By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – December 20, 2018)
DC is still looking for sustained success with its major blockbuster motion picture properties. It’s not that every entry has been a disappointment, nor is it that what has come thus far hasn’t been profitable. Films based on superheroes are cash cows, with Marvel owning five of the top ten highest grossing movies of 2018.
Marvel perfected their versions of these films a decade ago after several fledgling attempts of their own. It was casting Robert Downey Jr. and striking gold with Iron Man. It was that magical couple of superhero hours that ignited the true Marvel Cinematic Universe. Prior to that point, you could count what was good on half of one hand, if that. DC had Christopher Nolan putting together his stunning Batman trilogy, but the problem was there was no follow-up and no one else that seemed to have the same Midas touch.
Last summer’s Wonder Woman felt like DC’s own Iron Man, but the studio, though it may not have been the decision of those within that building, couldn’t let that film breathe long enough for it to assist in rising other ships. Justice League released last winter and was a disappointment, largely because with the exception of Gal Gadot’s vehicle, none of the other heroes in that film were on the right trajectory. Henry Cavill’s Superman hadn’t worked, Ben Affleck’s Batman was a failure, and don’t even mention Green Lantern, who basically was left for dead after that big screen atrocity.
When The Avengers launched, it had behind it successful origin stories for many of the prime members, and thus the giant team-up had a bunch of people in it audiences were familiar with and wanted to see. Despite Justice League being in theaters YEARS before it should have been, we did get to meet the new generation of classic DC characters.
Of those, Ezra Miller’s take on The Flash and Jason Momoa stepping into the role of Arthur Curry both seemed to hold promise. Both are characters and casting decisions that could prove fruitful for DC as they continue to try and make a go of this whole thing on the big screen. TV has worked for them. Movies haven’t.
So what about Aquaman?
Well, I’m going to start with by far the biggest negative about this movie. Huey Lewis told Michael J. Fox The Pinheads were just too darn loud. I’m going to tell DC and James Wan Aquaman is just too darn long. This is an entertaining enough movie, better than I expected based on trailers that left me sighing more than feeling any semblance of excitement. I enjoyed it for the most part, but it was, and this is not an exaggeration, possibly 30 minutes too long.
By the time Aquaman ends, exhaustion isn’t the emotion.
It’s so long, so full of, for lack of a better word, “stuff,” that only because it’s so very simplistic and derivative in its story does it have any hope of working, and even then, some people will get lost. I did not anticipate this being a quest movie, but in many respects, it bears more in common with two movies you may well like than it does any of its DC predecessors. You’ll find some of the journey of The Lord of the Rings within Aquaman, mixed with quite a bit of the crux of Thor, particularly the family dynamic.
In similar fashion to Thor, I’ve never been an Aquaman fan. But, if there’s success to be found in this movie, it’s that just like that effort, this one made me more interested to see what’s to come from the character. Chris Hemsworth was a great choice to play the role, and though it may have taken a change in direction and approach to come up with Thor: Ragnarok, one of the best Marvel films EVER, they did finally get it right.
Jason Momoa brings a sarcastic, surly humanity to the Aquaman character, an Arthur Curry that’s a bad ass and a smart ass rather than just being sort of a lame guy that swims really well and holds court over the kingdom of Atlantis. Momoa is great in this iteration of Curry. He’s the most likable character in the movie, because unlike virtually everyone else you meet, he delivers his dialogue in a way that feels real, rather than stilted, from the get go. His chemistry with Amber Heard works, she gets better as the film moves along, but early on, even her lines are wooden. It’s not her fault. This script is…not grand.
From a casting perspective, it’s solid, with Momoa, Heard, and Nicole Kidman standing brightest. No one is objectively terrible, but it’s an eclectic mix to be sure, and not an ensemble that will probably top any lists because of the writing. Patrick Wilson’s Orm (Ocean Master) is fine, but nothing memorable, and that goes for many of the secondary performances. That sounds harsh, but it’s mainly because the dialogue just isn’t very good.
These are talented people that have to go above and beyond just to make some of these lines respectable.
Visually, it’s a treat for the senses, even if you can always tell just how effect-driven it all is, and begs to be seen on a large screen to take in all the exotic scenery, both on land and on water. It’s a true spectacle and saves some astonishingly impressive set pieces and CGI work for its final stretch. If only the writing and particularly the script matched the aesthetics. Speaking to the acting, what these individuals are asked to say is sometimes comically (no pun intended) phony and overwrought. It needed to be better, particularly in the first half of the movie.
As a whole, the plot could have been executed better, and although it’s simple enough to follow, it unspools like someone that just opened a deck of cards, tried to shuffle them, and lost the grip. The cards end up back in the stack, but not as cleanly as it could have been otherwise. But it’s still a lot of fun to play rummy, and there’s still some entertainment inside Arthur Curry’s world.
This is Aquaman‘s origin story, explaining how he was born, how he came to be, and how his uniqueness provided the basis for being the perfect hero. Curry’s reluctance to get involved adds a believable layer of humanity to him, and Momoa sells it well. Aquaman ends on a high note that makes sense and provides some crowd pleasing moments, both for longtime fans of the character or DC Comics as well as those just wanting to see a big budget action film during the holiday season. If those movies appeal to you, you’ll find Aquaman adequate.
My review is a C. It doesn’t stink, but it’s not going to change DC’s fortunes. It’s decent, not a disaster, but that’s about as far as it goes. It benefits from Momoa, who has all the qualities of a superstar in future installments and the way he plays off Amber Heard’s Mera. Those two work beautifully together and the snark and biting wit is just as effective as the romance. Hampered by a poor script and a bloated run time.
A sequel is on the way. Hopefully it will be better. There’s something here, but James Wan hasn’t found it yet. Aquaman will make some money, it’s not a failure, but to call it a success would be a stretch. DC still has a ways to go. Wonder Woman remains the golden goose respective to live action efforts, with some quality animated work helping to balance out some of the duds.
Aquaman would probably be second on the live-action list, but this film isn’t in the universe of that one, both literally and figuratively. Measure your expectations, or if you’re like me, they weren’t very high to begin with, and you’ll be fine. I liked it more than I thought I might, but I have no desire to see it again. I’ll be curious what the follow-up is, however. I’m more intrigued today than I was a week ago, so that’s a positive development.
(One other quick note: There’s a reason to stay to the middle of the credits, but not one to stay after that point, unless you’re respectfully reading the cavalcade of contributor names.)
I’m @JMartZone. I can swim.