Movie Review: Aquaman
We’re ready to talk about a man that talks to fish. Aquaman is here, stuffed to the gills with entertainment.
Aquaman is a fun, brazen, and bloated experience. It struts around, naked (from the waist up) and shameless, riffing on set pieces from just about every movie you’ve ever seen. It manages to get away with all of its pirated booty, anchored by charismatic leads and a leviathan’s weight in CGI. While Aquaman is by no means perfect, it does nail fun popcorn fare hook, line, and sinker.
Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is back home after his stint saving the world with the Justice League. No sooner does he find the nearest bar, when trouble finds him. Princess Mera (Amber Heard) needs Arthur to claim his birthright: the throne of Atlantis. If he doesn’t, his half brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) will become Ocean Master. Orm’s goal: to lead all of the united undersea armies in a war against the surface world.
My, What Pretty Teeth You Have…
It is estimated that Aquaman cost a paltry (by blockbuster standards) 160 million to make. I guess nobody got paid in this film because it looks like they spent it all on the CGI. And Aquaman brought the receipts to prove it.
From The Abyss to Moana, the sea has been ripe for spectacle, and Aquaman is no exception. I caught the film in 3D, and the sense of depth and majesty was astounding. Each scene seeks to up the ante, and by the time we reach “The Trench”, the bar has been set so high that you think they can’t top it. Then they do. Just a word of warning: when Jason Momoa pops a fist full of flares, make sure your mouth is empty, because your jaw is going to drop.
This is the prettiest DCEU film yet, and the CGI is so much better than Wonder Woman that it feels like the films are decades apart. From everyone’s flowing watery locks to fights that feel like they have actual weight, this film does a lot to right DC’s floundering visual vessel.
The only downside to this is that the film has the vanity of Narcissus. A lot of shots last longer than necessary, primarily to strut and revel in its own beauty. While I do think this movie begs to be seen in 3D, be aware that some scenes are nonstop stimulation: I got a little overwhelmed by the introduction to Atlantis, and was begging the film to just move on. It did not. This movie could easily have clocked in under 2 hours, but that would mean less time spent marveling in it’s own grandeur.
… The Better to Bite Every Movie Ever Made!
Aquaman hasn’t met a summer blockbuster whose lunch it doesn’t want to eat. From The Phantom Menace to The Temple of Doom, every set piece seems ripped off from some other iconic blockbuster. The film seems quite aware of this, and barrels ahead with the confidence that while each scene might have been done before, Aquaman is doing it prettier. Not necessarily better, just prettier.
In a year were we already had possibly the best tale of a futuristic Monarchy filled with tradition and spectacle, Aquaman seems like a fool to compete. And story-wise, it doesn’t. No one is going to confuse this tale with Black Panther. It’s not trying to be that deep. It’s just trying to be bigger, dumber, and more fun. As such, some areas of the film are going to off-put viewers. The conflict is nowhere near nuanced, and the romance between Arthur and Mera feels completely unearned. To which the movie responds: “Yeah, but we were riding great white sharks! And did you see that kiss? It was so epic shit literally blew up all around it!!!”.
Which is a fair point to make. Excepting moments of meandering visuals, the story moves about quickly, and Momoa and Heard are both charming. As such, it’s not that hard to give the film’s hand-me-down story a pass and just let the fun wash over you.
Where Do We Go From Here?
If you wanted something to wash away the taste of the Grim-Dark DC Murderverse, Aquaman proves that seawater makes a perfectly acceptable palate cleanser. My viewing of Aquaman had the trailer for SHAZAM in it, and that looks like a lot of big, dumb, fun as well. I don’t know if these individual outings can save the universe, but giving us pulpy, gorgeous films can save the day. I’m no longer apprehensive about going to a DC film, and giving standalone tales of derring-do is a smart course correction. Maybe if they keep this up, I’ll give a damn about the characters enough to plunk down some cash for Justice League 2. But I’m sure Batman will find a way to mess everything up by then.