1/4, 2010s, Action, DCEU, James Wan, Review

Aquaman

Amazon.com : AQUAMAN MOVIE POSTER 2 Sided ORIGINAL Advance 27x40 ...

I’ll have to write through the DCEU at some point, but I guess I’m starting here. I’m one of those weird people that really likes Zack Snyder’s take on the Superman and Batman stories. There’s real cinematic ambition at work there, and while its reach may exceed its grasp, it tries to be mythic in scope. James Wan’s Aquaman is a very different animal. It’s certainly big and obviously very expensive, but the film feels smaller, and its not the stakes at play. Also, it seems obvious that Wan’s time making mediocre popcorn horror films have not taught him the ins and outs of how to build a story.

Looking through some positive reviews of the film I see some common themes. There’s a lot of praise for the visuals, the special effects, the action, and the humor. Well, the movie certainly very often looks quite expensive and it sometimes does look pretty good (especially the Trench attack late in the film), but this is mostly praise for a film’s ability to hire hundreds of visual effects artists more than anything else. A lot of this is to do with the movie’s poor world building.

The story first, though. Arthur Curry is the son of the queen of Atlantis and some guy who lives in a house by the sea in New England. Being the son of the queen of Atlantis, he has special water powers like breathing underwater and swimming really fast and, apparently, being just this side of invincible. After his mother gets torn from him at a very young age, Nuidis, the vizier from Atlantis, comes and trains him for years in short little scenes that don’t even amount to a training montage. After the events of Justice League, Arthur is somewhat responsible for the death of a pirate, leaving the pirate’s son itching for murder. In the middle of the ocean, Orm, Arthur’s half-brother from their mother and another Atlantian, is consolidating power to become the Ocean Master and wage war on the surface. This doesn’t sit well with Nuidis or Mera, Orm’s betrothed and daughter to another of the sea kings. They go off to recruit Arthur to challenge Orm and become King of Atlantis.

So, when this movie isn’t giving us really expensive special effects shots of submarines, giant seahorses, and vibrantly colored underwater cities, it’s giving us really boring scenes where people with names we cannot remember explain things to other people with names we cannot remember. In most movies, these would be done in bland environments, but in Aquaman, they’re done in, well, bland environments with some thin layers of water effects around them. Seriously, most of the world building in this film is Orm flatly explaining to people his plan to consolidate power without giving us a clear view of who in Earth he’s talking about.

Then, for really inexplicable reasons, the movie decides to become an Indiana Jones knockoff for about forty minutes where Arthur and Mera have to take a thing to a place where they get another thing which they have to take to another place which directs them to another place and finally directs them to the Trench, one of the seven kingdoms under the sea. This is where the funny is supposed to come in, but like pretty much every scene in the film, nothing here feels fleshed out enough to carry any amount of character beyond some quick quips (which, of course, means that Arthur and Mera are going to totally fall in love by the end). I would say it’s an excuse to get them out of the way of Orm so that Orm can consolidate more power while they’re away, but they end up trapped in the Trench with no escape at one point. Instead of having a forty minute and unsatisfying Indiana Jones knockoff, they could have given us twenty minutes of the pair trying to find a way out, getting to know each other, and then finding the surprise guest near the end.

For a movie that’s a hundred and sixty minutes long, it does feel shockingly short in some ways, and that’s because it doesn’t spend any time with any single scene beyond those that demand lots of special effects, like fights. It’s paced very quickly, and that ends up being a bad thing because it makes the film very thin where character interactions feel perfunctory rather than meaningful.

And, the special effects. Again, this movie very often looks expensive, but it only occasionally looks good. The approach to the Trench, when Arthur and Mera have to jump from their rinky dink boat and into the water (why two creatures that can swim much faster than a small boat can putter along actually take the boat, I do not know) actually looks really striking as Arthur holds out a series of flares that lights them and the swarm of creatures trying to get to them that surrounds them. However, the flight through Atlantis offers a good counterpoint. It’s full of colors and it looks like a team of digital artists spent hundreds of hours each on every little detail to bring it out, but it ends up feeling flat because we don’t get any sense of what anything we’re seeing is. This is where some actual world building would have benefited the film, allowing us time to explore Atlantis a bit with Arthur as our eye and ears into this new world, learning about what’s going on in this fantastic city. Instead, they quickly move to a sunken ship where they hide away from the special effects and then have a fight.

I really did not like this movie. It’s thin with little focus and an almost complete inability to tell a story. I imagine it’s not going to age particularly well for those who were blown away by it on their first viewing.

Rating: 1/4

8 thoughts on “Aquaman”

  1. Watching this made me tired and didn’t engage me at all. I liked Willem Dafoe, but kept expecting him to become a villain. But the whole movie gave the impression was that they were told they weren’t going to get an Aquaman trilogy, so they decided to cram their trilogy into a single movie.

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    1. Yeah, tired is what I ended up feeling as well.

      And I hadn’t considered the idea that they were cramming in several movies into one, but that’s obviously what they were doing.

      It also feels weird for DC to grab the guy who made the Conjuring movies to direct their big undersea epic. Well, they’re not sorry since the stupid thing made a billion dollars, so what do I know?

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      1. I see the trilogy as being–
        1. Aquaman thinks he’s alone in the world. The fight between Black Manta is the main story. But there are questions raised–where did Manta get weapons like that?
        2. More hints about Aquaman’s heritage. Then Willem Dafoe shows up, they go to Atlantis, his backstory becomes clearer. But he sees weapons similar to the ones Manta had, which makes him think something’s not right. Admittedly, this film is pretty weak and unclear, but I’m not a screenwriter.
        3. The fight between Aquaman and Ocean Master, ending with Aquaman becoming king of Atlantis.

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      2. That would require patience on the part of DC and WB, and they’ve been desperate to play catch up with Marvel since Man of Steel was released.

        In the second movie, you could have the Indiana Jones type adventure to hold everything together, to follow a trail of clues until he comes to that horrible truth that the Ocean Master is manipulating everything to get the war that’s been building up over the course of the first two movies.

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  2. he got the weapons from the atlanteans, a superhero film is supposed to be fun, not the grim dreck that zack snyder turns out, it’s largely underwar asgard with loki as the hero, there were some cringe worthy moments, but on balance, yes james kwan gave it some lovecraftian touches,

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    1. My argument isn’t that this is bad because it’s different from Snyder, but that it’s bad at what it tries to accomplish. It does WANT to be fun, but I find everything about it so poorly assembled that it’s never fun just plodding.

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  3. The shining example that would have saved the DCEU is Bruce Timm. He made Aquaman a compelling, interesting character. Hell, he made GREEN ARROW a compelling, interesting character, to the point where people turned from “Oh, God, it’s Green Arrow” to “Hey, cool, it’s Green Arrow! This one will be good!”

    Anyone who could do that deserves to hold the DCEU reins.

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