WARNER BROS, PICTURES (2018)
Director: James Wan
Starring: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman
Batman v. Superman wasn’t great and Justice League was a disappointment.
That’s that out of the way – I imagine most critics will fit similar aspersions into their respective reviews also. The DCEU, the cinematic universe that gets beaten more than my beloved Southampton FC, is back with its latest attempt at smashing the box office – Aquaman. In the comics, Aquaman/Arthur Curry is violently uncool (see: Family Guy parodies), however, with Jason Momoa filling the role, he is just a bit cooler…and bigger.
Though Justice League wasn’t well received, Momoa as Aquaman was. His surfer dude stylings helped bring a new approach to a pretty square character and expectations were somewhat higher than usual for this standalone. Given the troubles that the DCEU has clearly faced, the pressure was on James Wan and co. to deliver something that the audiences would lap up and, for the most part, they did just that. Aquaman is a fun, entertaining, colourful movie that dives between tones/moods and doesn’t take itself entirely seriously. It certainly doesn’t all work and, honestly, it’s not the greatest movie, but I had a good time from start to finish…pretty much.
Living on the surface world and raised by his fisherman father Tom (Morrison) after his Atlantean Queen mother Atlanna (Kidman) is sent back to sea and presumed lost, Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Momoa) is dragged into an impeding conflict between said humans, happily contaminating the ocean, and the Atlanteans, led by Orm (Wilson). Along with Princess Mera (Heard), Aquaman must find his place beneath the waves if he is to ensure the safety of his people and the people of Earth. As the titular hero, Jason Momoa certainly carries the movie, his rough-edged, badass water warrior is eminently watchable and the scenes without him feel somewhat empty. He oozes cool and his physical presence is certainly impressive. He and Amber Heard have a “who wore it better” duel throughout the movie (hint: Heard wins), and she proves to be more than just a damsel in damp distress, plus their chemistry was good too (which always helps…). Father of Boba Fett and now Aquaman, Temuera Morrison’s dynamic with Nicole Kidman actually provides the backdrop to the entire movie and allows for some quieter, tender moments. Not content with bringing the goods to Creed 2, Dolph Lundgren impresses again and Patrick Wilson…well, he’s having some fun alongside Willem Dafoe. At times, it all feels a bit Flash Gordon/He-Man in tone and the performances of the latter cast members do contribute heavily to this.
The first half had a decent pace to it as we explore Arthur Curry, his life, relationships and powers above ground. His intro is a great action scene that also helps set up Black Manta (Abdul-Mateen II) and his motivations going forward. When we dive underwater for the less well-paced and more frenetic second half, the movie certainly ramps up the visuals – underwater neon everywhere as Atlantis is brought to life in a bevvy of CGI-goodness – but at times, it loses its way as it rampages towards the climactic final act. Speaking of CGI, when it worked, it looked great but there were far too many moments where the FX looked below-par which for a big budget popcorn flick is a big disappointment – plus Wan found time to include a 'Steppenwolf of the Sea', so…thanks. Wan also saves time for some handily placed 'cool shots' – Momoa emerging through the mist of battle with rock music leading him on and an enticingly strange shot of him and Heard emerging from the sea in slow-motion together that serves no purpose other than give them both a chance to look damn hot and remind us all that this is the power couple to follow.
Fans looking for some action will be in luck as Aquaman brings it in waves. Aquaman and Black Manta share some exciting fights and there are plenty of others to enjoy, but it doesn’t all work – especially during the underwater slugfests. There’s not an awful lot here that hasn’t been seen in similar flicks before and it seems DC and Wan wanted to make something fresh, vibrant and just enjoyable – which works just fine for me. It was nice to have some good humour thrown in too to aid the experience further. As for the writing itself, boy, do the actors have to try hard to sell what they’re having to say – there are some wince-inducing lines (usually reserved for the bad guys), clunky exposition dumps and standard ‘inspirational’ chunks of dialogue that are hard to buy, however, the earnestness of their delivery is to be applauded (“CALL ME…Ocean…Master”). Also...Pinocchio – if you know, you know.
Could it have benefitted from being about ten minutes shorter? Absolutely. Maybe that would’ve tightened up the uneven pacing and kept the energy from fading at times but, as it is, the movie just managed to stay afloat in terms of engagement – there are moment, though, where you might start to check your watch like the guy next to me did a few times.
Is Aquaman a step in the right direction for the DCEU? Too right it is and with Shazam! Coming next, it would seem the trajectory should remain upwards. Inconsistent pacing, certain FX and dodgy action scenes hamper Aquaman and prevent it from being an all-out blast, but there’s more than enough here to enjoy. Whilst Aquaman is far from perfect, it still delivers an entertaining, vibrant ride and Momoa shows us what DC really stands for – Damn Cool.
December 13th 2018