By: Felix Felicis (Three Beers) –
The DC Murderverse has been looking up these past few years (kind of?) from Wonder Woman blowing expectations out of the water to Aquaman rocketing, cannonball-style, into the deep end of this year’s holiday box office ocean. Fair warning, there will be SO MANY aquatic puns in this review. Like all the puns. One could argue that, much like Die Hard, Aquaman is a Christmas movie (if you don’t consider Die Hard one of the DEFINITIVE Christmas movies of all time, stop reading right now and go take a toaster bath – figuratively speaking OF COURSE…). Both movies involve surly men estranged from their families (in some way) just trying to make it home (and stop terrorists from taking over, murder-style) in time to reconcile with loved ones and maybe get the girl (with her informed consent and full agency over her thoughts, feelings, and actions *fist bump* 2018 y’all). Look up “Grinch with redemption arc” in the dictionary and it redirects you to the definition of CHRISTMAS AF, Y’ALL.
Aquaman, and Jason Momoa’s flowing locks, got a backdoor introduction (yeah I went there) in 2017’s Justice League, which yours truly reviewed as well because the DC-verse is my penance for doing what I can only assume was some seriously heinous shit in a past life. Momoa first blasted onto the acting scene as Game of Thrones’ Khal Drogo and he’s been making waves ever since (count it) with his expressive charm and pandemically contagious, gritty, beautifully bearded authenticity of purpose. Jason Momoa infuses Aquaman’s Arthur Curry with his trademark wry wit and tongue-in-cheek charm (with more than a dash of anti-hero origin story). This isn’t a man looking to make a difference like Bruce Wayne’s Batman, but rather one who has the weight of obligation thrust upon his shoulders with only his (rusty) intrinsic ethical compass to guide him through choppy waters and even choppier impulses.
Aquaman opens on a voiceover of one of the most compelling love stories told (with ten total minutes of screen time) since the opening credits of Up. A Maine lighthouse keeper, Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison), chances upon wounded Atlantis Queen Atlanna (the ageless Nicole Kidman) washed up on shore holding a spear in 1978. Cut to a few years later and, having fallen in love and popped out a kid, Atlanna is confronted by her past in the form of Atlanteans come to hold her land-family hostage and take her home to fulfill an arranged marriage and, with a promise to Thomas to escape when it was safe and return to him on the dawn tide, a foxy Atlanna departs. Cool beans.
Years later (and about a year after the events of Justice League) Aquaman rescues a submarine in the midst of being hijacked by modern-day pirates and lets one of them die as a reality of the harshness of the sea and as a repercussion of his own actions. Eye for an eye, savage justice of nature and all that. Less enthused about this is the man’s son, David Kane aka Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who, shockingly, vows revenge.
From here, Arthur gets roped into saving the seven seas and landlubbers combined, embarking on a quest to find a legendary lost trident to usurp his slightly megalomaniacal half-brother’s throne (King Orm played by a weirdly young Patrick Wilson – he’s Arthur Curry’s younger brother but Wilson is, in actuality, about six years OLDER than Jason Momoa) before the seven underwater kingdoms unite and all-out war on land is declared. Child of two worlds, belonging fully to neither but protecting each from the other and all that jazz. Plus OG Mary Poppins shows up (Julie Andrews) to voice the Leviathan Karathan.
You know when you get James Wan attached to direct something, it’s going to be a high-octane visual feast for the senses. Get ya lobster bibs out, Boozers, and get ready to dip this movie in eyeball butter because Wan does not disappoint with Aquaman. Brb. Picturing Jason Momoa dipped in butter. Okay, I’m back. Aquaman shines on several levels. Jason Momoa absolutely carries this movie from opening scene to end credits with his irascible charm and rippling pectorals. It’d be incredibly easy to get swallowed up by the insane CGI and over-the-top visuals, not to mention distracted by the sight of Willem Dafoe in a slicked-back man bun, but Momoa anchors what could have been a bukkake blender filled with disparate cinematic elements, the norm for a DCEU film, into a coherent and clear(ly entertaining) experience.
The music in Aquaman was also spectacular and added energy to an already electric eel of a reel (count it) but to anyone with half an ear, and the ability to Google, it should come as no surprise that DC’s Aquaman and Wonder Woman have something other than their superior quality compared to other DC movies in common: they also share composer Rupert Gregson-Williams. If DC is dialed in, they’ll lock this bad boy down for all future films (but considering that Gregson-Williams just has Dreamworks’ Abominable on his 2019 IMDB slate, they may not be that smart).
