WGN would like to introduce a special guest reviewer John Brhel who kindly took the time to watch and write about one of this Christmas’s big blockbuster movies on our behalf.
John works as a social media and marketing professional and also writes and publishes ghost stories with Joe Sullivan through Cemetery Gates Media. Their book Corpse Cold was a successful Kickstarter campaign last year and Carol For A Haunted Man, their modern spin on the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, is a great ghost story for the festive season. Links to John’s site and books will be posted below the review, but for now, over to John…
Aquaman: Lacking in depth but dripping with fun
Aquaman is a movie featuring a drum-playing octopus, a villain who refers to himself as “Ocean Master,” and a giant sea monster voiced by Oscar-winner Julie Andrews. It’s the silliest, most insane superhero movie in a while (well, at least since Thor: Ragnarok) and a welcome departure from the dour, oh-so-serious tone that has defined the DC Extended Universe. It’s not a great movie — it’s marred by wooden acting and lame jokes — but it’s visually stunning, action-packed, and fun, almost like, well, a comic book.
Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is the product of a forbidden love affair between human Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison) and Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), the queen of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis. Like his mother, Arthur can breathe underwater, communicate with ocean creatures, and shoot through water like a rocket. As a guy in green tights who talks to fish, Aquaman has been the butt of jokes for some time, a C-lister to A-listers like Superman and Batman. But Momoa helps give the character some much-needed edge. Sure, he may initially come off as a tatted-up dude-bro who looks like he kicks back a twelve-pack of Monster Energy every day, but he’s got presence, a sort-of laid-back, “whatever, man” charm. He’s no wise-cracking genius like Tony Stark, or brooding, tortured figure like Bruce Wayne, but we’ve already got those guys. How about a big lug who likes to pound beer and shout about how awesome everything is?
When Atlanna is forced to return to Atlantis, Arthur comes under the tutelage of Nuidis Vulko (William Dafoe), who trains him how to fight. But Arthur remains wary of the underwater kingdom after learning his mother was executed for bearing him, a “half-breed” son. He chooses to live life as a human, rejecting the throne to which he is heir. But Arthur’s past literally resurfaces when he is visited by Mera, an undersea princess who warns him that his half-brother and now-king of Atlantis Orm (Patrick Wilson) is set to wage war on the surface. It’s a typical Hero’s Journey thenceforth — Arthur initially rejects the call, but after his father is nearly killed in a tidal wave created by Orm, he agrees to venture to Atlantis and embrace his destiny.
And oh, what a dazzling and awe-inspiring world Atlantis is. It’s like an underwater version of Avatar’s Pandora — colorful, majestic, everything aglow — but boasting advanced technology, vehicles, and some really sick cannons. It’s a world unlike any we’ve seen in the DC Universe so far, more akin to something from Star Wars (dare I say, the Gungan City from The Phantom Menace?) or Lord of the Rings. Sure, some of it looks cheesy — it’s jarring to see Wilson in blonde locks and armor, floating in an obvious blue-screen sea — but it’s about as good as you can expect for a whole world set undersea in 2018. One scene in particular, in which Arthur and Mera are chased through a dark trench by a legion of monsters (this is directed by horror auteur James Wan, after all) utilizes light and darkness in a really cool and novel way.
But don’t expect to stay submerged throughout the entirety of Aquaman. Maybe it’s because I’m a surface-dweller, or maybe I just felt suffocated, but it’s a nice change of pace when we leave the sea and do a little globe-trotting. See, in order to take his rightful place as king, Arthur needs to retrieve a fabled MacGuffin known as the Trident of Atlan. This mission takes him and Mera to the Sahara Desert and then to Sicily, where they solve a series of riddles and engage in some rooftop parkour. It’s a little weird to be suddenly thrust into an Indiana Jones/DaVinci Code-type movie, and Arthur and Mera aren’t necessarily the most intellectual characters, but the change is welcome and helps to open up the second act.
What wasn’t welcome were the lame jokes. Don’t get me wrong — I expect one-liners in a movie like this, but many of the attempts at deadpan humor, which Marvel so effortlessly nails, fall flat. There are a few funny scenes, like the one in which a group of tough-looking bar patrons confront Arthur, only to ask him for a selfie, but these are few and far in-between. Unfortunately, there are several unintentional laughs throughout. I mean, what were the screenwriters thinking when they had Orm talk about becoming the “Ocean Master” in such a serious, unironic way? I heard several people laugh out loud at the theater during this scene. Some eye-winking, “we know this is dumb” type of acting would have helped, but everyone plays it straight. I say go full camp or no camp.
If DC drops the drab and makes more movies like Aquaman, it’d be a good thing. This is the second-best DCEU film, with Wonder Woman at number one. DC still can’t offer the same level of storytelling and charm that Marvel Studios, but Aquaman is proof that they’re improving. Aquaman isn’t a classic — it’s a movie with talking crab people, for crying out loud — but it is big, dumb fun.
- Stunning visuals
- Awesome world building
- Likeable lead
- Bad jokes
- Jarring tonal shifts