Movie Review: Aquaman
Permission to come aboard? I’m sure Arthur Curry will let me in, given his easy-going and carefree charisma. Anyone who has watched Aquaman will concur, that he is able to strike a connection close to your heart in such a remarkable way. It is a superhero movie that feels so relatable to the audience, that you can actually feel the titular character being close to you.
The most recent superhero film that emitted this similar aura is perhaps, Venom. I’ve mentioned how Eddie Brock charms you with his everyday-guy background and attitude, and Aquaman is not that far away. The difference is of course, Arthur Curry took it a swim further. Because by far, he is the most nonchalant, generous, forgiving, insecure but down to earth superhero that I can think of. A hero that constantly labels his very own existence as a ‘mistake’. And he eats flowers, too, knowing clearly that it’s not edible, to make someone else’s day. That, is super charming.
He reminds you of your high school buddy who skipped class with you, did all the bad things with you, and got punished together with you. And if you got silly exam grades, he would have definitely outdone you. But deep inside, you still think that he’s your coolest buddy, your absolute guardian protector if someone ever bullies you, and he deserves something truly great that awaits him.
Certainly not some bulletproof, flying alien whose only weakness is a green rock. Not a spoiled rich kid with a full array of black, classy wardrobe and expensive black toys, with a full-time butler to pamper him. Arthur Curry is just, Arthur Curry. And this is the magnanimous spirit behind the character in this latest film by James Wan that makes the movie so appealing.
Who wouldn’t like a superhero that speaks (a little) Italian, anyway? Yes, you probably won’t hear Aquaman dishing out a marriage proposal in Italian, but it’s still a touch sweeter than a superhero that speaks strictly English. And watch out for a scene where a little girl is about to get crushed by a giant bell. What Arthur does in that scene will leave you laughing, and melted-down, at the same time.
Yes, as bizarre as it seems, for once, we have a superhero that has both a mother and father to relate to. Though Aquaman has some intrinsic “parent problem”, which, will ultimately lead to one of the most touching scenes in any superhero movie to date, it does warm up your heart after taking a stroll in all those underwater adventures. And, of course, it is this same “parent problem” that shaped Arthur Curry’s beliefs and gave rise to Aquaman, so it is actually a piece of the puzzle within the story.
Initial trailer impression did hint and give cues to a messy plot progression, but fortunately, contrary to every myth in Atlantis, the former doesn’t exist. Yes, you will have a random Atlantean popping up here and there to affirm to you the existence of Atlantean “treasures”, but let’s just hope no one ever opines that the plot is messy. I found that the plot moved in a smooth, coherent manner, with cleverly integrated flash-backs here and there. Those are meant to supplement you with just the right amount of info to move on together with the flow of the story, nothing more, and nothing abrupt.
And yet, the most commendable aspect of the whole story-telling is that it paces beautifully in equilibrium between land and sea, and you wouldn’t feel drastically overwhelmed by any. I suspect it’s the inclusion of a desert in Aquaman’s journey, that the dry factor which you absorb in those scenes is counter-balanced and replenished by the underwater scenes, and vice versa. It’s a clever play of polar opposites to their fullest effect.
For sure, there are also elements of “time-is-running-out” that comes into play within the plot, but those are massively eclipsed by the awe that engulfs the theater whenAquaman makes his explosive re-entry. Ironically, it is Aquaman, and not Mortal Engines, that delivered that type of jaw-dropping scenes of a king’s timely return, which were incredibly-crafted and made popular by Peter Jackson himself.
And yet, make no mistake, behind all the serious consideration put into the plot arrangement, Aquaman is by no means a dead-serious film. From the widespread trailer itself, many would knew that it is going to be funny, just that I am a little embarrassed to acknowledge that I am not prepared for the scale of the humor. Though the placement of the comedy routines does raised eyebrows a little, I have to admit that I was indefensible against the waves and waves of jokes in Aquaman. The scenes can suddenly switch to funny bones assault mode, even as it is pacing into a defining battle between Arthur Curry and a villain. Words like “half-breed” can suddenly pop out and tickle the the star fish out of you. Questionable placement? Maybe. But great humor, it definitely is.
