AQUAMAN

Ever since Batman Begins in 2005, comic book films have followed a trend of taking themselves a little bit too seriously. It’s perfectly fine for some of them to do so, as some of  their respective source material is dark and gritty, or dabbled in those tones before. It worked for Batman, but when it started getting applied to almost every superhero, the cracks were really starting to show. By their design, comic books are vehicles to sell toys to children, so they’re going to be chock full of silly and over the top things that appeal to them. If you’re going to adapt these silly things to the big screen, shouldn’t you embrace them? 

Arthur Curry aka Aquaman (Jason Momoa) is a superhero who can breathe underwater, swim really fast, communicate with sea life, and a whole host of other ocean themed superpowers. Being a human and Atlantean half-breed, he spends most of his time on land, until fellow Atlantean Mera (Amber Heard) arrives requesting his help. Arthur’s half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) plans to wage war on the land, so he and Mera team up to stop him and for Arthur to take the throne as the King of Atlantis. 

Aquaman has always had the reputation as the “lame superhero” and Zack Snyder’s attempts to make him “cool and badass” in Justice League were almost embarrassing. Luckily, director James Wan tones down Aquaman’s attitude and fully embraces the absurdity of the world behind it. While people may think Aquaman is lame, which I believe this film will put to rest, there is basically a whole new world to explore with the depths of the ocean. Wan clearly has an eye for staging massive, epic battle sequences. The last half hour is basically The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars underwater. A kingdom of crustacean people mounting catapults to giant crabs, as they shoot projectiles at armies of soldiers riding armored sharks, crocodiles, and seahorses. It’s delightfully absurd and I adored every moment of it. It’s exactly what I want comic book films to embrace: their inherent silliness. 

Even then, the film takes itself with the right amount of seriousness where everything is over the top, but it feels logically in place with the world created. This is an incredibly effects heavy film, and while some of the CGI is dodgy, it’s mostly convincing. They nailed all of the underwater scenes, though, with excellent effects simulating moving hair underwater and they the human body moves. The sound design is also incredibly detailed, where we can clearly understand the characters when they speak underwater, but you can hear the little touches like the bubbles and oxygen escaping their mouths. The attention to detail is really impeccable, that you can tell that Wan really had a clear vision of what he wanted to do with the character, bringing on the best technical masters in film to bring it to life. There’s consistently gorgeous scenery throughout, and Wan makes great use of spatial awareness and clear camerawork to capture intense action. Each action scene has a different style to them, but they’re all equally exciting and well directed, without ever getting too chaotic. 

Where the film really falters is the script, which is totally predictable and unsurprising with every story beat, way too long, and complete with terribly cliché dialogue. Aquaman’s central character is supposed to be his divided allegiance to the land and underwater worlds, but there’s not a whole lot devoted to exploring that. His quest to become king didn’t really seem like a big deal to him, mostly just there to have some sort of plot. The villains were very lacking too, with the great Patrick Wilson’s Orm not very menacing, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Black Manta being so tenuous to the overall story, I forgot he was even there at points. The Aquaman character is still a lot of fun, though, and Momoa really embraces him. He has a charisma that’s fun to watch, but he also has the grit for when the stakes get high during the more intense scenes. He really gives off the impression of a confident king. He has excellent chemistry with Amber Heard, whose more serious and mature demeanor offering a nice counterbalance to Momoa’s charm. Their relationship and globe-trotting adventure to many exotic destinations made it very reminiscent to old 80’s adventure films like Indiana Jones, which I really enjoyed. I’m sure having Willem Dafoe and Dolph Lundgren had something to do with that retro feel, too. 

Unless you’ve never seen a superhero film before, you’re not going to find anything new or surprising in Aquaman. It’s a mediocre, by the numbers script that was written to simply build a movie franchise, but they had one key ingredient: James Wan. With his confident, unafraid vision to embrace the more silly elements of a comic book, we have a fun, adventurous romp with entertaining characters, some of the best comic book action scenes you’ll ever see, all totally unlimited by an amazing amount of creativity. I mean, this is a movie where an octopus plays an eight-piece drum set to hype up the crowd before a gladiatorial duel to the death. What’s not to love? 

7/10

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