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I want to make a joke at Aquaman’s expense, but honestly, I actually don’t hate the character like everyone else seems to.
I want to make it clear, I know where the jokes come from. The old school, 60s cartoon where he was a pretty lame character who talked to fish and dolphins and had pretty forgettable adventures. However, my Aquaman was never that character. My Aquaman was the one portrayed in the animated classic, JUSTICE LEAGUE (2001 – 2004) and by extension, UNLIMITED (2004 – 2006). This guy was a bad-ass with a spear for an arm and called for krakens, and knew how to take punches, and could dish out his own brand of punishment. Sure, I think he’s a little too Greenpeace “save the oceans you monsterous land-lubbers” at times, but he was always a cool character. At the very least, he was much cooler than was presented in the 60s. And of course there was that animated film, JUSTICE LEAGUE: THRONE OF ATLANTIS (2015), which I remember liking, as well as the hit Netherrealm video games, INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US (2013) and INJUSTICE 2 (2017), where the character was much more bad-ass and likable, or intimidating depending on which game you played. I think the character has always been awesome, but far too many have been stuck in the old ways without giving anything new a solid chance.
Give the new DC movies some credit with JUSTICE LEAGUE, I did see effort put into the character and found him to be quite enjoyable, in no small part to Jason Momoa, who is bad-ass and quite hilarious when he needs to be. I know a lot of people didn’t like that movie, and looking back on it, I can see why, but I liked it fine and was really looking forward to a solo outing with this character. Guess I’m getting my wish.
The story looks like it’s about Aquaman who has to battle his half-brother for control of Atlantis and its armies over whether or not to go to war with the surface world. Somehow Black Manta is worked in and a fight scene takes place in a desert, among other things.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Jason Momoa (BAD BATCH ), Amber Heard (LONDON FIELDS , I DO… UNTIL I DON’T , DANISH GIRL , ZOMBIELAND , and the upcoming GULLY ), Patrick Wilson (COMMUTER , FOUNDER , CONJURING  and 2 , and upcoming films MIDWAY  and IN THE TALL GRASS ), and Willem Dafoe (VOX LUX , FLORIDA PROJECT , FINDING DORY , JOHN WICK , and upcoming films THE LIGHTHOUSE  and THE LAST THING HE WANTED ).
In support, we have Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (GREATEST SHOWMAN , and the upcoming US ), Dolph Lundgren (CREED II , EXPENDABLES , 2 , 3 , and upcoming films THE TRACKER  and MALEVOLENCE ), Nicole Kidman (BOY ERASED , THE BEGUILED , LION , SECRET/EYES , THE OTHERS , and upcoming films DESTROYER  and THE GOLDFINCH ), Temuera Morrison (STAR WARS: BATTLEFRONT II , CLONES , SITH , MOANA , and upcoming films MOSLEY  and OCCUPATION RAINFALL ), and Julie Andrews (DESPICABLE ME 3  and ENCHANTED ).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have James Wan, known for CONJURING 2 and FURIOUS 7 (2015). Co-writing the screenplay, we have David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (CONJURING 2) and Will Beall (5 episodes of CASTLE [2009 – 2016]). The composer is Rupert Gregson-Williams, known for HACKSAW RIDGE (2016), RIDICULOUS 6 (2015), and the upcoming ABOMINATION (2019). The cinematographer is Don Burgess, known for WONDER (2017), CONJURING 2, TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (2003), and the upcoming SEXTUPLETS (2019). Finally, the editor is Kirk M. Morri, known for LIGHTS OUT (2016).
Overall, I have pretty high hopes. While Heard is usually a sign of a movie that won’t be very good, there’s still some talent that I really want to see, including Kidman in her first comic book movie since BATMAN FOREVER, and Lundgren since the 1989 THE PUNISHER (unless MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE was a comic before a TV show), as well as having Wan as the director, who is no slouch in the filmmaking department. Honestly, even though I think it’s going to be hard to top WONDER WOMAN, I still have high hopes that this’ll be a good flick. I want to really like this movie. I don’t know how I feel about Aquaman being funny, as that never seemed to be his character in any form of media that I’ve seen, but so long as it’s good, I won’t complain.
This is my honest opinion of: AQUAMAN
In 1985, Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison), a lighthouse keeper, attempted to rescue the Queen of Atlantis, Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), but didn’t know of her origins. The two fall in love and eventually bear a son named Arthur. However, when Arthur is a child, Atlantis’ forces eventually find her and force her back to Atlantis to marry her betrothed husband king in order to spare the lives of Arthur and Tom.
