Review: AQUAMAN (2018)

Aquaman poster

When I first made plans with my best friend to see James Wan’s AQUAMAN, I knew she’d ask me to see it because she was a DC fan. I guess this is a good time for me to say that I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a DC fan. It’s not that I dislike DC, I like Batman and the Joker, Superman, and all that. I wouldn’t call myself any more knowledgeable about Marvel, but I did observe over the years that the movies that got bums in seats were Marvel, with their star-studded casts and beautifully-shot, attention-grabbing movies.

Not DC, a franchise sadly plagued by such box-office disappointments as SUICIDE SQUAD, which gave me a bad feeling right from the trailer. A franchise that, before Wonder Woman, seemed to view women as trophies. (Thanks, Zack Snyder.) But, emboldened by my utter and complete love of WONDER WOMAN, Gal Gadot burst onto the scene making every woman question her sexuality-and motivated in part by Jason Momoa (CONAN THE BARBARIAN), who cut a comedic and handsome figure in JUSTICE LEAGUE, I obviously opted to go see DC’s latest offering, AQUAMAN.

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A filthy casual like me couldn’t help but wonder at the names of all the figures and settings of all the Kingdoms under the sea, but I will do my best. Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) does his best to pretend to be a regular dude living by the oceanside, driving a beat-up brown truck and drinking at the local watering hole. This he does while also moonlighting as an individual with extraordinary abilities. He can breathe underwater, commune with underwater life, fight like a tank, and indeed, moves through water more gracefully than most. He’s AQUAMAN director James Wan may have found the perfect cross between his early supernatural films such as the INSIDIOUS franchise and more recent action blockbusters such as FURIOUS 7.

After hijacking some pirates in a Russian naval submarine, Arthur, new at this whole “fishman” thing, makes himself a few enemies, predictably. This gives rise to one of the most underutilized villains in the movie, David Kane, or Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).

Seriously, they could have done a lot with this guy, but apparently he, and his suit, as well, have some growing pains to work through. While Abdul-Mateen II did well with the material he was given, he wasn’t given a lot of screen time to work with. Arthur, meanwhile, gains notoriety on land and gets “recognized” by some land dwellers while out for drinks with his father in what is probably one of the funniest scenes of the movie. Momoa’s wit and charm, and, as previously mentioned, beautiful sense of comedic timing are so perfect here, as well as during many other scenes.

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In fact, it is Momoa’s gregarious, if a bit hot-headed, nature as Aquaman that carries this film when, in other scenes, no other character really stands out, apart from Mera (Amber Heard ZOMBIELAND, MACHETE KILLS), warrior queen raised by Arthur’s mother Queen Atlanna and Arthur Curry’s love interest, and Nuidis Vulko, Arthur’s devoted mentor and teacher of all the fighting Arthur knows (Willem Dafoe SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE, JOHN WICK). While it’s weird to see Dafoe take up a HIGHLANDER style role like Sean Connery’s Ramirez and teach a young Arthur fighting on a beach. It’s weirder still to see Heard wear Mera’s violently red hair. But what a treat to have these two in a movie, hamming it up in their own separate ways and just giving us the feel of a rollicking action-adventure flick. They’re the perfect complement to Momoa here.

Otherwise, in a movie where a man born of both Atlantian and Earth’s heritage finds he has a claim to the throne of Atlantis, there are a lot of scenes that feel flat, because Orm the Ocean-Master (Patrick Wilson BONE TOMAHAWK) doesn’t do the whole menacing villain thing well. Even with well-explored, if not overdone, concepts such as, half-breed goes on quests to inherit his rightful kingdom while his half-brother conquers half the realm and threatens to depose him. (Over the holidays I saw MARY: QUEEN OF SCOTS as well, and let me tell you, it’s impossible to depose a rightful heir unless you lock them in a tower for half their life.) I’d sooner see Wilson back doing his “scream-king” stuff in the latest sequel to INSIDIOUS than here. Dolph Lundgren (BLACK WATER, CREED II) as Nereus, oh how I laughed when I found out he was in AQUAMAN, he does not seem suited to the stately role of a King, given that learning of Orm’s scheming for the throne should call for some emoting.

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Nicole Kidman is a lovely choice as Atlanna, Queen of Atlantis, beautiful and regal even while she’s kicking ass. Clear-eyed Kidman seems as though she hasn’t aged at all since EYES WIDE SHUT, and is one of those actors who makes me wonder if she has a portrait of herself stashed away in an attic somewhere.  Where us movie-goers really lucked out with casting was this choice: Temuera Morrison (OCCUPATION, HARD TARGET 2) as Arthur Curry’s human father, of STAR WARS: ATTACK OF THE CLONES fame as Jango Fett, Boba Fett’s father. What an unexpected little jewel in this movie. While Morrison’s character only acts as the springboard for Arthur to dive back into his life as ruler of the Atlanteans, he really puts a lot of love and sincerity into his well-acted role.

Overall, the action and adventure that went into this movie, compared to other DC movies I’ve seen in the past, made it a really fun watch that I wanted to see again. Lots of destructive action scenes that I loved. As well as characters jumping out of planes in the middle of the Sahara desert. But above all, the acting choices and the great performances that most of those actors gave made AQUAMAN. It’s a DC movie with a lot more heart than other DC movies previously, WONDER WOMAN notwithstanding because it is my favorite. DC still tends to stick to the dichotomy of “Well, these guys are stealing treasure because they’re the BAD GUYS,” and as soon as they learn to create more nuanced characters, they’ll be set. But as it was, AQUAMAN was simple, pure fun. I won’t know if it lived up to my best friend’s expectations, but at the end of the day, me and her can still crush on Jason Momoa’s swagger and good looks. How does a guy swagger underwater? And yet, he still can.

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