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Aquaman Review: Beneath the Sea and Over the Top

Aquaman Review: Director James Wan bucks the trend of previous DC movies by forgoing gritty for a wild, colorful, absolutely insane (and fun) adventure.

If someone with incredible access to the Hollywood system – an intern or another job that is often overlooked – wants to become an instant YouTube star, all they’d have to do is record Zack Snyder watching James Wan’s Aquaman for the first time. It would be fascinating, worthy of many weird essays, especially the moment when Snyder slowly realizes that Aquaman is almost the exact opposite of everything he did with his DCEU films. And then there’d be a second realization when it hits him that it actually works better.

Aquaman is a loud, bright, messy film, with an almost ADHD need to have at least five things happening on screen at once. It has many flaws, but by the time you stop to think any of them, the film is on to the next scene. And since the next scene may involve people with lasers riding armored sharks dodging torpedoes, or Godzilla-sized sea monsters destroying mega-crab people, there’s not a lot of room for reflection.

Aquaman Review

From start to finish, Aquaman is batshit crazy and unapologetic about it. There’s no deep analysis about the cruelty of man or the nature of worshiping power, and Ayn Rand’s philosophy has absolutely zero impact on it. The word “Martha” is also never uttered. It’s ultimately a simple movie, but for a character that talks to fish and is part of an undersea kingdom that looks like an overly ambitious Star Wars prequel-era world, it’s the right choice.

In his second full outing as Auqaman/Arthur Curry, Jason Momoa continues to exude a charisma born from not really giving a shit. He has a “just happy to be here” flavor that hurts some of the more serious moments, but since Aquaman isn’t really a serious film, it plays well against the conflict. The film also gives more background on the character than was present in Justice League, starting with how his mother – Atlantis’ Princess Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) – met his father Tom (Temuera Morrison), a surface dwelling lighthouse keeper.

Aquaman Review

Their forbidden love leads to an Aquababy, who is technically the rightful heir to Atlantis thanks to a system of rule that only makes sense in movies and fairy tales. Years after his mother’s disappearance, and after the events of Justice League, a present day Aquabro is busy fighting off the odd pirate and saving the occasional submarine crew. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the everyone above the sea, Arthur’s half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) is busy planning out a war against the surface. He’s depicted as kind of a mustache-twirling villain, but honestly, he makes some good points about how the surface world sucks.

Still, war is bad, m’kay, and Atlantis’ reigning princess Mera (Amber Heard) is working with Aquamentor and man-bun enthusiast Vulko (Willem Dafoe) to convince Arthur that he should challenge Orm in order to take the throne and stop the war. But to do so, he’ll first need to find Excalibur an ancient trident that belonged to Atlantis’ first king. Adventuring ensues.

And that’s about it. The plot is very much secondary to Aquaman, and several scenes don’t really make all that much sense, like how Orm manages to send tsunamis all around the world. Maybe it’s an Atlantean weapon, maybe it’s a super power (that is never mentioned again). Maybe it’s Maybelline. The movie doesn’t have time for your puny logic. It’s too busy blowin’ stuff up and lookin’ pretty.

Aquaman Review

Aquaman is an action movie in the style of straightforward ’90s action movies. From the moment the main conflict becomes clear, you know how it’s all going plays out, and it’s unapologetic about it. The plot is secondary to the world on display, and that allows the film to introduce things like Aquaman comic rogues like Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his giant helmet that shoots Deathstar-like energy blasts, setting up a destruction-filled fight in a scenic seaside town. It would potentially make for an excellent video game, and you wouldn’t need to change a thing.

Even if you hate everything else about Aquaman, you have to give credit to James Wan for his imagination and aesthetic vision for the film. Every shot is bright and vibrant. Sometimes there’s too much going on to fully appreciate – Atlantis itself is amazing to look at, but may induce epileptic seizures – but it’s almost the complete opposite of Snyder’s sepia-tinted worlds. And along with those colors come colorful characters that are wildly over-the-top (in a good way), including deep sea-monsters with more teeth than face, merpeople in battle armor, soldiers in water-filled armor that can run through walls, and so much more.

Aquaman Review

A consequence of this emphasis on visuals is that sometimes the CGI oscillates between impressive and cartoony, which is probably the result of trying to animate the shit out of every shot in nearly the entire film while still sticking to a deadline. There are a few other swings and misses as well, including the music, which jumps from epic orchestral fantasy score to Tron Legacy-like sci-fi synthesizers to Pitbull’s cover of Toto’s “Africa” with no warning or regard for cohesion. Momoa’s “heroic arc” is also more of a “heroic pub crawl,” with beatings being substituted for growth.

The obvious and apparently legally mandated need for a romance in a movie like this also doesn’t fully connect either. Momoa and Heard work together well enough, but they come off more as reluctant friends than lovers. She is somewhat regal and driven, while Momoa’s Aquaman is basically a golden retriever with super powers. It’s just kind of assumed that she falls for him, despite his never earning it. But it’s a minor complaint and quickly forgotten when the characters are attacking armies with whales.

Aquaman isn’t perfect, but it’s fun. It’s also not meant to be taken too seriously, which was probably another blow to Snyder. But when you have a movie where people ride war-seahorses into battle, that’s probably the best way to go.

Aquaman Review Conclusion

Aquaman Review

Aquaman has plenty of flaws, but it has a lot going for it too. Just head into it with the expectation of being entertained and leave the hopes for philosophy at the door and you won’t be disappointed.

It’s also part of a new direction for Warner Bros.’ DC films. The dark and gritty world Snyder and company dreamed up, where Lex Luthor is an Adderall-fueled tech-nerd and the Joker is, well, a slightly creepier version of Jared Leto, has no place in Aquaman’s hyperkinetic world. Whether WB sticks to this path, goes back to old habits, or just says to hell with it and sells the entire DC property to Disney so fanboys can lose their goddamn mind over the possibility of a DC vs Marvel series remains to be seen.

Aquaman is rated PG 13 with a running time of 143 minutes.

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Founder and DBP boss. Ryan likes the Kansas Jayhawks, long walks on the beach, and high fiving unsuspecting people.