In the present day, Arthur (Jason Momoa) is the local folk hero, Aquaman and has just saved a bunch of sailors aboard a submarine from a pirate attack, resulting in the pirate leader’s (Michael Beach) death and his son (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) to take up the mantle of the Black Manta and seek revenge against him. Meanwhile, in Atlantis, King Orm (Patrick Wilson) intends unite the divided kingdoms of Atlantis and wage a war with the surface world. Staging an attack to bolster the perceived imminent threat, Mera (Amber Heard), an Atlantean princess, seeks Arthur’s help in dethroning Orm in order to stop the war from happening; a throne that Arthur doesn’t want. But after a warning attack from Orm destroys a local town that he frequents, he decides that he can’t turn away and must challenge Orm for supremacy.
Hell yeah! Another really good DC film under its belt! I prayed that WONDER WOMAN wouldn’t be the only one, and now we’ve got this and I couldn’t be happier. Actually, yes I could, but this was a damn fine superhero movie.
Let’s start easy with the prologue. I loved it. I mean, who would have ever pictured Nicole Kidman looking at a tiny little goldfish like I look at Fast Break chocolate bars… and eats it like one? How do you not laugh at something like that? It’s so great. Yeah, they do that thing where she attacks Tom, misunderstanding his intentions with her, only to collapse from her injuries again, that whole thing. To be fair, though, Kidman is brilliantly fun, not knowing what a puppy is, throwing her trident through a TV set, and all of her confusion is just in her expressions. She’s all on her guard like a cat sensing danger, it’s all hilarious. But as soon as she realizes that her wounds are tended to, she eases up and is taught how to drink tea, this movie starts off wonderfully funny, charming, and even heartbreaking when Atlanna has to leave her family. What I definitely appreciate is just how quickly they breeze through Arthur’s back story. Eh, sort of, they sprinkle his back story across the movie, but his back story is covered before the title of the movie even shows up, so you can imagine that’s a nice little positive.
And what a cool-ass intro to a lot of the characters. Black Manta and his dad are submarine pirates- seriously, is that a thing? – they have chemistry, Arthur goes full Superman and lifts the submarine to the surface and fights his way through the sub, taking out all of Daddy-Manta’s men, it’s way too bad-ass. Especially when he’s tearing off doors and hurling them at baddies, and even giving an interesting moment between Manta and Arthur. Daddy-Manta has a torpedo fall on him, pinning him while the sub fills with water. Manta pleads with Arthur to save him, but decides to let them die. Though Manta survives, he’s forced only because Daddy-Manta forced him to. I give some huge credit that a story like this, if played with for a more positive-driven intent, this is the exact back story of a superhero. Bad guy lets the good guy’s parent die, good guy wants revenge. It’s not very often we actually see a superhero create a bad guy in such a conscious way. And he’s not just some throwaway villain who gets his ass kicked by Aquaman every time they encounter each other, Manta’s a formidable opponent who almost bests Aquaman in a fight, actually making for one of the better mano-y-mano fights in the movie, which is saying a lot because there’s quite a few of those in this movie.
Actually, in that way, this movie is quite subversive of the genre. Arthur’s dad never dies in the movie, so this isn’t some personal revenge trip for him. I mean, it still is because Orm destroys the town he resides in, killing innocent people, so he’s obviously out to avenge them, but it’s refreshingly impersonal. And it follows in WONDER WOMAN’s footsteps in showing the superhero interacting with the people he’s saving in probably one of the most brilliantly hilarious ways. Arthur and Tom are having a beer at a local bar when a couple of muscled tough guys approach him and look like they’re ready to pick a fight. But then the head honcho guy is all like, “Mind if we take a selfie?” Again, when does that ever happen in these movies?! It’s so great. And Arthur is all like, “Whatever,” and the first selfie is him all awkward and shit, but the more pics that are taken, the more into them he gets. God, I love this movie.
