhero films and action-adventure movies, Aquaman has many qualities where the good far outweighs the bad.

8.0
The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Aquaman is actually a fun, dynamic comic book superhero film. James Wan has managed to put together a really cool, fun showcase for the Aquaman mythos that even does well to make the rest of the DC film universe look like less of a disaster. However, this is a solo film that really enforces why such projects probably should've happened before Justice League and Batman v Superman.
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