‘Aquaman’ Review: Holy Crap, They Actually Made a Big-Budget Aquaman Movie
Jesus turned water into wine, but to the best of my knowledge he never turned wine into flying wine knives.
Score one for Aquaman.
Technically, the wine-into-weapon gag is performed by Aquaman’s partner, Mera, who can control water with her mind. But Aquaman has plenty of tricks up his sleeves too — or he would if he ever wore a shirt with sleeves. He launches himself into a submarine like a human missile. He jumps out of an airplane without a parachute. He spins a trident like the world’s brawniest competitive baton twirler. Basically, this movie is two and a half hours of Jason Momoa doing ridiculous s— punctuated by Jason Momoa saying ridiculous s—. If you can’t get a chuckle out of watching this guy ride a seahorse like a drunken surfer, why do you even go to the movies in the first place?
Originally played by Queens Boulevard’s Vincent Chase as a more laconic hero, under the control of director James Wan, Aquaman has now morphed into a kind of underwater libertine barbarian. Wan’s Aquaman follows Momoa as he reluctantly sets off on a quest to reclaim his birthright as the King of the Seven Seas. Born of a surface-dweller (Temuera Morrison) and the queen of Atlantis (Nicole Kidman), Momoa’s Arthur Curry grows up resenting his aquatic side. (His mother left him at a young age to keep him safe from her underwater enemies.)
Aquaman finally accepted his powers and gifts — he’s super strong and tough, can swim incredibly fast, and oh yeah he can talk to freaking fish — in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Now Arthur learns from Mera (Amber Heard) that his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) wants to start a war with mankind, partly because mankind has poisoned the oceans with pollution, and partly because Orm just really enjoys screaming things like “ATTACK!” at the top of his lungs and this sort of cataclysmic struggle would give him a very solid excuse to express himself in that way on a regular basis.
If the Justice League movie gave us nothing else (and, to be clear, it gave us nothing else), at least it gave us Momoa’s scruffily charming Aquaman. This version of the character, which personality-wise is quite different from the DC Comics one upon which the film is otherwise based, is basically what would happen if the nice guy at your gym who always wants to share his equipment decided to move under the sea and fight crime. Momoa’s chummy nonchalance in the face of increasingly outlandish situations is the key to the whole picture. Even as Aquaman expands to monstrous scope, even when there are dudes in bright purple armor shooting laser beams from tridents while riding giant hammerhead sharks, you’ve always got Momoa in the middle of everything with a twinkle in his eye that practically screams “Can you believe they’re letting me do this?”
For the record, I can’t. I couldn’t even believe I was watching it. We’ve come a long way from the days when studio executives were hesitant to put the X-Men in bright costumes because they were worried audiences would think they looked stupid. Aquaman is bursting with more colors than an acid trip. Although he was introduced by Zack Snyder as a dude in grungy slacks and tattoos, Aquaman goes full Super Friends by the end of this movie, donning his classic orange-and-green costume. By that point, Aquaman might be the most gleefully silly comic-book movie since Batman & Robin. (On a possibly related note: Jason Momoa’s Aquaman codpiece is shocking. It’s like the size of a loaf of bread.)
Momoa even keeps things entertaining when the film’s frenetic pace threatens to tip over from relentless to completely exhausting. Aquaman runs a too-long 143 minutes, and it feels like at least 30 more minutes was trimmed from the theatrical release. No one onscreen is allowed to sit and talk for more than four minutes before a bunch of bad guys interrupt by blasting a hole in a wall — a gag Wan repeats at least four times to push the story forward. It’s as if Wan is afraid to slow down, lest the audience realize just how preposterous this gargantuan blockbuster about a man wearing a glittery orange shirt really is.
Particularly in the latter sections, there’s just too much crammed into the story. Early scenes consider Aquaman’s celebrity status after the events of Justice League — then that thread is totally forgotten. Classic Aquaman baddie Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) gets a few scenes, and he certainly looks cool in his evil scuba gear (everything in Aquaman looks cool), but his entire subplot could have been cut and no one would have noticed it was missing. The crucial final battle sequence begins with literally no exposition or explanation; one minute Orm is assembling an alliance of underwater kingdoms and the next he’s sending thousands of mermen into battle against a bunch of crabs for ... reasons? By that point, Aquaman left me feeling a little bit like a used towel that had just been wrung out.
Still, I also had a fair amount of admiration for what Wan achieved. He managed to make a gigantic, $200 million Aquaman movie that fully embraces the character’s roots in all of their goofy, pop Shakespearean glory. As he proved in Furious 7, Wan has exactly the right touch for over-the-top Hollywood action. He knows how to have fun with absurd material without making fun of it.
There are some legitimate criticisms you can level against Aquaman. You could never say, however, that this movie doesn’t go for it. It goes for everything — maybe too much, when all is said and done. Just because you can turn wine into flying wine knives doesn’t mean you can make actual miracles happen.
-Aquaman can breathe on dry land because he’s half human, but I never quite figured out why some of the other Atlantean characters can breathe out of water and some can’t. The rule seems to be: If the character is played by a famous person, they can breathe air. If they’re not, they can’t.
-A sampling of some of the movies Aquaman is (sometimes shamelessly) pilfered from: Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Gladiator, Avatar, Pirates of the Caribbean, Pacific Rim, and The Karate Kid.
-Aquaman features gigantic monsters, a lost civilization hidden for centuries at the bottom of the ocean, and a man who can talk to fish by putting his hand in the air and squinting, but the hardest thing to believe in the entire movie is that a guy who looks like Jason Momoa would be named “Arthur.”
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