AQUAMAN Looks to Raise the DCU from the Depths!
Reviewing “Aquaman” is a loaded proposition in many ways. As a critic, you should always review the film that is on the screen and not the one that we believe should be on the screen. That may have been true in the days before Star Wars and Marvel world building, but now we have to judge films in the context of the world. With that being said, “Aquaman” is in no way beholden to “The Man of Steel”, “Batman vs. Superman” or “Justice League”, but it’s context has definitely changed. With Supes and Batman benched, the context is simple. This film along with Wonder Woman hold the new DCU on their shoulders. Very much the way Iron Man was a restart after a sobering attempt by the MCU to recover from the performance of Ang Lee’s “Hulk” and Fox’s universally panned Not So “Fantastic 4” franchise. They take a second tier hero (Iron Man), attempt to wrap him in an A-List director, entertaining screenplay and grade-A talent and BOOM, success! Is this starting to sound familiar?
Aquaman takes this approach with James Wan, the iconic creator of the “Saw” franchise and contributing director to “The Fast and the Furious” franchise, a couple of seemingly specious writers in Will Beall and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, and Jason Mamoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, and Nicole Kidman to round out the grade A talent. Now the big question is, does this add up to success?
To put it gently, FUCK YES!! This is by far the best movie to bookend the year 2018. With this entry into the DC canon, we now have two major comic universes to satiate our film going appetites. This easily places 2018 as the best year for comic book films since 2008 when we received the one-two punch of “Iron Man” and “The Dark Knight”. A beautiful time when no one was talking about which production house was better. DC had mastered their own thing with “The Dark Knight Trilogy” and “Iron Man” had shown that Marvel could definitely run with the big boys. This year gave us “Black Panther”, “Avengers: Infinity War”, and now “Aquaman” All comic book goodness. No sides to taken… More on this later.
“Aquaman”, created by Mort Weisinger and artist Paul Norris, always seemed like a running joke of a film. There was the fake film-within-a-TV-Show “Aquaman” with James Cameron directing the wooden Vinny Chase and Mandy Moore in “Entourage”. There was also one of the worst TV pilots ever committed to a television set in CW’s attempt at “Aquaman”, and also a rather funny bit in a Chris Rock special. “Aquaman” was never supposed to reach these heights of storytelling.
The film tells the tale of Arthur Curry, the son of a land born lighthouse keeper, Thomas Curry, and Atlanna, the princess of the underwater city of Atlantis. I could spend more time breaking down the film but the trailer gives you just enough info to let you know the players without giving anything. See below and I’ll meet you after the jump:
What I don’t think the trailer truly emphasizes is that there is a lot of vibes taken straight from the Patty Jenkins playbook with a James Wan edge. Together these qualities create a quality that is dark but never brooding. A far cry from all of the Zach Snyder led efforts. The film has a heart. It has magic and wonder, built on a bed of spectacle and humor. The film pushes the edge of profane in a PG-13 way that never goes full Deadpool.
“Justice League” showed that Jason Mamoa could pull off this role, but it was not until you see his Aquaman on display for over 2 hours that you realize he really owns the parts he is in. So much so that there was a brief hat tilt to Game of Thrones that was short it could be missed, but took me out of the film for the briefest of moments. For that moment I was watching Kahl Drogo. Something I initially found annoying, but this is what happens when you become a star. You can not escape your big roles; might as well have fun with it.
Amber Heard was surprisingly fantastic as Mera. This was a huge relief since I had never been able to separate her from Mandy Lane. She provided a perfect balance to give us an outsider perspective of our dry world for someone that has spent their life in the beautiful underwater kingdom that is Atlantis. Her eyes and reactions to the simplest of beauties on land showed an appreciation for all the beauty we take for granted on a daily basis. It is easy to forget once you spend enough time in James Wan’s deep-sea universe.
IMAX was truly made for a film like this. The cinematography and digitally created world are astonishingly larger than life. Don Burgess (“Castaway”, “Spiderman”, “Source Code”, “Flight) does an excellent job of providing a visual contrast between the underwater world and the world above the sea. Each is beautiful in their own ways, with their own visual charms and palettes. This was the perfect person to show Nicole Kidman kicking ass and taking names.
I finally feel confident in this new DC Universe. Along with “Aquaman”, James Gunn is on-board for “Suicide Squad”; enthusiasm doesn’t even begin to define the brilliance matching his talents to that particular property. Maybe it is best that Superman and Batman are sidelined for now. Their characters are too loaded with decades of expectations and these new adaptations of “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman” show it is time to deliver the unexpected.
I am extremely thankful to my friend that scored the tickets through Amazon’s second foray into Prime ticketing. As I walked in the auditorium I could almost hear the voice of Jeff Bezos in choice South Park villain style. The voice had only one thing to say: “Alexa. Kill Fandango.”
Roman Morales a.k.a. VVersus the World