Aquaman is ... Okay

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Aquaman (2018)

Rated PG-13: For Some Language, and Violence

Running Time: 143 minutes (2 hours and 23 minutes)

Genre/s: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Superhero

Released on December 21, 2018 (US Release Date; Available for Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Films, The Safran Company, Cruel and Unusual Studios, and Mad Ghost Productions



"Aquaman" Created by Mort Weisnger and Paul Norris



Director: James Wan

Writers: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall

Starring:
  • Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry / Aquaman
  • Amber Heard as Mera
  • Willem Dafoe as Nuidis Vulko
  • Patrick Wilson as Orm Marius / Ocean Master
  • Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus
  • Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as David Kane / Black Manta 
  • Nicole Kidman as Atlanna

"You have to see it to believe it." Such was the theme of the latest entry in the ever-polarizing DC Extended Universe. This one stars a popular comicbook character, whose reputation has since been dwindled down to just being the "guy who talks to fish". After one passable first installment in Man of Steel, then two massive disappointments in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, one glimmer of hope in Wonder Woman, and another disappointing follow-up in Justice League, many might have already lost their faith in the franchise. I myself have also given-up. With Aquaman, audiences get to see more of the potential that has been untapped so far since the film series' inception.

In this film, Arthur Curry, played by Momoa (Conan the Barbarian Remake) is forced to swim back to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, in order to confront his Atlantean half-brother Orm, played by Wilson (Watchmen), who plots to unite all seven realms to start a war with the surface world. Accompanying him in his reluctant journey is the princess of Xebel named Mera, played by Heard (The Rum Diary), and the royal visier and Arthur's mentor Nuidis Vulko, played by Dafoe (At Eternity's Gate). In addition to the worldwide threat that Orm imposes on the rest of human civilization, Arthur must also deal with two of Orm's allies: the genius pirate who calls himself the "Black Manta", played by Abdul-Mateen II (The Greatest Showman), and Mera's father, Nereus, played by Lundgren (Creed II).

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The film constantly and subtly reminds us of the theme of seeing then believing. For Arthur, he has to see it for himself if Atlantis truly is the underwater hellscape that he deems it to be, while also having to understand if the villains that he clashes on a daily basis are truly worthy of redemption, and if he really is the rightful king of the seas after going through a complicated adventure all across the world. For Mera, she has to be on the land for her to truly understand the wonders of our world. For both Orm and Arthur, they have to see it for themselves if their mother Atlanna, played by Kidman (Lion) is indeed dead. It is a small yet meaningful message that also reaches a metafictional sense, in that the movie itself invites all of us to see not only the wonders under the sea, but to also see what the DC Extended Universe has in store.

Alas, despite the promise displayed with gorgeous and dazzling visuals, and the obvious exhibits of passion for both the cast and the crew, Aquaman suffers from numerous flaws, left and right, which obscures the message that I have mentioned before. Speaking in narrative terms, the story follows the basic structure of a prodigal son reclaiming a certain position of authority, regardless of his own doubt and reluctance, in an attempt to bring peace to two distinct corners of Earth. Juxtaposing it with a fairly ridiculous plot device-centric treasure hunt story that does not completely allow viewers to have a few minutes to appreciate the scenic views of the deep, or actually take the time to feel as if they are in a different part of the globe, only makes the entire film feel much more lacking in stakes. Note that if audiences have no sense of being a part of the world being presented, there would be no excitement, no tension.

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For all of the actors' efforts, Momoa and Heard in particular, the screenplay does not give any type of personality for any of the characters, outside of ones that any of us would clearly see in other forms of media. A portion of the blame can be shifted on the film series' turbulent history, as well as the titular character's sudden debut in Justice League, even though said character had no prior stories. Arthur Curry's characterization is clear at least, in that he is merely a nigh-carefree man who despises his fellow Atlanteans for their perceived involvement in Atlanna's execution, but we never get a sense of a character struggling. There is only one moment in the film that presents such conflict is when a young Arthur trained with Vulko, who reveals the supposed fate of Atlanna, but we never truly see him in pain about it afterwards. In addition, his inconsistent personality switching, from happy-go-lucky immature spirit, to a know-it-all without almost no weaknesses come the end of the film.