Another pleasant surprise is just how well-written Orm is as well. Unlike most superhero villains, he actually is a little complex. While his motivations for waging war against the surface are about as obvious as an Aquaman movie would be, pollution and hunting of marine life, he isn’t completely one-dimensional when it comes to interacting with other characters. While as a King, he naturally hates what Arthur represents: a threat to his claim to the throne. He’s also kind of a showman. Every time he knocks Arthur to the ground, he shows off to the crowd like a Gladiatorial event. With all that said, he seems rather unsure of the man himself. When Arthur and Orm are about to face off for the first time, Arthur gives a fairly heartfelt speech about how he dreamed of meeting his younger half-brother to let him know that he’s not alone in their respective and mutuall struggles. Wilson delivers a really subtle performance, like Orm’s taking in his compassion and slightly affected by it. It’s clear that his hate for Arthur isn’t personal. <<<SPOILERS – highlight to reveal>>> [ Even the ending is unique for a superhero film. Orm doesn’t end up dying at the end. He stays alive and is taken away by the royal guards, now under Arthur’s command. But not before Arthur says, “When you’re ready, lets talk.” I’m imagining the possibilities for the sequel. How conflicted will their relationship be moving forward? I know if I see a sequel, I want these brothers to have a legit connection, but still be at odds with one another. I want to see more internal conflict within Orm and… really, no epic final fight. How about Arthur needing to talk him down? Having to appeal to his humanity and cashing in his proverbial chips as a brother and getting him to surrender? That’d be a spectacle in of itself. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>
Even Mera isn’t a slacker in the good-development department. She’s got herself a hero’s conviction, acting a whole lot more seriously than Arthur. Like, she’s borderline militaristic, but she’s such a great comic foil to her male counterpart. They’re off looking for the Trident of Atlan and their key needs to go full FIFTH ELEMENT and needs water for it to work. What I love is that Arthur’s line, “You could’ve just peed on it,” and Mera giving him an amazing grossed out expression, but this does sort of raise that question in THE FIFTH ELEMENT. Why didn’t Ian Holm pee on his artifact? That would have worked so much better than sweat. But more than that, she’s an ass-kicker in her own right. She takes on four royal guards at once, uses wine to create crystals that impale dudes, she holds her own in any and every fight. Hell, she might kick more ass than Arthur, simply on the basis that he loses almost every fight he’s in. Granted, it’s not like his adversaries are throwaway enemies. They’re all trained fighters, but she never seems to go down.
Now let’s go for the more technical stuff. This film is absolutely gorgeous to look at. The CGI is top-notch, of course, but the cinematography is breath-taking. Atlantis, and all of its divided nations, the Sahara, even the climactic battle at the end is, in my opinion, the next gen Lord of the Rings. It’s so grand in scope, so much going on, yet still easily focuses on cool portions, it’s one of the greatest and grandest climactic battles ever put to screen. And I adore how the architecture of Atlantis looks. All of the buildings look like giant jellyfish, their ships are modeled after marine life, like turtles, fishes, whales, it’s too awesome. Even the inside of a whale’s mouth it beautiful! When the hell would anyone ever say that sentence??
<<<SPOILERS>>> [ I also have to appreciate the subversion of clichés. Think about it. The story practically sets itself up to be a liar-reveal kind of story. Orm stages the submarine attack to get Nereus on his side, but even though this is a twist that could have been seen a mile away, the movie is smart enough to treat its audience with respect and not make it some third act twist. Two or so scenes later, the movie reveals that information, not at all trying to hide it. ] <<<CONTINUE SPOILERS>>>
<<<SPOILERS CONTINUED>>> [ One of my favorite action scenes has to go to when Arthur confronts Karathen (voiced by Julie Andrews – no, seriously, this kraken thing is voiced by Mary Poppins) for the Trident of Athan, and… by God, this movie went full Godzilla on us. This thing is impossibly huge, yet it’s no sluggish tank. This thing slaps Aquaman away from the trident like a bitch. I seriously thought that this thing was all tentacles and no other body. It’s just… freaky… but awesome as all hell, man. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>
Some smaller positives that come to mind are listed below.
- Did that first fight scene between Arthur and Orm seriously break out a sports-styled stats board? That seemed… particularly silly. Funny, but silly. And an actual drumming octopus? I just… so much silliness that I’m starting to love it. And now I can’t get LITTLE MERMAID’s “Under the Sea” out of my head.
- I love how every new location always has “somewhere” in the subtitle. “Somewhere in the Indian Ocean,” “Somewhere in the Sahara Desert,” it’s almost like the movie didn’t want us to verify the coordinates to verify if something might actually be out there. That always got a giggle out of me.
- I want to complain about how this movie takes a minute to turn into Indiana Jones for a few scenes, but honestly, they were such fun scenes that developed the relationship between Arthur and Mera that I didn’t care.
- I know I already mentioned how great the action is, but more specifically how great the action is when it’s on a smaller scale between two characters. The action is something straight out of the Injustice video games. Fast-paced, intense, hard-hitting, and just looks great.
