Aquaman is the latest entry into the DC Extended Universe, which, compared to the seemly unsinkable Marvel Cinematic Universe, is on the verge of drowning. DC knows that if they don’t right the ship, they’re going to need a full reboot far sooner than anticipated, and Aquaman looks to be the first step in trying to fix what’s broken. So without further ado, let’s dive in.
This is a particularly difficult review mostly because I have no idea what I was supposed to be watching. It’s kind of a big mess of a movie, a fun exciting mess, but still a mess. And, much like the movie they’re about, my thoughts are fragmented, scattered, and a bit chaotic, so I apologize in advance if I go a bit overboard but I’ll try to stay as coherent as possible.
I’m not sure I even watched a movie. It felt like a two-hour-long trailer. The story is progressed by the briefest of moments sprinkled along a non-stop stream of action sequences, very few of which feel like they belong to the same movie. Arthur’s, Jason Mamoa (Game of Thrones), entire origin story fits into a pre-title sequence and one, as-a-child-Arthur-learns-he-can-talk-to-sea-creatures, “Checkov’s Gun” of a scene, before cramming in unnecessary training flashbacks, as if to tell the audience “here’s what he can do, here’s why he can do it, this isn’t really that important, let’s go blowup more stuff.” The rest of the time he seems to be genre jumping between action, adventure, horror, and drama films.
If nothing else, at least Aquaman tells us that the DC brass is actually listening to our complaints. A major problem with the extended universe up to this point is how dark it’s been, not just tonally but visually. It isn’t easy to get excited about what’s happening on screen if you can’t see it. Not only is much of the movie well-lit and colorful, but a shocking amount of it takes place in direct sunlight. Finally a DC movie doesn’t take place entirely at night, in the rain, surrounded by an air of misery. Even in their best attempt so far, Wonder Woman, does the sun shine after we leave Themiscyra? And while the climactic final confrontation happens during a storm, for dramatic effect I suppose, the filmmakers clearly put effort into at least making it bright enough to see what’s happening. The tone of Aquaman, however, remains dark and brooding, and not even Jason Mamoa’s occasional, rock-star-vibed-jackassery, amusing though it may be, is not enough to balance out the darkness.
A fight sequence in broad daylight? This is a DC movie, right?
But, before I talk you out of seeing Aquaman, just let me say, it might not be a great film, but it is an extremely fun movie. It’s the kind of movie you go to the theater for. A film like Roma, may be a masterpiece of cinema but it doesn’t gain anything by being experienced on “The Big Screen.”
Aquaman is a grand-scale adventure full of excitement and color, a spectacle that can capture the imagination and take you to a world of wonder. Sure, it helps to turn off your brain and not ask too many questions, like “if Arthur is bullet and blade proof, how the hell does he have tattoos?”, but why ruin the experience by trying to bring logic to a movie about superpowers, magic, and monsters. It’s far from a perfect picture, but amongst its peers, it’s second only to Wonder Woman, and by far the most fun to watch. Which is kind of the point, isn’t it?
Film: Aquaman (2018)
Genres: Action & Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some strong language)
Runtime: 143 Minutes
Released: December 21, 2018
Studio: Warner Brothers Pictures
Director: James Wan
Written by: Will Beall, David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick
With: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II