Friday, December 21, 2018

My Review of Aquaman (2018)

Written by Geoff Johns & James Wan & Will Beall & David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick
Directed by James Wan

Mera: "Atlantis has always had a king. Now it needs something more."
Arthur: "Well, what could be greater than a king?"
Mera: "A hero."

Sometimes going into a film with tempered expectations is the best approach. After Justice League being somewhat the sum of it's parts, things were (possible are still) looking a little shaky for the DCEU and with this movie being the only contender in 2018, I did wonder if the wait would actually be worth it.

The title character isn't one of my favourite heroes and while I don't mind Jason Momoa as an actor, I just don't think he's leading man material. It's surprising then how much I actually enjoyed him as the lead in this movie, which tackles Arthur Curry's origins in wisely spread out flashbacks while also embracing the main story in a post Steppenwolf world.

Keeping with the flashbacks first, the movie opens with the love story of Atlantis queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) washing up ashore and falling in love with lighthouse keeper, Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison) and from that union also came little Arthur Curry. The consequence of a love story between two people from different worlds obviously would be the inevitable separation as Atlanna is forced to return to her homeworld and embark on an arranged marriage, resulting in another son named Orm (Patrick Wilson) but more on that later.

In further flashbacks, we get to see a young Arthur slowly discover his abilities to talk to the fish while adviser Vulko (Willem Dafoe) trains a teenage Arthur in mastering his skills so that he can eventually inherit his rightful place in Atlantis while also telling the would be king that his mother was sent to the Trench as punishment for bearing a son outside an Atlantis marriage.

Getting back into the present day, Arthur has more or less embraced being a public figure as Aquaman, taking selfies with bikers, while having beers for breakfast with his father and also taking out pirates such as Jesse Kane (Michael Beach) while making a lifelong enemy in Kane's son, David (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) - the latter who later becomes Black Manta and teams up with Orm in a failed bid to avenge his father's death.

Out of the two main antagonists here, I will admit that personally for me, Black Manta despite having the lesser screen time was the one who worked just that bit more as a baddie. Aside from looking spectacular on the big screen, I just loved the fight scene between him and Arthur in Sicily and the ending of this movie nicely hinted that he's got some unfinished business with the aquatic hero of the piece.

As for Orm, I do think Patrick Wilson puts in a decent job between trying to make the would Ocean Master (who uses various methods of intimidation to unite the seven in declaring war on the surface) both sympathetic in some respects as well as threatening in others but villain wise, he's nothing new. What is new for a DCEU movie though, is that both Manta and Orm manage to live for another day, which seemed like a nice change of pace.

Speaking of pace changing, this definitely feels like a lighter romp compared to previous efforts but unlike Justice League, a lot of the humour is better. That said though, this doesn't stop the movie from having an octopus playing the drums, Mera chomping on roses (not the sweets) and foot soldier Murk (Ludi Lin) having to resort to sticking his head in a toilet in order to survive on land at one point. Those moments are probably more polarising but not to the point they should take you out of the main action.

The back and forth with Arthur and Mera (Amber Heard) as the two of them journey throughout the Sahara dessert, Sicily and to the much feared Trench where they're reunited with a certain someone is handled well enough as Arthur finally embraced his destiny to usurp his younger brother for the Throne. As for the love story with Arthur and Mera, it's surprisingly more subdued than expected but that probably works in this movie's favour as well.

The movie wears it's influences on it's sleeve with blatant nods to the likes of Romancing The Stone, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and in an amusing moment, even Pinocchio. Wan puts a lot of love into the depiction of the underwater world of Atlantis (along with a neat history lesson halfway through the movie) and there's a definitely level of care put into his main players and their own motivations throughout the movie along with a visually impressive underwater world.

- Djimon Hounsou who played the Fisher King here will also play the Wizard in Shazam next year. The Karathen was voiced by Julie Andrews, which is still rather mind blowing when you think about it. Patrick Wilson and Nicole Kidman have also been in previous DC movies. Watchmen and Batman Forever, anyone?
- Post Credit scene in this movie saw Black Manta being rescued by scientist Stephen Shin (Randall Park) - the latter obsessed with finding Atlantis.
- Dolph Lundgren's character, Nereus is usually a love interest for Mera in the comics but here he's her father and Mera was also briefly betrothed to Orm in this movie.
- Standout music: Mainly Skylar Grey's Everything I Need and Pitbull's Ocean To Ocean, though the score music is quite nice in parts.

Aquaman is surprisingly a better movie than you'd expect it to be. It's by no means a classic movie but it feels like a step in the right direction for the DCEU, moving away from Zack Snyder's initial approach to this particular universe but not to the extent that his previous work is glossed over either. The leads are fine, the baddies work, the visuals impressive, music a bit hit and miss in parts and the humour and respective love stories/sibling dynamics mostly a success. I don't know if it's a movie that will change perception on the DCEU but it does feel like it's a great forward step though.

Rating: 8 out of 10

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