Movie Review: “Aquaman”

   The DC Extended Universe has been ripe with debate and disillusion. Whether it be the stigma it has as badly trying to imitate what was established with Nolans’ Dark Knight Trilogy or the sentiment that it’s high-scale, low-logic. In my opinion, while I don’t necessarily hate the DC Extended Universe altogether, nor do I necessarily want it to approach all of its subject-matter with a light-heart nature akin to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I definitely think it has a lot of flaws that keep it from being as good of a representation for DC Comics as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is for Marvel Comics. Unless it’s a rendition of Adam West’s Batman, I think the Caped Crusader is best-suited with a more mature, jaw-clenched approach, whereas I think The Flash is better off with a more light-heart, vibrantly enthused approach. Instead of having every film carry an inherent tone, I think each film should play it out in whichever way best plays to the strength of their characters. As far as what the approach should be for a film like AquaMan, I would say, what I wanted from the film was a charming, action film, that would focus less on exposition and being a high-stake, grandiose epic, and more on energetic, ludicrous fun. That said, here are my thoughts on DC’s splashing new fish-into-water story Aquaman.
Aquaman is a 2018 American superhero film based on the character of the same name, acting as the sixth installment in the DC Extended Universe, and, already, the highest-grossing film of the series worldwide.

   The DCEU has oftentimes been dubbed as a failed project by Warner Bros., after all, when you compare Justice League to The Avengers’ box-office performance, or even compare Justice League to The Dark Knight’s box-office performance, it’s obvious Warner Bros hasn’t recouped on their investment as strongly as they likely had hoped. Other-wise though, calling DC’s foray into shared-universes a failure, at least from a financial perspective, has always been unfounded, oftentimes calling it a failure merely because its returns appeared anemic compared to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, at the end of the day, Batman v. Superman and Man of Steel were both modest box-office successes, recouping their budget and enjoying successful returns on the home-market. According to The Numbers (dot) com, Batman v Superman has made nearly 80 million on the home-market in domestic markets alone. Meanwhile, although loathed by many, including myself, Suicide Squad was a box-office hit. Many covet Wonder Woman as the first real feather in DC’s new series of films, and while it came up short worldwide compared to Batman v. Superman, it did so with a much smaller budget and succeeded more on a domestic level. The reason I mention all of this is because it’s still so outrageous to me that we left 2018 with Aquaman being the front-man of the franchise.

   Directed by James Wan, with a screenplay written by David Leslir Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, from a story by Geoff Johns, Wan and Beal, respectively, I was curious for what this film would amount to. Although Wan has made strides in action before, like with the Fast and the Furious series, I mostly think of him as untapped as an action-director, and I’m more likely to associate him with his horror films like The Conjuring or SAW. The film stars Jason Momoa as the title character, along with Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman, William Dafoe, and Patrick Wilson. Also, while it’s always nice to see Patrick Wilson, and it’s cool to see him working with Wan in another genre, I found it very awkward watching him a role other than the everyman in a horror film.

   In the film, Arthur Curry is the heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantic, and is pressed to step forward and lead against his half-brother, Orm, who seeks to unite control the seven underwater kingdoms and pit them against the surface world.

   As I think most of you would expect, this is a silly and outrageous film. I don’t think anybody doubted that heading into the film, but the question I think most had is whether or not they’d try to play the silly and outrageous concept with a straight face or if they’d loosen up and have fun with it. The answer is somewhere in the middle.

   Jason Momoa is very likable in the role as Aquaman, which was something I was on the fence about when he was first announced to play the character, but, having now seen him, he oozes a likability, walking the fine line between being a brooding character and one that’s easygoing. I’ve had issues with how Superman doesn’t have the contrast with Batman as I’d like, feeling very dark and serious, and it’s to my surprise that Aquaman is portrayed the way I’d like to have seen Superman portrayed. The humor isn’t what I’d call “laugh out loud” funny, but it’s charming, with Amber Heard and Momoa keep it light when everyone else tightens their stares. Unfortunately, some of the more serious moments are, in-fact, “laugh out loud” funny, with an over-the-top, ridiculously cheesy to them that doesn’t feel intention. I remember a scene in-particular where Orm is threatening people in Atlantis and he says, “Don’t call me the King, call me the Ocean Master,” and it has to be one of the most cringe-worthy lines I’ve seen in a superhero film in years. This film is brimming with groan-inducing dialogue, and, although some might laugh at the audacity it has, I found these moments particularly ho-hum and dull.

   The special-effects and set-design are a mixed-bag in my opinion, slanted more toward the positive side of the spectrum albeit. On one-hand, depictions of Atlantis feel imaginative, so much so I wish more of the film’s plodding run-time was spent showing the aesthetically appeasing aspects, either that, or I simply wish half an hour of this film would’ve ended up on the cutting-room floor. Many of the characters and their wardrobes missed with me, which isn’t something I necessarily felt about every character, but is something I felt about many of the characters in this film, with some of them feeling like they were copied-and-pasted from a cheesy science-fiction film (which is what this film is, in some respects).

   Although there’s definitely the foundation for an Aquaman 2 that I think could be a lot of fun, I struggled to care about anything happening on the screen. Although I enjoyed the Aquaman character and his interactions with Mera, as well as the special-effects for some of the scenery and set-pieces, that’s really about all I leave with having to say as praise for this film. I never felt like I was made to care about the central conflict, no matter how many long-winded, contrived speeches or forced dialogue I endured, I never cared about the antagonist, I never cared about Arthur’s mother, and, ultimately, I never cared about the film. I think the biggest issue with the film is it suffers from many of the same pitfalls as the rest of the Extended Universe. It tried so hard to make an epic, and, for what it’s worth, I actually enjoyed Batman v. Superman for the most part, but, I don’t care with this film. It tries so hard to make an epic, but the moments that work best are when it’s after a smaller, more contained narrative, focusing on Aquaman and the individuals he interacts with, and not the conflicts he’s dealt. It isn’t the worst of the DC Extended Universe, but it definitely isn’t something I’d recommend, amounting to what I think was an ambitious, but, unfortunately, below-average film.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.0