RAY AND PAUL HAVE TO HAVE A TALK
Movie Review – Aquaman
Review by Paul Preston & Ray Schillaci
PAUL: DC Comics and Warner Brothers have the holiday season all to themselves. No Marvel or Star Wars getting in the way. The entire pop culture-driven movie landscape is theirs. So, the question is, “how will they screw it up?”
RAY: Valid point, and with Aquaman, DC continues their tradition of testing the waters.
P: I see what you did there.
R: Seeing what works, and finding out what doesn’t, has the bar raised above Batman v. Superman and Justice League. But, that bar is still slightly lower than Patty Jenkins enormously popular Wonder Woman. Perhaps because director James Wan, who flexed his action chops with Furious 7, decided to go all out with DC’s aqualad.
P: It’s never fair that these movies are always playing in the shadow of Marvel, who has done EVERYTHING RIGHT. To your point, one thing DC and WB do right with Aquaman is swap out the director. Clearly, Zack Snyder’s murky, heavy-handed emotional take on these heroes was wearing thin. Wan’s proven he can deliver a big-time entertainment and does here. There are things in this movie you’ve never seen before and pulling off the undertaking of presenting a story that takes place in the undersea world is pretty remarkable. Aquaman has been such a punchline in the superhero canon, so I would have to say that this film’s biggest achievement is merely it’s taken-seriously existence.
R: One step is changing up his look. The clean cut, blonde-haired, nearly all-American looking character from the comics gets a welcome overhaul. Jason Momoa, famous for playing Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones, is funny and incredibly charismatic. We haven’t witnessed this much machismo charm since perhaps Sean Connery. His quiet moments carry far more weight than the over-the-top action setups. Momoa even overcomes (but can’t entirely save) some of the smarmy sensitive scenes.
P: The guy’s got charm, no doubt, that was apparent in the 2011 Conan the Barbarian remake. However, I’m still waiting for him to be in a great movie. That’s a weird, common thing with jacked-up movie stars. Took a while for Dwayne Johnson to be in good movies, too.
R: Delivering what may be a competitive acting edge, Amber Heard as Mera is not only radiant, but can be just as charismatic and comical. The duo are a great matchup. They breathe life into this faux action epic.
P: Most of Heard’s acting is done with her cleavage. It’s got more close-ups than Charles Bronson in Once Upon a Time in the West. I would say she’s serviceable here. Swap her out with a Rachel McAdams or Natalie Portman and you’d have an upgrade. I guess it’s no surprise they’ve already been scooped up by Marvel.
R: I have to disagree on Portman. She and the picture disappointed this year in Annihilation. I strongly felt that Heard was significantly spunky and smart with her delivery. Perhaps your eyes were in the wrong place.
P: I saw it in IMAX. It was larger than life.
R: Aside from this discussion of Heard’s cleavage, director Wan and his three co-writers appear to be die hard believers that bigger is better. They aspire their hardest to deliver an Atlantis, its warriors, and its wars on par with Avatar and Lord of the Rings.
P: True. Why a hundred guys vs. a hundred guys when you could have a hundred thousand? That’s the going belief.
R: What we get is a murky looking version of Avatar and a lot of familiar ground from other better movies. That’s not to say this DC venture is not worth seeing. No, you definitely go to see this on the big screen with the larger than life Jason Momoa.
P: You’ll get no argument from me there. Of course, I’ll tell you to see everything on the big screen.
R: The action sequences go on far too long, and there are some terrible groaners (SPOILER ALERT) – a cheesy romantic kiss amidst an epic battle, the announcement of Aquaman as King Arthur. Oy vey, that last one made me cringe.
P: You mentioned four writers, it often looks as if none of them have seen a superhero movie before. From Aquaman’s first heroic entrance, we’re treated with…the superhero landing. Not once, but twice! I looked at Jason Momoa’s Aquaman leaping from the water to the top of a submarine, but all I saw was Deadpool applauding. It’s not a big deal, but when the piss has been so thoroughly taken out of something, it’s a bit of a shock to see it employed again without irony.
R: Comic book fans will take issue with several stories used, Mera’s character not being as bad ass, and a scattershot of liberties taken. As far as the villain, who is more of a backstory for the next installment, Black Manta and his design should whet the appetites of comic fans. But, some will feel cheated after seeing so much crammed in and so little utilized the way they would have liked it.
