At long last, a movie that lives up to ‘Wonder Woman’. A visual treat that sets DC back on track.
A few months back, I wrote a piece giving my thoughts on ‘Aquaman‘s’ first trailer, and expressed fear at the film’s dialogue and excitement for the potential of the vibrant underwater and overground visuals we’d been shown. It could have gone either way, but I was tentatively excited for what could have been made of the short glimpse of a character we were presented with in ‘Justice League’, under the supervision of a director known for his visual horror movies and high-octane action in the ‘Insidious’ and ‘Fast and Furious’ franchises.
James Wan and his visual team have single-handedly proved to me that DC’s cinematic efforts are still worth believing in.
Let’s backtrack a bit; ‘Aquaman’ is the solo debut of Jason Momoa’s ‘Aquaman’ (Real name ‘Arthur Curry’), the son of a lighthouse-keeper and the queen of Atlantis. A superhero with the power to telepathically communicate with underwater life, swim at lightning speed and survive underwater, as well as the standard suite of super-strength and bulletproof skin. Atlantis is here depicted as a technological utopia ruled over by a relative of Arthur’s who is preparing to reveal the previously secret kingdom to the world and destroy or enslave the rest of the world as revenge of their wrongdoings against their people, and it’s up to our protagonist to challenge them for the throne to stop the war…
…Wait a minute…
…That’s EXACTLY the plot of ‘Black Panther’!
Yes, original storytelling is not this film’s strong suit – and, as I feared – neither is the dialogue, which is a mixture of fairly bland one-liners and clunky expository dialogue, which does a fairly good job of blunting most of the film’s characters. The villain, Patrick Wilson’s ‘Ocean Master’ King Orm, Willem Dafoe’s mentor character Velko, and especially Amber Heard’s sidekick / love interest Mera all ended up being stuck with lines that do a good job of robbing them of their personalities – Which is a shame, as their performances (When combined with the excellent costume design and visual effects) do give away a fair amount of personality that leads me to remember them in greater detail than some of their contemporaries- they most certainly beat Jesse Eisenberg or Amy Adams, that’s for sure.
So, if you managed to get yourself overly excited for this movie and accidentally blinded yourself trying to see in the ocean, then this film isn’t going to be for you, unfortunately.
But thank god that this is a movie – for ‘Aquaman’ does what most comic book movies, even the greats, fail to do – by breathing life into the universe its source material presents in a way only a superhero comic movie could. Every one of the film’s dozen action set pieces feels like a painting in motion, making clever use of POV shots, 360-degree camera rotations, CGI sets which give a massively wide view of large-scale battles in ways that beat out ‘Lord of the Rings’ at one or two moments – All demonstrating both a creative passion and great talent for the visual story we are being told. Particular highlights include a laser battle through the rooftops an Italian island and a gigantic Godzilla-like sea creature which would have been the focal point of some other films. Whilst some of the one-on-one battles visually harken back to a slightly damper and more vibrant ‘Man of Steel’, other scenes fill and excite the senses with swaths of colour and full use of the very skillfully used CGI- even down to little touches like the Villain’s helmet animating like flesh would, or the distinct colour coding during large battle scenes. As a visual spectacle, ‘Aquaman’ easily beats any and all DC movies to date, and easily matches the mind-bending visual shenanigans of ‘Doctor Strange’ or ‘Inception’ in terms of sheer wow-factor. if you see one movie in IMAX this year, ‘Aquaman’ would be a very good choice indeed.
Jason Momoa’s performance as the titular hero builds upon the ‘enjoyable, but nothing special’ joke character we met in ‘Justice League’ and breathes life into Arthur Curry as a human, giving us a reason to care about him and thus genuine pride when he achieves his goals – More than any DC protagonist save for ‘Wonder Woman’, Arthur Curry is a hero I could empathise with, thanks his light-hearted demeanour which makes him a great vessel through which we can experience the alien world the civilised ocean setting provides. Meanwhile, the supporting cast I mentioned earlier provide nothing uniquely special, they do nonetheless to their part in creating an entertaining narrative flow which is neither inaccessible nor dumbed down to the point of being completely stock. The secondary villain of Black Manta, played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, is an especially pertinent example of this – While his character was never going to give me chills like Thanos or the Joker have, he nonetheless carries his role as a physical threat to Aquaman with a believable reason for his villainy, mainly through sheer rage. Each character’s personality is distinct and believable and every decision they make fits perfectly within said character’s morals and attitude. Whilst no actor will be winning an Oscar for their performance, none fall flat in the slightest and do a fantastic job of ferrying the movie’s action along nicely without me ever feeling bored.
Whilst the dialogue and storytelling may leave more to be desired, those willing to forgive a basic but reliable plot will find themselves rewarded with a visual treat which doesn’t take its characters too seriously, allowing a fantastically enjoyable spectacle of a movie which deserves to be seen at the cinema and praised independently of its peers.