Aquaman could easily be classified as all flash and no bang (a visually appealing smoke and mirrors show with a stellar score can often hide a hollow film) except for the character connections between Arthur and… pretty much anyone (except Amber Heard’s “Princess Mera” – more on that later). The palpable (and unconditional) love and respect between Arthur and his father, Thomas, is worthy of all the feels (authentic AF and captivating for the – too few – minutes of screen time given to us).
Same goes for Thomas and Atlanna’s star-crossed relationship. Mere minutes onscreen bookending a summer tentpole underwater blockbuster and I’m still thinking about how they had a handful of rotations around the sun together and, like Odysseus times two decades, were separated for twenty-plus years and several oceans and Thomas still, every morning at dawn, walked down to the lighthouse pier where Atlanna promised to return to him when it was safe, never once giving in to the temptation to think after so much time had passed that she could have died. Fuck, man. This is why I’m single (because of the unrealistic ideals of epic love and commitment projected onscreen while I’m over here like “not looking for a soul mate, fellas, just someone to share expenses with and look the other way at an entire room in our home dedicated to my love of candles and Jeff Goldblum”). Also crippling emotional baggage. But yeah, that whole Aquaman thing as well.
Speaking of unrealistic ideals of epic love, you won’t have to worry about that in any scenes Jason Momoa (Arthur Curry) and Amber Heard (Princess Mera) share. And considering Momoa would, could, and probably has, had chemistry with a lamp post, the “opposites attract” story arc Aquaman is hawking at its early morning fisherman’s market arrives as DOA and glassey-eyed as a dealer’s choice Alaskan Sockeye Salmon (yes, I Googled “types of wild salmon” for this joke – never doubt my dedication to you, dearest reader).
It’s not that Amber Heard didn’t do what she could with her role, it’s that no effort was made to find any common footing for Arthur and Mera’s “connection” so the foundation for their love is two-dimensional enough to give a flat-earther a boner and eventually gets built on crab-shack stilts of “just because” and “flip-the-switch because now seems about right for them to do that love thing”. I literally lol’d at their “romantic” interplay while at a seaside market when Arthur brings Mera some flowers and she cluelessly eats them, prompting Arthur to take a big bite of the bouquet like some kind of demented Lady and the Tramp stab at romance. You know you’ve got character probs when animated dogs do it better than you. This absolute black hole where romantic chemistry went to die probably wouldn’t have been as noticeable if they hadn’t done a better job with Thomas and Atlanna in the same flipping movie (and if eighty-plus-percent of Aquaman wasn’t resting solely on the un-dynamic duo’s shoulders).
While entertaining as a whole, it’s best to not look too closely at the seams where Aquaman gets sewn up. This flick is, by and large, a fun diversion as well as a step in the right direction for the DC-Verse. Held up to normal cinematic standards, Aquaman is a decent (if substantially anemic) film as opposed to its pretty stellar DC rating (Aquaman was graded on a C-foam curve – count it) and earns it’s Three Beers by virtue of combination scoring.
Aquaman was, nevertheless, consistently tossed onto the rocky shoals of a weak(ish) plot and even weaker villains and almost capsized under waves of uneven tone (do I want to be a serious action movie or a slapstick action-adventure?) not to mention hammy, overwrought dialogue.
Where Aquaman diverges from Wonder Woman (though both are at the pinnacle of the DC pantheon) was in its lack of balance between genre elements. Wonder Woman was a masterclass in a film’s ability to kick ass and take names while, at the same time, infusing levity and tongue-in-cheek humor to elevate the overall quality and richness of tone. Aquaman is leagues (count it) ahead, quality-wise, than what DC has been putting out in years past, but proves – as of right now – that girls still do it better.
Only semi-converted into an Aqua-Stan for Aquaman thus far, but, barring Wonder Woman, this is DC’s most entertaining whale of a tale yet (count it).
Still on the fence? You can always wait to reel this one in on VOD and go see what I’m leaning toward for 2018’s movie of the year, Spiderman: Into The Spiderverse. Worth repeated theater viewings on merit alone.
Aquaman (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: anytime Arthur does something brave and/or stupid. Take Two: if it’s both.
Do a Shot: whenever Arthur gets down with the aquatic telepathy. Hint: for each ripple effect.
Take a Drink: for every flashback memory and/or childhood training scene.
Take a Sip: each time someone mentions the lost trident and/or the title of “ocean master”.
Shotgun Your Beer: when getting up at the asscrack of dawn finally pays off.