Is Aquaman Out Of His Depth?

Aquaman, Aquaman, does whatever water can! I was predisposed to liking Aquaman, but I didn’t expect the movie to be tailored specifically to me! Jack & Andrew on the The Wages of Cinema collaboreview can corroborate that it is a legitimutantly enjoyable comic book movie! OUTRAGEOUS!

Dive below for Davy Jones’s locker of SPOILERS!

Jason Momoa’s Aquaman isn’t as cool as John DiMaggio’s outrageous rendition from Batman: The Brave & The Bold, but nobody could ever top him. That animated version was basically the MCU’s Thor, so it was clever of WB to go the reverse route for its movieverse. This Aquaman is ironically a fish out of water when he’s under the sea! While Arthur Curry is closer to Momoa’s real life personality, this unorthodox interpretation feels like a breath of fresh air since he was previously typecast as brooding taciturn murder machines. He was a highlight of Justice League, so it’s a pleasure to see him in an expanded roe. He makes Aquaman effortlessly cool without lampshading it. Whereas Geoff Johns’s New 52 meta-joke about nobody respecting Aquaman was strained because it didn’t compute within the context of the DC universe, movie Aquaman is a rightfully beloved celebrity to civilians. While he appears to be a mere meathead, The Prince of Whales is deceptively clever.

Whereas his comics counterpart is the swarthy bearded brother, King Orm the Ocean Master has blond hair like traditional Aquaman. The Aryan Übermensch look is more appropriate to the racist tyrant than the hybrid underdog. Underwater Loki’s trident isn’t as interesting as the the classic one where the points extend from a circle. Perhaps he can get a new one more like it in the sequel? Patrick Wilson was previously Nite-Owl & the voice of the President of the USA in BVS: DOJ. Holy continuity error, Batman! (See also Djimon Hounsou playing Merdude King Ricou in this & the Wizard Shazam in Captain Marvel SHAZAM!) Ocean Master typically gets overshadowed by Black Manta in other media, but they remembered to make him an indomitable badass here! He’s like Namor but without Reed Richards to cuckold, so all his energy is devoted to conquering the surface world.

(Namor the Sub-Mariner actually predates Aquaman. So WB cast Momoa to evoke Jae Lee’s rendition of Namor. Then Marvel gave Captain Marvel Aquaman’s orign. ALIENS CAN’T MAKE PAMCAKES! Big Two one-upmanship is weird.)

OceanFight.png

Uh-oh, looks like some chump brought a pentadnet to a trident fight!

It’s sort of like a reverse Black Panther where the outsider royalty has to stop the local king from bringing their hidden kingdom into war against the world. It’s unfortunate timing that both released the same year to make comparisons harsher. Now that I’ve seen “The Woman Who Fell To Earth,” I can no longer say that gladiatorial combat is the dumbest way to decide who gets monarchical disputes. At least Atlantean trident clashes for the throne of Atlantis get played in with hydro-hologram scorecards & an octopus on the drums! This time neither of the engaging villains get killed off either. Just like how Gravity Falls, Ducktales, & Hilda are similar in both concept & tone while being of equal quality, you can appreciate Black Panther & Aquaman simultaneously!

My fondness for manta rays makes me think bug-headed Black Manta is overrated, but the movie swayed me. It makes him a third generation submarine-pirate seeking to avenge his dad, which is a more reasonable backstory than him holding a grudge against Aquaticman for for not rescuing him back when he was an autistic teen kidnapped by abusive pirates. Michael Beach, who voiced Devil Ray in Justice League Unlimited (it was bizarrely embargoed from calling him Black Manta because of a failed Mercy Reef TV show), plays his dad. I like to think he got both parts primarily because of his surname. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II even gets a scene of him customizing his Black Manta gear set to Depeche Mode!

While she has the straight woman personality, bibliophile Amber “my name is a sentence” Heard’s Princess Mera gets the literal fish out of water comedy beats that Aquaman would traditionally get. The two develop a screwball romantic chemistry akin to The Mummy (Fraser & Weisz edition) or Romancing the Stone. (Both of the pro-Aquaman songs awkwardly forget he’s married to her, unless they were written during that period whilst she was deceased.) Her contributions to the story are actually linked to her unique expertise. She uses hydrokinesis in creative ways. Bonus points for being Dolph Lundgren’s daughter!

This is an epic kitchen sink movie that throws in everything you’d expect in a big summer blockbuster … released in winter. David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick’s & Will Beal’s script is heavy on infodumps at the outset, but fortunately these taper off as the momentum builds. Director James Wan does a fantastic job melding everything together into the best Flash Gordon homage since Thor Ragnarok! It takes the mythos seriously enough to get you invested, but has enough humor to keep it from being a dull slog. (Randall Park has an amusing cameo as Dr. Shin, the crackpot who’s actually right all along.) Big budget extravaganzas are now commonplace, but it looks like every cent was well spent on this lavish production.

