Director: James Wan
Cast: Jason Mamoa, Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Dolph Lundgren, Patrick Wilson, Temuera Morrison
Runtime: 2hrs 23min Rated PG-13
Release date 12/21/18
As a card carrying DC fanboy, I’ve been anxiously awaiting Aquaman, hopeful that it would be a home run for my favorite comic publishing house. The DC cinematic universe has been on shaky ground basically since it first began with Man of Steel in 2013. I have honestly enjoyed most of the films released, but Warner Bros just hasn’t been able to capture the hearts of the masses in a way that comes close to competing with Marvel.
Now, multiple rumors and reports that the studio may have officially killed the cinematic universe in its present form have left the future in question. Unfortunately, it seems like Warner Bros wants to continue making solo films, but is reluctant to make any promises towards continuing a shared universe of any kind for the time being.
However a big reason I was hopeful for Aquaman was the movie has had a lot of positive buzz from early screenings. If nothing else mobs of drooling women looking to stare at a shirtless Jason Mamoa for 2 hrs will hopefully help drive the box office numbers up. I don’t blame them at all…I get it. He’s dreamy…whatever.
Hopefully though, if the studio can get a couple wins under their belt like Wonder Woman, maybe they’ll put another Justice League movie back on the table down the road. They just desperately need a solid plan, take their time, and stick with it.
I got a chance to see the film about a week early, thanks to my incredible pregnant wife who saw the tickets go on sale through an Amazon Prime deal in the middle of the night while she couldn’t sleep. Yes, she is one of those drooling women I just mentioned, but I like to tell myself she bought the tickets thinking of me as well .
What you should know before watching Aquaman.
How the overall public will react to the movie remains to be seen, but I really had a fun time and enjoyed the heck out of Aquaman. It’s not a perfect film, but it is an entertaining over the top, fantasy adventure epic that is a worthy counterpart to 2017’s Wonder Woman.
I’ve seen people online trying to rank or compare these two solo films and now having seen both I don’t think that’s necessarily fair. Wonder Woman and Aquaman are polar opposite films that will resonate with people differently, depending on what they are looking for in a movie. I put them on equal footing; each for their own charm they bring. I will say though that I definitely had more fun watching Aquaman than I did Justice League.
To make sure you go into Aquaman with the proper mindset, make sure to check reality at the theater door. This movie is pure escapism with ancient under water civilizations and creatures who do fantastic things. I know that may be obvious from the trailer, but movie goers are used to Marvel heavily grounding most of their heroes in reality to make them relatable to the average Joe. DC usually takes the opposite approach and Aquaman is prime example.
This feels more like a comic book story with all the stereotypical comic book troupes you can imagine. That isn’t a bad thing; because frankly I don’t want all of my superhero movies to be exactly the same. Sometimes I want to watch a superhero figure out how he’s going to juggle paying his bills and fighting crime, but other times I’m just in the mood to watch Khal Drogo ride a giant seahorse into battle and kick some underwater ass.
While there are still some noticeable differences, Warner Bros has definitively changed the tone of their superhero films since Batman v. Superman, inching as close as possible to the lighthearted Marvel brand. Aquaman feels even lighter in tone than Justice League but still maintains a good balance of dramatic and comedic moments that I think more people will respond positively to.
Mamoa’s Arthur is quite different from the comics; with a personality closer to a surfer, bar hopping, biker bro than a royal king of the seven seas. He also has several one liners that are somewhat reminiscent of a Schwarzenegger movie; most are corny or only funny because of how lame they are such as the “permission to come aboard?” line from the trailer. That line has to win the award for most shameless double entendre in a comic book film.
Many of the film’s dramatic moments work but some are pushed so far over the top that I couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness. For example, you can tell that director James Wan really likes to use slow motion; it is used entirely too much throughout the movie. Often times you can tell the movie is trying to use slow motion to make a particular shot more dramatic, but it only succeeds in making it so ridiculously campy that you can’t help but laugh.
Another minor issue is the pacing of the movie and how it incorporates some of the flashback scenes near the beginning is a bit jarring. It’s a bit confusing how Arthur is trained by Willem Dafoe’s character when he’s clearly not allowed to have contact with Atlantis. Eventually enough scenes go by where you finally piece together that he’s been sneaking to the surface to train Arthur, but it’s just poorly communicated.
The sights and sounds of Aquaman.
Visually, the movie looks incredible and reminds me of an underwater version of Avatar in many ways. Colors are bright and varied and your eyes constantly roam the screen trying to take in all the details. Yes, the movie is about 90% CGI, which may be a turnoff to some, but it’s done well and there’s honestly just no way to do this type of movie with practical effects.
