Sea-Thor, Sea-Thor, on the sea floor?
After one of the most disappointing payoffs in cinema history scuppered all that good will provided by Wonder Woman, you had to wonder where could the DCEU go next after Justice League? After all, next up on their slate was Aquaman, a character routinely mocked on shows such as Robot Chicken and Family Guy, portrayed by an actor who had already flubbed bringing Conan back to the big screen. “Plumbing the depths” seemed a very apt phrase indeed, especially concerning a dude who can talk to fish…
Well put those negative thoughts on hold for a second because Aquaman ain’t bad. In fact it’s actually rather good. Flawed, most definitely, but a massive slice of dumb, epic, blockbuster rambunctiousness that is rough and charming as it’s lead.
We rejoin the Aquaman, aka the hulking child of two worlds who signs his checks Arthur Curry, trying to do right for the world following the events of Justice League as he speeds across the oceans, thwarting acts of piracy like the new sheriff in town. Casually starting a blood feud with a military trained lunatic named Black Manta without even trying, Arthur heads back to shoot brews with his dear old dad and morn the disappearance of his mother, a princess of Atlantis who fell in love his father after escaping from an arranged marriage. However, trouble is bubbling under the surface of the seas as Arthur’s half brother, King Orm (not sure who got the short end of the stick when it came to names, there), tries to unite the numerous undersea kingdoms under his rule to wage war on us filthy, polluting, airbreathers and the water manipulating Mera comes to Curry to ask his help in claiming his right to the throne. Thus begins a globe hopping adventure that takes us from tomb raiding on dry land to Lord Of The Rings sized battles on the very depths of the ocean floor; can the roguish Arthur Curry finally reconcile his mixed heritage and save two worlds from all-out war?
As you just read, the plot is… frankly unnessesary and yet extraordinarily complicated. The barest bones on which to hang lots and LOTS of massive scale action beats. In fact it’s like they laid out a table full of concepts for action set pieces in order to choose which to use and some bright spark suggested “I dunno, ALL of ’em?”
That bright spark was most likely horror/action director James Wan, a guy who has fully embraced the ludicrous nature of the story behind Arthur Curry and who just wants to make the biggest, dumbest superhero movie he can while packing in so much stuff into his movie that you’re convinced everyone involved was convinced there was no chance of a sequel. He needn’t have worried, as Aquaman, for most of it’s staggeringly gargantuan runtime, is an gloriously idiotic action adventure extravaganza that’s mostly pure action. Massive battle scenes, unatural disasters, super powered fist fights and general carnage seem to kick off at regular intervals of what seems like every ten minutes (not even some bus services run that regular).
Casting the harsh-edged “realism” of Zack Snyder’s DCEU efforts to the wind, Wan’s movie goes full retina-searing, day-glow fantasy, with much of the endearingly enthusiastic cast looking like super-rad action figures; arch villain Black Manta’s giant domed, mongloid-headed battle suit, for example, simply just shouldn’t work on film but somehow proves to be a highlight on sheer nerve alone. In fact the whole thing looks like The Little Mermaid re-imagined as a cover to a Nordic metal album, especially when the Trench, an entire race of Piranha-faced flesh Eaters make their entrance…
The cast are impressively game with Jason Momoa finally having more to do than scream “YEAH!” and “I DIG IT!” every 3 minutes like he did in Justice League (although admittedly not THAT much more) and he holds the screen tightly with that rough and ready, beefcake charisma we all love him for. Wan regular Patrick Wilson in his villain role also goes all in, finally cut loose from the usual, buttoned down, parental roles the director usually bequeaths him as he bellows commands and somehow convinces even when he announces himself “Ocean Master” without a shed of irony. Major props too to Amber Heard who sidesteps the exposition/girlfriend role neatly and even manages pulls off a fabulous dress made of jellyfish that wouldn’t look out of place on Ru Paul’s Drag Race.
When you’re not staring, transfixed by everyone’s oddly calming, computer generated underwater hair, it’s evident that this is by far the most “Marvel” of any DC movie yet, everyone here may inhale water but they breathe pure levity and jettisoning the usual Batman levels of gloom the film soars. There’s no time for Man Of Steel style angst here, we’ve giant, Julie Andrew’s voiced, Kraken-sized sea monsters to roll out, God dammit!
The sheer amount of balls on this film to not only be a “single character” origin movie that manages to almost be as long as Avengers: Infinity War, but ALSO defiantly refuses to reference the DCEU as a whole (Justice League barely warrants a single line in mention) simply cannot be ignored. But then bravado over brains is pretty much what Mamoa’s portrayal of the character is all about and for some, it’s admittedly going to be a little bit too much. With hardly a scene that doesn’t involve super heroics, fantastical kingdoms, giant sea monsters and SO much CGI (I counted at least FOUR dialogue scenes suddenly being cut short with a “shock” explosion that sends people scattering like bowling pins) the sheer unrelenting energy of the thing can simply be numbing, but for those with the mental resilience of a 12 year old it’s deliriously epic. It’s also deliriously reminiscent of virtually every blockbuster made over the last 15 years or so, referencing, homaging and in some cases outright stealing from movies like Avatar, Black Panther, Clash Of The Titans, Ant-Man & The Wasp, Tron: Legacy and many others, but then again, none of those movies featured Dolph Lundgren riding a seahorse or an octopus playing the drums…
Sure, more than a few duff FX shots slip through and you could easily carve out a good half hour without losing a single thing, but the sheer, uncut energy of this thing overrides the vast quantities of ridiculous hurled haphazardly at your rapidly dilating eyeballs.
Check your cynicism at the door and let Aquaman wash right over you…
Damn. That sounded filthy.