Movie Review: "Aquaman" (2018)
I’m going to blow my wad a little early in this one and start with a spoiler of sorts: Aquaman is a batshit movie much more in the vein of Deadpool 2 and Venom than anything else I’ve seen in the superhero/comic book genre in the last few years. This is, of course, said in complimentary fashion. If you know me at all, then you know I love utter dedication to a tone and aesthetic. By God, pick a style and go with it! Am I right?
For the 5 people out there who couldn’t figure out the basic plot from the trailer, I’ll lay it out for you: Arthur Curry a.k.a. Aquaman (Jason Momoa; Game of Thrones) is the “half-breed” son of a lighthouse keeper named Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison; Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones) and an Atlantean queen named Atlanna (Nicole Kidman; The Others). This pairing got his mother sentenced to death in The Trench and left Arthur on the surface with his father. As he grew up, he was trained in secret by Vulko (Willem Dafoe; The Boondock Saints), the counselor to Arthur’s full-blooded brother, King Orm (Patrick Wilson; The Conjuring series). King Orm joins forces with King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren; Rocky IV, Creed 2) with plans to overtake the remaining Atlantean kingdoms before conquering the evil, greedy, polluting humans on the surface. The daughter of King Nereus, Princess Mera (Amber Heard; Machete Kills), seeks out Arthur in order to convince him to embrace his destiny as Aquaman, the one true King of Atlantis.
Those are the high points, anyways, though there is a subplot and (as is common in the bloated comic movies of today) a second “big baddie” in Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II; The Get Down). He’s a surprisingly solid villain with a complicated backstory and serves as a bit of a personal moral compass for Aquaman in a turn that will definitely get him noticed.
So, to accurately assess Aquaman we must go back to the gripes that have plagued the DC Universe from the outset: obscenely dark tone and color palette, convoluted plot, seriousness bordering on the banal, and a seeming condescension to good, old-fashioned fun. The directing reins have been taken away from Zack Snyder (Justice League, Man of Steel, Batman vs. Superman) and handed over to James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring, Furious 7). That gives you a pretty damn good idea of the shift, doesn’t it?
Wan brings a fresh eye with a taste for pleasing the fans. Every frame of Aquaman, every script beat, every dialogue choice screams of course correction and fan-pleasing. Is this a bad thing? Fuck no, it isn’t! This is the most fun DC movie that’s ever been sent out into the world.
And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with a little fun. The focus here is clearly on making a visually stunning movie (which they achieved in spades) and dedicated performances that produce legit characterization. Momoa is the antidote to dour and brooding. He’s droll and sarcastic, spending most of the movie looking every bit the part of the reckless drunk who will get into some serious trouble before kicking the living shit out of everyone to get out of it. He’s hypnotically magnetic; there’s simply no other way to describe it. That old phrase about the guy the women want to be with and the men want to be like doesn’t even scratch the surface. I’m as straight as an enchanted trident, and the man made me question my sexuality. It’s just silly. Then they cast him opposite Amber Heard in a getup that’s best described as a softcore Ariel from The Little Mermaid.
Well played, DC. Well played indeed.
Is this a perfect movie? No. Not by any stretch. It suffers from the same maladies that all superhero movies do: the need for setup exposition, bloated runtime, and hammy dialogue. It’s all good, though. Very few things get you going in the cathedral of the darkened movie theater like a strong sense of adventure and fun. There are plenty of laughs and a couple of moments of surprising emotional punch. And that finale? My eyes and brain almost exploded. There hasn’t been a battle that overloads you so heavily since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
Yeah, I said it.
If you’re not lying to yourself, you’ll have to admit that it’s kind of hard to complain about a movie that gives you all those physical goodies to ogle in the leads plus Willem Dafoe doing what Willem Dafoe does plus DOLPH FUCKING LUNDGREN plus a goofy looking secondary baddie that’s tailor made for Spongebob memes plus Patrick Wilson looking and talking like the poster boy for Aryan conquest plus some Lovecraftian homages that will get your dick hard. There’s not a damn thing subtle about this movie.
At the end of the day, it did the one thing that literally no one thought would ever be possible- they made Aquaman a total badass. If you don’t realize what an accomplishment that is, then you don’t need to be watching any comic book movies in the first place.