P: I’ve already heard of Black Manta actor Yaha Abdul-Mateen II referred to as a “fan favorite”. That’s gotta be solely because he has a cool costume, ‘cause Abdul-Mateen otherwise just yells a lot, and when he’s not yelling, he’s mugging like crazy. He’s best when covered up by the costume. Worst part, a post-credit sequence promises more mugging in the future. Once upon a time, Marvel caught hell for having lousy villains. True, DC’s The Joker is probably the best in the superhero genre. There was a Marvel drought after Loki, but Eric Killmonger and Thanos have shown that Marvel has clearly addressed that problem. Manta is more proof that DC is currently in the drought.
R: Agreed. The other villain is also a drag, surprisingly – Patrick Wilson as King Orm, Aquaman’s half-brother. He’s stiff as a cartoon cardboard. Wilson, who can prove to be incredibly engaging as he was in Stretch and Young Adult, and very complex as he was in the very uncomfortable Hard Candy, seems to be lost here. Void of any personality. His is a one-note character, and that may not be entirely Wilson’s fault.
P: I did like his overall arc, though. But mentioning Orm is a good time to bring up the plot. Momoa’s Arthur Curry finds out he’s heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis. He returns there to find out Atlantis is being upended by Orm, who wants to revolt against the surface world. At first, it seemed much like Black Panther, with the idea of a technologically advanced hidden world and the challenge for the throne.
R: Ah, but there is the save with Temuera Morrison playing Aquaman’s strong, sensitive human father and forlorn love of Queen Atlanna, played with great compassion and regal strength by Nicole Kidman.
P: I love Temuera Morrison, and he does some much-needed underplaying of his role here. Sure, Morrison was trapped in the awful Star Wars prequels, but if you want to see his greatness, watch him be brilliant in the 1994 New Zealand drama Once Were Warriors. So, to recap, that makes Aquaman a half-breed, half human, half Atlantian. I understand that would make him confused in the face of some of the Atlantian world, but he’s dumb on more than one occasion, and it’s played for laughs. That doesn’t help Momoa be awesome.
R: Okay, point taken, but action fans will love seeing Dolph Lundgren out of The Expendables mode and into playing King Nereus.
P: There’s even a mentor like we’ve seen in multiple DC movies. Willem Dafoe’s Vulko teaches Arthur to fight and manipulate the ocean with his powers just like Antiope taught Diana in Wonder Woman and Ra’s Al Ghul in Batman Begins.
R: But, there are hidden treasures, literally, John Rhys-Davies voicing the Brine King, Djimon Hounsou and Julie Andrews voicing King Ricou and Karathen, the squid creature that is the most powerful monster of the seas.
P: The Karathen plays into that scene where Aquaman kills thousands of Atlantians. You read that right. It was weird when I saw it, too.
R: Wan and writers have delivered an over bloated origin story that can be highly entertaining at times, but weighed down to the depths by long drawn out battle sequences, CGI overload, and some silliness the film could have done without. The damn thing is twenty-three minutes too long. I can only imagine how much longer it would have felt if I’d seen it in IMAX.
P: And I’d be remiss to not mention the two ‘80s montages in the middle of the film. Black Manta builds his suit to a “You’re the Best Around”-type song and then Arthur and Mera take a stroll through Sicily to “Something Tells Me I’m Into Something Good”…or something. Again, I’m sure there were directors available who’ve seen movies before. Final thoughts, Ray?
R: Patty Jenkins and her team of writers seem to capture the rhythm for success with Wonder Woman while Wan leaves us wondering at times what could have been excised and improved upon. Once again, Momoa and Heard are the big draws here with hopes that DC will learn from their mistakes. It nearly appears that they have since Aquaman is a leap over Zack Snyder’s ominous look at DC’s superheroes. But, some will argue, that’s not saying much.
P: None of what we, or anyone, is saying matters. People have seen the worst of these DCEU films in droves regardless. People want to see what’s doing, and they come out to do so (even if they walk away disappointed). Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is one of the worst superhero movies I’ve ever seen, with an unexplainable villain, contradictory heroes and loads of dopey scenes. It made $873 Million worldwide. But, with Aquaman’s critical and box office numbers starting off high, how interesting that the Amazonian princess and the butt of Entourage jokes are now the leaders of the DCEU franchise.
Directed by: James Wan
Release Date: December 21, 2018
Run Time: 143 Minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers