Aquaman (2018)

Directed by James Wan

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Aquaman bears a lot of similarities to movies like Thor and Black Panther.  It’s a story about multiple kingdoms, and a brother v. brother conflict that demands some kind of ‘challenge the king to a fight to the death’ thing.  Like in Black Panther that happens so early into the movie that you know it won’t resolve anything and will only stand in as the set up to a second duel at the end of the movie.

Jason Mamoa plays Arthur aka Aquaman.  He lives in some coastal town, I think, with his father, a lighthouse attendant.  His mother was the former Queen of Atlantis who angered her kingdom when she chose to marry Arthur’s father.  Later they will return for her, only after years have gone by for some reason, and then she will be executed for her alleged crimes.  Because she’s Nicole Kidman and because this follows a fairly standard story arc, you know she’s not actually dead and will return sometime near the start of the third act, which she does.

Instead of describing the plot it’s worth while to take a look at this world.  The story is simple and reductive, borrowing from other sci-fi and medieval movies.  It’s a conflict built around power lust and brute strength, and it’s attached to a message about the ways humans have polluted the earth.

James Wan’s movie is effectively space but under water.  The different kingdoms we visit are introduced with title cards as if they are far away galaxies we are meant to already be acquainted with.  The names don’t much matter (I think), other than to help remind you that this is an expansive world.  That being said, there are seven kingdoms, four of which Aquaman’s evil brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) needs to become “Ocean Master.”  It’s a silly term, and I imagine everyone involved knows it.

To become Ocean Master means King Orm will finally be able to wage war on the humans on land.  His anger relates to the aforementioned pollution of the water, but it also comes from an inferiority complex related to his half-brother Arthur, the true heir to the Atlantis throne.

Alright, so the movie is absurd, and everyone knows it.  It’s certainly unapologetically absurd, which is pretty great, and the CGI world created is undeniably impressive.  I think you can support all this, as maybe you should, because at the very least the movie took a chance and did so with a property that didn’t seem to offer that great of a movie possibility.

And yet, the story follows every beat known to man, it’s long, and the writing just feels very tired.  Of course this is subjective, and I fight my own instincts here because I’ve read a lot of people who quite enjoyed this movie.  I like to think I can appreciate a not so highbrow movie (Spielberg’s Terminal is one of my favorites, after all, as is the Drew Barrymore/Jimmy Fallon rom-com Fever Pitch), but I just didn’t find Aquaman that fun.

This isn’t at all a self-serious movie like early DC movies, but it’s attempts to be fun and banter-y aren’t quite there.  The dialogue only ever serves the plot save for one scene early on which works as an effective character moment for Arthur and his father.  In it we become acquainted with his already existing celebrity and see how he deals with it.

Side note, remember when superhero movies always dealt with the importance of the superhero’s masked identity?  It seems that in most of the early to mid-2000s superhero vehicles there was a major plot point that hinged on the villain discovering who the superhero was.  It’s certainly there in the Spiderman and Dark Night movies, but the Marvel and now DC movies have thrown it out the window, making their characters celebrities within their own world.  It’s understandable because of how massive these cinematic universes are, and it’s become so obligatory, which is why we get that early scene in which a group of men ask Arthur for a selfie.

Alright, so Aquaman swings for the fences, and most people think it worked.  I’m not so sure, but at least it’s trying something.  I should say that this is a movie I never wanted to see, and getting me to pay (looks at receipt) $16.75 suggests the box office has already won.

Up Next: Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992), Meet Joe Black (1998), Ponyo (2008)

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