Television & Film

What We Thought About AQUAMAN

Aquaman (2018)
Screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall
Story by Geoff Johns & James Wan and Will Beall
Directed by James Wan

Produced by Peter Safran and Rob Cowan
Rated PG-13

A couple of weeks ago, we had the opportunity to see Aquaman at an early screening, and we debated how we would cover the movie. Would one of us write a review? Would we record a podcast? Do a video?

We finally came to the conclusion that we’re going to share our individual thoughts here, and let you get our unvarnished thoughts all together in one place. So let’s … dive in.

(L-r) JASON MOMOA as Aquaman and PATRICK WILSON as King Orm (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Maia Ades: Watching Aquaman in a preview screening for mostly press, I think, skews the audience reaction. Most of the audience has seen a lot of movies. They review movies. They go to these screenings with a different eye or agenda than the general audience member. They are watching the movie with a critical view looking for what works, and what doesn’t. The process of reviewing films and breaking them down into a critique can take away the experience of just watching the movie.

Are there problems with this movie? Sure. Is it fun to watch? Yes.

(Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

My biggest story complaint is throwing in a romantic B plot. It doesn’t work. There’s no chemistry between the two characters or actors. At one point I thought we’d discover that Mera was Arthur’s half sister or something. Their relationship felt much more familial or platonic than romantic. Of course it would have been awkward if she were his half sister since she’s betrothed to Arthur’s half brother. But I didn’t take the time while watching it to work those things out. They just didn’t feel or look like a blooming romance. And it was disappointing that there couldn’t be a strong female character in the story that wasn’t there to be a romantic interest. Why couldn’t she just have been helping Arthur because it was the right thing to do? Because avoiding war and saving lives has value? Not because she has the hots for the lead.

Something that audiences may not be able to label, but they’ll feel the edit is just a bit lazy. The film, as a whole, does not hold the tension because there are places where the editing is not tight enough. Meaning that it holds just a tad too long on shots. Timing, in comedy and action movies, is critical. When the timing is off, the audience loses interest. In a big budget action movie, you should never have time to wonder about other things. You should only be concerned with the story and going along for the ride.

I had time to wonder why some of the aqua people could breathe air and others could not. Why, if Atlantis has been hidden all this time, were the guards smashing through a village to kill two of their own? Who chose video game music for that sequence? Why in all of that did no one call the police? Basically, aliens are crashing through your ceiling and you don’t call for help? I expected to at least hear police sirens by the end of all that. And later in the movie, why would you stop for a long kissing session with a huge dangerous battle going on all around you? Even more to the point, why would you be kissing someone that you don’t love? I never bought the idea that Mera and Arthur love each other.

Copyright: © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

There is a ton of CGI on this. A lot of it you’d expect. It wouldn’t be practical to build Atlantis. The different races of Mer-people are created with CGI. But I’m also pretty sure that it was used to make actors look younger and older than the actor is. And that got in the way of story telling. At its core, a movie is just a way to tell a story. Anything that takes from that shouldn’t be there.

My last big complaint is some of the acting doesn’t work for me. It wasn’t an across the board thing. It was a scene here or there, a moment that didn’t read well. Mera on the ship at the end of the movie. I don’t know what the director gave her on how to play that scene, but they should have worked on it a bit more. She reminded me of a high school actor trying really hard to sell the scene.

 

Tim Harvey: I’m not going for a moment to pretend that Aquaman is fine art, or even fine filmmaking, but I did have a fine time watching it.

Yes, it’s a little long – 20 minutes or so could easily have gone away – and has some real clunkers in dialogue, but it’s clear that the cast and crew had a blast making the film, and that clearly translates into the kind of box office numbers that Aquaman is currently enjoying. After the GRIMDARK™ of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, and the wildly inconsistent tone of Justice League, there’s something to be said for the unabashed embracing of the ridiculousness of underwater kingdoms and heroes who talk to fish. If anything, Aquaman needed to push it further, but that big a shift might have been a bridge too far too soon for Warner Bros/DC.
Look, I’m someone has who found things to like in all of DC’s live-action films so far, if only the performances when the stories have let us down. (Yes, that means I was even moderately entertained by Suicide Squad. It’s dumb as all hell, but it had its moments, few though they might have been.) Wonder Woman showed audiences that DC can make a well-written, serious and beautiful film about (gasp) a female superhero and destroyed the decades-long nonsense that audiences don’t want such things in the process. Here, they took a character that – outside of the comics that have treated Arthur Curry seriously for over a decade now – most audiences know from bad-if-beloved Saturday morning cartoons and comically exaggerated cameos, and made him into a hero. Jason Momoa was one of the best parts of Justice League, and here he’s given the space to show Arthur is more than the leave-me-alone-thrill-seeker of that film, and to my pleasant surprise, given villains to play off of that have actual motivations and character development. Momoa’s chemistry with, well, everyone, and sheer pleasure in playing Aquaman is infectious, and will likely carry most viewers over some of the parts of the film that might not bear the closest of scrutiny.
YAHYA ABDUL-MATEEN II as Black Manta (Jasin Boland/ ™ & © DC Comics)
And hats off to James Wan and his vision of this film, because it could have gone so very wrong. For a movie that spends most of its running time under water, Wan and his crew have done some serious world-building, diving into – pun intended – the lore and possibilities of the comic  to make a spectacular and sometimes even beautiful world for Arthur & Co to inhabit and explore. If they sometimes go overboard – OK, that one wasn’t planned – well, I’m not going to complain about Julie Andrews’ cameo for anything. Would I have liked to see more development of Amber Heard’s Mera? Yes, and I would have lost some of the great visuals to have that, but for what is both a sequel, and an origin story for just about everybody involved, Wan, Momoa, and the rest do a pretty great job.
So, yes, Aquaman is big and loud and overstuffed, beautiful to look at, a bit cheesy and sometimes a little dumb, but I enjoyed it because it embraces its comic book origins and has  fun. There are far worse things.