For a director whose forte is in making horror movies, the world of Atlantis imagined by James Wan is not only surprisingly bright, colorful and vibrant, it is further philosophized as an inherently high-tech civilization, but still adhering to some of its primitive ideologies. It is a deeply imagined and built world, with giant turtles replacing the task of your pickup trucks, and as you would have guessed, it is not possible to capture the world of Atlantis in film without the aid of CGI.
CGI definitely excelled in the areas such as how Mera commanded each and every nearby droplet of water, or how a shield of water is created with the Atlantean trident. All the elements pertaining to water, be it from small drops, up until the size of a tidal wave, are definitely mesmerizing pieces of art. Perhaps in order to tweak the color palette to something a notch more vibrant, certain aspects of believability diminished a little. The vibrant colors of the underwater cities are still digestible, but I found the props and suits of the common Atlantean soldiers to be a too toy-like, as if they were secretly made by Hasbro.
Of course, i don’t think that I could continuously prick on the plastic-ish props, as most of the time, I was drawn into the torrent of compelling story progression. And sometimes, I felt that the VFX team is dangerously overused (read: abused), as even a simple scene of a lonely boat sailing in the middle of the ocean had to resort to CGI construction.
Remember I mentioned flashbacks? Ah, the terrifying power of de-aging. It seems to me that DC is trying to outdo Marvel in what they have done in Ant-Man and the Wasp. Where the former only showed you the ultra-realistic, younger version of Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer, once in the whole film, Aquaman brings you back and forth in time like a time-travel machine. This enables you to witness the current facial outlook of its characters, their de-aged versions somewhere 30 years ago, and even, somewhere in between. This, coupled with how flawless the digital de-aging masks look on screen, are definitely enough to put a big grin on any cast involved in that stealthy process. Just ask Willem Dafoe.
Cinematography is refreshing, and Wan is noticeably obsessed to extend certain fight scenes into a lengthier take, encircling all the kicks, slashes and flips that were born in the heat of the fight. Though he still blended them with quickly-cut scenes that rather distract you away from point-blank of the battle, so you get a good mixture of each. Score is a perfect blend of electronic cyberpunk and classic war themes, with the latter one which is being played at the height of each conflict so distinctive, it always sparked my mind to imagine Zeus thundering, “Release the Kraken!”
And finally, just my take on the casts. All the characters fit the individual actors and actresses like, eels within their coral reefs. That’s the closest representation that I can think of, Aquaman style. But seriously. Forget The Expendables, Dolph Lundgren appears to be destined to play King Nereus right after He-Man in Masters of the Universe (1987). And Willem Dafoe’s most catchy role is definitely Nuidis Vulko, after his iconic Green Goblin in Spiderman, of course. Nicole Kidman was just peerless as the ageless Queen Atlanna. Patrick Wilson as Orm? I wouldnt be surprised of Wan getting him in, since they are long time collaborators. Still, it was a yummy decision, as Wilson has all the right aroma to be the scorned, ambitious, cool but cold-blooded half- brother of Arthur. Jason Momoa and Amber Heard? It’s quite sufficient to say that both their faces are already nailed down in a section of my brain where the characters Aquaman and Mera resides.
Addict Verdict, AV:
Aquaman is a superbly fun and colorful form of both underwater and out-of-water adventure, funny enough to keep your stomachs hurting, yet heartwarming enough to tug your heartstrings. Above all, the impressive iteration of the underwater realms and the epic underwater war really sent the film surfing on giant waves. In the dry-lands of DCEU, James Wan’s Aquaman is exactly the kind of rain that all have been hoping for. But few would have expected that the movie arrives in a form of a tidal wave instead. Your move, Marvel–The Film Addict
*This review was originally published on The Film Addict