- Seriously?? Even toilet humor gets a laugh out of me?? What the hell, movie?!
- You know, it just hit me what those Trench monsters reminded me of. FALLOUT 4’s Mirelurk Kings!
Well… now this movie ruined any chance of seeing those on the big screen. Then again, Deathclaws and Cazadores are still a thing, so no big loss.
But, let’s all face it, this movie isn’t perfect and has a few blemishes.
One of the lesser scenes in the movie is when Arthur has a heart to heart with Mera about his first encounter with Manta and how he regrets making an enemy of the man because he didn’t save his father. Um… dude, these are submarine pirates. Literal piracy is a dangerous profession, and anyone who is in that line of work knows that it’s a matter of time before someone gets axed off. Plus, they’ve killed innocent people and were ready to kill more. I’d say whatever fate awaited these gentlemen would have been justified. Don’t feel bad that an asshole feels bad, bro. The life of a pirate is a deadly one. These men earned it.
I wish there wasn’t a budding romance between Arthur and Mera. At least, not in this movie. These two characters start off not really sure of each other, not entirely trusting, or even liking each other. I wish their arc was more one of respect and acceptance, rather than romance. That was a little too forced. It’s been done worse, don’t get me wrong, but this was one aspect of their relationship that I wish was held off until the sequel. <<<SPOILERS>>> [ With that said, their inevitable kiss during the climactic battle in the end was so gorgeously shot that it trumps the marriage scene from PIRATES: WORLD’S END. ] <<<CONTINUE SPOILERS>>>
Here’s a list of my smaller issues with the movie.
- I laughed when even though Atlanna was unconscious, she was still holding on to that trident of hers.
- Why did it take so long for Atlantis to find Atlanna? For that matter, how did they find her? The soldiers literally appeared out of nowhere.
- Why is Atlantis such a huge myth in this world? Is this movie ignoring the fact that Superman exists? Metropolis was attacked by alien invaders. I don’t think a long lost city under the ocean is too huge a stretch of the imagination.
- Even in this movie, sharks growl… damn it, when will sharks not growl?
- When Mera was saving Tom, did anyone else think that CPR would have worked just as well, maybe even a little quicker? I feel like she was taking her sweet time in getting that water out of his lungs. Just saying.
- Did Orm seriously say that Arthur has never been to Atlantis? Um… JUSTICE LEAGUE? There was totally a scene where Aquaman went to Atlantis! Briefly, but it still happened! Or did I miss something? I hear this movie ignores the events of JUSTICE LEAGUE, but… I don’t know, this seemed weird.
- Seriously, someone sees dinosaurs here and no one comments on that shit? I mean, I guess Orm has a mosasaurus, so maybe other land-based dinosaurs aren’t that big a surprise, but to Arthur? Come on, bro…
Before I wrap this up, what do I like better? This, or WONDER WOMAN? Well, I think I’m going to go with WONDER WOMAN. Don’t get me wrong, AQUAMAN has some truly extraordinary visuals that knock it way out of the park, arguably making this one of the most beautiful looking epics, as well as one of the best looking superhero movies in general. Hell, I’m struggling just to figure out a movie even remotely close to this. Sure, DOCTOR STRANGE has amazing and creative visuals, but there’s a trip factor to that. No natural, still moments. The visuals contort into strange shapes and angles. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but take any great shot in this movie and it’s practically a painting. But where WONDER WOMAN wins me over is Diana’s character arc. I think she went through more earth-shattered revelations about humanity and what her preconceptions about them were. She had to learn how to love humanity for all of its flaws as well as its beauty. It’s that age-old summary of the DC universe and what these characters are supposed to be: gods trying to be human. I feel like Wonder Woman did this better. She comes from a perfect place, raised to think a certain way about mankind, only to realize that it’s not true. I don’t think Aquaman had that. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great character, and this is a really good movie. But I felt for Wonder Woman’s story a lot more than Aquaman’s. This is in no way a negative at the movie’s expense, I just wanted to go on record that this is a firm second place in what movies I like in the DCEU, or whatever it’s calling itself now.
Overall, I think it’s pretty clear how I feel about this flick. I like it. I really, really like it. The visuals, the action, the characters, it’s about as good as a superhero movie can get. It’s not a perfect flick, but you can bet your sweet bippy it’s worth watching. This gets a high endorsement from me. See it in Dolby Atmos. Something’s telling me that has to be awesome.
My honest rating for AQUAMAN: a strong 4/5
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