 

Dan Handley:  Aquaman is pure mindless fun. The only part that has any real depth is the underwater location. But it doesn’t need a great story to be a fun ride. It is, at times, over the top. But it’s supposed to be!

This film certainly isn’t without its issues. There is some exposition that is rather awkward and forced. The camera moves at times when it’s unnecessary, accomplishing nothing other than raising the animation costs. The action is sometimes hard to follow. In that regard, James Wan should think less like Michael Bay and more like George Miller.
Jason Momoa as Aquaman (Jasin Boland/ ™ & © DC Comics)
I was first introduced to Aquaman by way of Super Friends, where he was a confident, though not always the most useful, hero. The comics have him as a regal and heroic king. The cartoon series Justice League Unlimited presented a similar treatment: dark, brooding, angry — although Batman: The Brave & The Bold presented him as very — outrageously — comical. For those who are already familiar with the source material for Arthur Curry/Aquaman, it’s a bit difficult to fully accept Aquabro. Still, it’s a fun characterization nonetheless and not too difficult to overlook given the film’s thrill ride context. And for those not as familiar with the source material, such a characterization shouldn’t be any issue.
Aquaman certainly isn’t looking to win any awards, just provide a bit of fun. It’s a major step up from the dark and brooding tone of the earlier DC films. It seems some executives have woken up to the fact that it didn’t work. This movie certainly isn’t the outstanding film that Wonder Woman was. But still, Aquaman is certainly worth the price of admission.

 

Jason Hunt: Well, Aquaman sure is pretty.

Yes, it’s a fun ride. Yes, it’s much more colorful and brighter in tone than most of the other films in the DCEU. Yes, it’s dumb. There are moments in this film where I really wondered if James Wan knew what kind of film he was making. My comment to the others when we got out: “I felt like I was watching Green Lantern.”

By that, I mean to say that Aquaman has some of the same story problems that Green Lantern had — it’s trying to tell too many stories in the same movie. There’s the “lost mother” story, and the “boy who would be king” story, and the “reluctant hero” story, and the “resentful villain” story, and the villain’s origin story, and the National Treasure story, and the Battle of the Underwater Network Stars. It’s too much. Pick three. Pick two. When the film settles on what kind of story it wants to tell, it does all right. But for the most part, I was bored.

Jason Momoa as Aquaman (Jasin Boland/ ™ & © DC Comics)

But how’s that Jason Momoa look without his shirt, right? Warner Bros. wasn’t stupid with their marketing. They didn’t sell an Aquaman movie. They sold a “wet Jason Momoa” movie. And that’s part of the problem with the performances. The characters, for the most part, don’t feel fully formed. I’ve seen elsewhere the notion that the film takes two OK actors, Heard and Momoa, and lets them do their thing while the scenes build around what they’re able to deliver, and to some extent I can agree with that. No one is putting in a full 100% performance here, unless you count Patrick Wilson’s over-the-top scenery chewing. (Could you get any more clichéd with this version of Orm? All he was missing was the twisty handlebar moustache…)

But wait! There’s more!

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

As mentioned already, the CGI at times was half-baked. And I’m not really sure, but maybe there was a memo demanding that de-aged Nicole Kidman was supposed to look like Mermaid Queen Barbie? We definitely napalmed the uncanny valley with this work.

But OK, it’s a fun romp. As long as you don’t look too intensely. As long as you don’t think about it too much. There are gaps in the story logic, inconsistencies with the overall DCEU continuity, and parts where the willing suspension of disbelief takes the willpower of a Green Lantern, but on the whole, it’s not a bad movie.

It’s just not a good one, either.

SciFi4Me Staff

Posts involving multiple members of the staff of SciFi4Me.

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