The splashy action sequences are spectacular, but my favorite one may be the chase-battle set in what appears to be Taormina. (This globetrotting adventure was mostly filmed in Australia.) As Mera leaps across tiled roofs, you can track Captain Murk crashing through Sicilian homes to catch up to her. She kills a bunch of Atlantean soldiers by becoming Wino Dark Phoenix! Meanwhile Black Manta vs. Aquaticman is effectively brutal. There’s even some civilian rescuing amidst all this.

The costumery is fantastic! Aquaman finally wears his classic costume, & it looks great! (Its calf fins could use some work.) It’s unclear whether he’s a necrovestite or the trident gave him a magical girl transformation. I slightly prefer Mera’s Justice League outfit. This one is too blue & minimalist. While his his name still misses the zoological mark, Black Manta’s wardobe is finally detailed enough to match his helmet. Willem Dafoe’s costume has scales to compensate for his Green Goblin suit. (Vulko was supposed to look like this in Justice League? Neither looks like aquatic Dr. Zarkov.) There’s actually enough scale mail in Atlantis to make up for all of Captain America’s movie suits! While his character may be an evil doppelgänger, you can easily distinguish Ocean Master from Aquaman by his colors & shapes. He doesn’t have his traditional stingray emblem so as not to embarrass Black Manta. As cool as it would be to see Nicole Kidman kicking ass in coral armor, Queen Atlanna just wears scaly white tights. The Atlantean marines have bulky armor to allow them to do amphibious assaults.

They changed the method of speaking underwater since Justice League to be more convenient albeit less realistic. I would’ve had everybody make indecipherable gurgling noises with subtitles overlaid. Instead they added a subtle reverb to the submarine speech. Where’s everyone’s gills? The underwater physics probably aren’t accurate, but they’re immersive enough that I quit looking for flaws almost immediately. It becomes entrancing seeing so many characters ethereally floating or majestically zooming. Although the giant seahorses of the comics weren’t thought to be intimidating enough, their sea dragon replacements whinny just like terrestrial horseys!

sharks with frickin' laser beams

Although both roar alike, lions are more like smooth sharks than vice versa.

Much like Miles Morales, Arthur Curry is a rare headlining superhero with two living parents! Aquamom  impaling dudes with pentadents & eating goldfish is a much better use of Kidman’s talents than Batman Forever. (It was synthetic, unlike the canary Michelle Pfeiffer plopped in her mouth for Batman Returns.) It turns out that she’s been alive wearing trench warriors’ carcasses in the aquatic kingdom hidden in the center of the Earth like Pellucidar. (They don’t designate it as Skartaris, but the odd of seeing Travis Morgan the Warlord in a film just skyrocketed!) Unfortunately she shares the same fate as General Antiope in not getting immortalized as an action figure. You may remember Tom Curry’s Temuera Morrison as Jango Fett & Abin Sur. (WB could’ve made Batman v. Aquaman with the memetic line “Save … Thomas!)

The battles have the epic scope of a Peter Jackson film. There’s a lot going on, but it doesn’t impede understanding the sequences. Picking out background details will boost rewatchability. Despite its moral of compassion, it doesn’t skimp on carnage. Any battle where someone riding a shark gets spayed with squid ink before being impaled by a narwhal is a good one! John Rhys-Davies voices a humanoid crustacean named Clawful the Brine King. The designs of the undersea war machines are impressive. A horror movie attack by a swarm trench warriors morphs into a gorgeous tableau illuminated by a single crimson flare. (Them being the toyline’s BAF is problematic for anyone looking to army build, but at least Mattel is finally upping its quality to match Marvel Legends.)

deadly Atlantean joke.png

Maybe if TRU hasn’t gone belly up, I could’ve found the requisite Mera to spare you The Deadly Atalantean Joke?

Surprisingly the movie’s through-line is about empathy. Arthur grew up thinking he had to suppress his emotions & rely on brute strength to survive. Although he was arguably justified in not rescuing Black Manta’s murderous dad, the consequences come back to bite him. So he learns more about mercy & setting a good example than than Henry Cavill’s Kal-El. To retrieve The Saint of Killers’ King Atlan’s trident, he must get past the mighty Karathen. (Rather than distract from Emily Blunt-Force-Trauma by cameoing in Mary Poppins Returns, Julie Andrews chose to voice this sea monster.) He succeeds by opening a telepathic dialogue with her. His ability to talk to fish, which the public erroneously mocked for so long, is the key to solving the film’s conflict! Arthur’s more worthy of being Ocean Master than King Orm because he connects with his subjects. The real villain was toxic masculinity (plus racism & pollution)! His background as a hybrid outcast will give him the humble perspective needed to be a good monarch.

Aquaman, more like Aqua-Damn! This highlights everything that makes Aquaman great as well as, if not sometimes better than, Wonder Woman did for her. An Entourage running gag came true in the best way possible! Let’s hope Aquaman 2: Hydroelectric Boogaloo goes swimmingly!

~

So 2018 was a great year for comic book movies! Almost all of them were worthwhile! Thank you very much for stopping by this year to read my reviews of them. Next week 2019 begins, which means I get to post that Gotham season five premiere critique I’ve been sitting on!

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