The most interesting visual elements are seeing how underwater animals have been adapted into mounts for the different armies to ride. It was an interesting mix of traditional animals such as seahorses and sharks along with more fictional creatures.
One effect that is slightly annoying is whenever someone talks underwater; the voice has a sort of muffled, distorted sound. I get why they did it, and hearing it sounds cool in theory, but it also made it hard to catch what people are saying at times. This is especially true for Patrick Wilson’s Ocean Master who has the most Shakespearean lines out of anyone by far. I can appreciate the “realism” of what talking underwater sounds like but in a movie that takes so many liberties with reality I don’t think it was necessary or maybe could have had a little less of a distortion.
The movie does a decent job “de-aging” a few of the characters for flashback scenes. I think Marvel has done a slightly better job using the technology, but it’s still very believable here.
The fight scenes look great and are convincing, especially the minimal CGI fights that take place on land. The movie does a great job of mixing CGI with practical that makes for some great visuals you might see in a video game or comic book. I also enjoyed how many of the scenes zoom out and pan around to let you see all the action in a single shot. There’s some particular scenes in Italy that come to mind that were really fun to watch.
I was pleasantly surprised at how comic book accurate the costumes were in the movie, especially Black Manta. That guy has a gigantic helmet in the comics and it’s spot on here. The movie hilariously tries to hint at a plausible reason as to why the helmet is so big, however the more you think about it, the less sense it makes. It doesn’t matter the reason though; I’m glad they kept the designs as faithful to the comics as they did. Hinted in the trailer, we also get to see Aquaman’s traditional orange and green armor towards the end and it looks fantastic. I’m sure they will change it, but I’d be happy if he kept this look for future films.
Check out pics of the costumes on screen vs how they look in the comics:
The music score throughout the movie was excellent and paired well with the scenes. However, there’s a couple times where artist recorded songs are mixed in, such as a weird version of Toto’s Africa by Pitbull and it just comes across as silly and forced. You can tell these songs are only in the movie because they were required to be fit in somewhere.
The casting choices were all excellent. I can’t think of anyone that felt out of place or stands out as a poor choice. The only performance that was borderline for me was Yahya Abdul-Mateen as Black Manta. It wasn’t a horrible performance, he was just playing a very 1 dimensional comic book villian who did comic book villain things. His killer Black Manta suit though more than makes up for it though.
Jason Mamoa is without a doubt the best choice to play Arthur and exactly what the character needed to go from the most “useless” Justice League member to a bad ass warrior king.
I liked Amber Heard’s performance as Mera. She looks spot on with the comics as already mentioned; the only slight negative is her red hair is very obviously a wig; it could have been done better. I can get past that though (wink wink). Dolph Lundgren also did a great job as Mera’s dad, King Nereus.
Patrick Wilson carried himself well as the dick step brother villian Ocean Master and Nicole Kidman was a nice surprise as Arthur’s mom Queen Atlanna.
On a side note, it’s funny to me how many times in Marvel movies the villains don’t go by their comic book names or don’t really talk about it. However 9 times out of 10 in a DC movie you can bet the villain is going to tell you their name: “Now I’m (dramatic pause) BLACK MANTA” or “call me (more dramatic pause) OCEAN MASTER.” The only thing missing in these moments is the dramatic music afterwards “dun dun DUUUN.” I think it’s ridiculous and corny and I love it.
The after credits scene is “meh.”
There is one mid credits scene, and while it does hint at the possibility of a sequel, there is absolutely no mention of anyone outside of Aquaman’s story. Actually, the only mention to anything in the entire movie is a quick mention of Steppenwolf at the beginning of the film.
The credits scene is fine and I won’t spoil it but it’s difficult not to be disappointed that they wasted such a great opportunity to further tease the “Legion of Doom” angle we saw at the end of Justice League. I really wanted to see something along the lines of Lex Luthor and Deathstroke meeting Black Manta and welcoming him into the fold.
Having the individual villains of each Justice League member slowly band together to form their own league over the course of multiple solo movies is not only a fantastic idea, it’s also one of the few plot ideas Marvel hasn’t brought to their cinematic universe yet and would give them the edge they’ve been looking for. It’s honestly further proof the Warner Bros execs have no idea what they are doing with the DC brand and are sadly still trying to piece together a game plan.
Aquaman is a flawed but entertaining superhero fantasy adventure. This is a visually stunning popcorn movie where you can enjoy the ride as long as you take it for what it is and not over analyze its flaws. Most notably are the times the movie takes itself so seriously it crosses over into unitentional comedy. At the end of the day, this is a fun comic book movie that Warner Bros will hopefully be able to count as a successful step to getting the DC cinematic Universe back on its feet.