AquamanReviewed By alejandroariera
Posted 12/19/18 11:19:06
You almost want to feel sorry for Warner Brothers and the DC Extended Universe’s film division. They can’t seem to get it right, no matter how hard they try. In comparison, their TV division, —responsible for such popular CW series as “Supergirl,” “Arrow,” and “The Flash”, and for “Gotham” the brilliant, gritty reinvention of the Batman mythos on Fox—, has managed to create a cohesive and coherent world to the point where it has had not one but two crossover events across its many series: “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and “Elseworlds.” You feel that there is a guiding hand behind these series; but when it comes to their film properties, the DC Extended Universe is a rudderless ship. “Wonder Woman” is still the only bright spot in this cinematic universe (although to be honest, outside of the original two “Superman” films starring Christopher Reeves and Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy most of the DC cinematic output has had more misses than hits in its entire history). Don’t feel too sorry for Warner Brothers, though: no matter how ill-conceived, their films have been raking in the dough. The barely passable “Justice League” earned over $650 million globally and the dreadful “Suicide Squad” over $746 million.All of this to say that I was really hoping “Aquaman” (which before its U.S. release had already earned over $250 million on the box office worldwide) would break the curse, joining “Wonder Woman” as the second bright spot in the DCEU. Especially when you take into consideration the fact that as a character, “Aquaman” has been the laughingstock of the comic book world (his appearance in Hanna-Barbera’s iconic and much mocked “Super Friends” helped very little). Alas, this bloated, sometimes dull, entry makes you reconsider Zack Snyder’s flawed “Man of Steel” and the truly disdainful “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” as films that at least had a vision, a point of view, no matter how misguided. What director James Wan (creator of the “Saw” series and director of “The Conjuring” and the outrageously James Bondsian “Furious 7,” the seventh entry on the “Fast and Furious” series) and writers David Leslie Jonhson-McGoldrick and Will Beall deliver instead is another rote origin story that borrows from much better genre films. The opportunity to do something subversive and far more fun with this character was there. Wan and his team, however, decided to play it safe.
Bookended by Aquaman’s (Jason Momoa) voice-over, the movie opens in Amnesty Bay, Maine where lighthouse keeper Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison) discovers an unconscious woman dressed in a colorful outfit by the shore. The woman is Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), princess of Atlantis, who is escaping from a pre-arranged marriage; after she wreaks some havoc in Tom’s house, she settles in and bears Tom a child they name Arthur. The idyll doesn’t last long; when a group of Atlantis’ soldiers burst in and almost destroy Tom’s house in a fierce battle with Atlanna, she decides to return home to confront her family, leaving Tom and Arthur alone. Wan quickly dispenses with Arthur’s childhood in this first act, most of it given away by that aquarium scene in the trailer, to jump right into the present and the next major action sequence as Arthur stops a group of sea pirates from stealing a Russian submarine. One of the pirates vows to avenge his father’s death resulting from the melee with Aquaman and we are thus introduced to the film’s first villain, the soon-to-be Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).
So what does a future superhero and king of the seven seas do after kicking some ass? Have a few brewskis with dad, of course. But, that is as irreverent and as fun as the film gets before it devolves into a by-the-numbers origin story involving the film’s second villain: Arthur’s half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson, looking bored throughout the film’s 139 minutes) who wants to unite all seven underwater kingdoms, declare war to all those pesky humans who have contaminated their waters and, oh, yes, become the one and only ruler of all kingdoms. A pre-emptive strike in the form of a tidal wave that destroys a good chunk of the Eastern seaboard (bringing back a significant amount of the trash we have thrown in it) nearly kills Tom, and a once-reluctant Arthur now joins Mera, Orm’s soon-to-be bride in the search for the lost trident of King Atlan so that Aquaman can claim his rightful place as king of Atlantis and stop the war. Yes, Aquaman’s origin story is a new take on the legend of King Arthur, with the trident being his Excalibur, his Mom the Lady of the Lake, Mera his Guinevere, and royal confidante and childhood trainer Vulko (Willem Dafoe) his Merlin. His quest will force him to challenge his brother in a ludicrous and premature gladiatorial fight in the Ring of Fire, and will take him to the Sahara Desert in search of a map (in a scene that screams “The Fifth Element” but lacks its sense of fun), to Sicily where they engage Manta and several Atlantean soldiers ending in another underwater city and a blurry CGI-driven underwater battle sequence featuring a creature whose resemblance to “Pacific Rim”’s Kaijus is uncanny.
The images come fast and furious…so fast and furious, in fact, that Wan never gives you the opportunity to savour the worlds he and his digital team have created. This movie is afflicted by a strange case of ADHD, one where you move from point A to point B in a heartbeat and yet you feel sluggish in doing so, as if so much of this visual goodness had given you a severe case of heartburn. Wan also teases you with ideas full of possibilities which are immediately abandoned. Early in the film, we see a copy of H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” lying on a table in the lighthouse but even though he treats us to some Lovecraftian creatures (especially during an underwater scene later in the film that would have made Guillermo del Toro smile in its obvious reference to “The Shape of Water”), they are summarily dispensed with. The story’s environmental angle is equally dispensed with, its dramatic potential —how can Aquaman be the person who will serve as a bridge between a species that has done so much damage to the planet and its victims and the fact that Orm has a point in attacking them— ignored. The film’s treatment of racism and discrimination crashes to the film’s surface before its carried away by its undertow. In his belief that only those of pure race and pure blood can claim the throne and rule over the planet, Orm is pretty much an underwater White supremacist. He screams “I am of pure blood!” at one point while belittling Aquaman for being a mongrel. And then there’s the fact that Manta is an African-American who does the bidding of his white master. But, hey, look, things that go boom!Look, before you start with this whole nonsensical argument that this is a superhero movie and that we shouldn’t expect much of it and, let me remind you that the best comics, including the superhero ones, can be profound and rewarding as well as entertaining pieces of literature. They can be about something, they can explore ideas. They, after all, have roots in pulp and science-fiction literature. And when it comes to their big screen counterparts, you need look no further than Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, a film that smartly tapped into the post 9-11 zeitgeist. But in a year that gave us the sublime “Black Panther,” the ambitious “Avengers: Infinity War” and the pulpish fun of “Ant Man and the Wasp,” “Aquaman” comes across as more of the same, a lost opportunity, one that not even Jason Momoa’s charisma can save. Its your turn “Shazam!”. Don’t disappoint me.
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