“Arthur Curry – The Aquaman – must find his place in both the land and the ocean in order to prevent a war that could engulf both.”
Director: James Wan
Writers: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall, Geoff Johns, James Wan
Creators: Paul Norris, Mort Weisinger
Starring: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman (wait, what?), Temuera Morrison, Patrick Wilson (?), Willem Dafoe (whoa, seriously?), Dolph Lungdren (The Dolph’s in this?!?), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and featuring the voices of Djimon Hounsou, John Rhys-Davies and Julie Andrews…this can’t be real!
When I was in my early teens, discovering comics in that most 90’s of decades, one of my older brother’s friends explained to me, with great gravity, the cardinal rule we were all to follow: You are either with Marvel, or with DC – you cannot be in both camps. As an impressionable lad I took this almost-strangers words to heart, and since I had already started with Superman, I figured my die was cast. In truth I never felt like I had reason to regret that – I have always been drawn to the iconography and mythology surrounding the DC superheroes, and never felt the need to relate strongly to them for their foibles and humanity – the hallmark of their Marvelous competition. When comic book properties started being snatched up and produced for the big screen, however, I noted with interest how eagerly Marvel characters were being thrown at audiences, while the old WB seemed a little slow in doing the same for their own four-colour creations. Sure, I’m on board with The Dark Knight just like everyone else, and I’m even something of an apologist for Superman Returns and The Dark Knight Rises. Like so many other fans, however, I couldn’t help but lamenting the sense that Marvel – from Iron Man onward – seemed to have cracked a winning formula that Warner Bros. just couldn’t match, and threatened to leave my beloved Justice Leaguers obsolete; and while I am not as down on the so-called “Snyder-verse” as some have been, I have long wondered when these film folk were going to wise up, embrace the fact that comics and superheroes have an innate level of ridiculousness to them, and just have some fun.
I never could have suspected that of all films to finally go big…it’s Aquaman that has hit the Joy-Joy for me.
A user review on IMDB starts out by saying: “My impression was that this would be yet another bloated studio tentpole with cheesy dialog, a generic story and artificial looking CGI.” To which I respond…well, yeah. That is all absolutely correct. It also simply does not matter, because I was having such a good time with the film that the many “flaws” on display (and they are certainly there) are overcome by the sheer, visceral sense of fun and adventure. To be fair to “Gogoschka-1”, they continue their review with much the same sentiment as me.
i can’t even bother to recount elements of the plot, or the background of the characters; part of the joy is in the often clumsy ways in which the film feeds the audience. I don’t feel I can talk at length about performances in this film either. This may be the first film I have ever seen in which every single person involved has chosen to bathe themselves in the river of Ham immediately prior to “Action!”. It is a perfectly suitable choice for the material, which we should acknowledge is utterly ridiculous at the source, but is somehow made even moreso by James Wan and his beautifully demented team.
We do have to zero in on the key element that bring this whole gloriously enjoyable mess together. It’s this guy:
I think Jason Momoa is an entirely unique kind of actor. He appears as someone who should have been a big deal in the 80’s, but should be somewhat out of style by now; he has an imposing presence, but is not really threatening; he plays serious men who face serious challenges, but seems to be having so much fun all the time! He embodies the qualities of this film: big, bombastic, engaging and uplifting.
I recall an interview with Peter Jackson in which he discusses films like Evil Dead, 28 Days Later and his own Braindead (or Dead Alive depending on where in the world you may have seen it) and says “Seeing films like this makes you want to get your friends and go make low-budget horror of your own because it looks like fun and it is fun.” Aquaman feels like that statement writ large. James Wan has embarked on a massive studio project with an enormous budget, the weight of producer and fan expectations overshadowing everything, working in with an uncertain franchise, not to mention that his central character is widely regarded as the least popular (or most lame, depending on how generous you’re feeling). None of this should have worked. But it does, and it feels like Wan’s own superpower may be in enabling everyone he gathers around him to have such a good time that it is literally transmitted through the screen into our brains.
Big budget movies, with low budget attitude. How sweet is that?
Honestly, this film makes me reassess my own attitude towards films and filmmakers. I don’t tend to like “reviewing” films, and I certainly don’t like scoring them, as I’m very invested in the idea that movies are so subjective an experience that we’re all better served if we just films make us feel. Filmmaking is a craft, however, or perhaps more accurately a combination of a wide array of crafts, and the practitioners of those crafts are capable, at different times, of maintaining a standard or falling short. Normally, when those failings are obvious, it is cause to lessen the status of the film in question. But somehow, this time, it just doesn’t matter. I don’t care about whether dialogue is cheesy; I don’t care that the CGI is, at times, distracting; I don’t care that the story takes unnecessary turns. In the end…Jason Momoa takes on an army of people riding sharks while he himself rides a tentacled sea monst the size of a skyscraper!
I am so pumped for the sequel.
How To Enjoy It
It’s Surf’n’Turf time! After a lazy afternoon on the beach, fire up the BBQ. Make sure the steaks are Eye Fillet, throw on a healthy number of prawns, if some gifted cooks are among you then make up some of your own calamari rings as well. Make sure there’s plenty of beer (I mean plenty), set up deck chairs and bean bags and project the movie in your backyard.