Patrick Wilson's Orm, and Amber Heard's Mera also suffer from this, as we never get a proper exploration of their respective problems outside of brief dialogue exchanges, and exposition. Orm has all of the necessary essentials to become a true villain, as he has a real-world social issue to support his motivations, and a familial tie wherein he blames Arthur being born for the "execution" of Atlanna, as Arthur is not completely Atlantean. We never see him as a misguided man, whose mind remains stuck in the past, but we see him as a generic, overambitious would-be world conqueror. As for Mera, nothing to support her siding with Arthur, other than just because the plot needs her to be the love interest, and a small piece of dialogue that states that she just wants to do what is right. This is not to say that the actors and actresses did not do a good job. I do believe that plenty of effort was given where effort should be placed.

I believe that Abdul-Mateen II's Black Manta had the biggest potential to be a compelling foil, as the introductory fight scene between him and Aquaman, which featured the death of David's father, played by Michael Beach (If Beale Street Could Talk) illustrated what could have been a decent turn to the darkness. Instead, we only get one other fight scene featuring the character, and he does not even get to participate in the final battle. Though it might have been a logical choice to focus solely on Orm and Arthur, it would have been wise also to have Black Manta provide additional problems for the protagonists.

Though the film did manage to be marginally better than the franchise's worst offerings. For instance, I do believe that the production value and the use of special effects are much better handled here than probably Suicide Squad. The beautiful and lush visuals compliment the mystifying world down below, and the varying blue shades fit the tone and atmosphere perfectly. It is both playful and creative. I do admire the effort done to design the costumes, specifically Arthur's final costume at the concluding act, as well as Black Manta's own, and the look of each location, with the Earth's Core and Atlantis being my personal favorites. The design for the Trench creatures is also brilliant, and the film's portrayal of Mera's hydrokinetic powers, with the latter best displayed during the only battle with Black Manta. Nothing makes a comicbook adaptation better than having the final product be as a comicbook-accurate, and be as creative as possible. However I would note that there are times when the CGI is excessively applied, such as in the final battle that involved armies clashing one another. I was originally anticipating a similar scale of awesomeness as that of The Lord of the Rings Film Series, but instead, due to the CGI, I saw what The Hobbit Trilogy failed to capture. Admittedly, it is difficult to make a believable battle underwater, but I would appreciate it more if there are times when more practical means are applied, so as to keep anchoring the viewers' eyes. There are also the instances of seeing Willem Dafoe receiving a CGI youth-ification, which is obviously computer-rendered, and it is mildly distracting.


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James Wan's whimsical hand behind the camera perfectly blends well with the adventure that we are seeing. Thanks to him, there is not a single lazy shot in the film. Once we see a shot, we know exactly what is happening, unless there is an unnecessarily huge amounts of VFX at play. His establishing takes of certain locations, the lighting, and the cinematographer's and the director of photography's respective outputs compliment Wan's direction, and as they all work hand-in-hand, you can sense that the crew truly want you to dive deep into this beautiful world, which the screenplay does not really get to do much. My personal favorite shot from Wan would have to be during Arthur and Mera's descent to the trench. It is beautiful, and it captures the shear terrors that are the creatures of that domain, although I highly recommend that there should be more than just one camera movement for the fight scenes, since it progressively becomes tiresome to see the camera rotate for every single action sequence.

The humor, personally, is a double-edged sword. There are instances when they are particularly witty, and exhibits signs of cheerfulness, such as when a group of seemingly intimidating group of bikers ask Aquaman for a selfie. But for the most part, the jokes fall flat, in that they are mostly inserted there as if they are simply expecting audiences to laugh all the way to the heavens, such as when both Arthur and Mera attempt to activate a holographic device with sweat, as the place was now a desert, followed by Arthur simply suggesting to urinate on it. Rupert Gregson-Williams' score is alright, but none of his work is able to capture what exactly makes Aquaman unique, and his more comedic sounds only make certain scenes unbearable.

In addition, there is this character in the film named Doctor Stephen Shin, played by Randall Park (Ant-Man and the Wasp), who is attempting to prove to the world that Atlantis does exist. While that is not necessarily something that one must ponder on when watching, but the concern lies in that the movie takes place in the same universe where Superman, an alien, Wonder Woman, a demigod, and thousands of other bizarre civilizations exist. I take it that "fish people" were too strange for humans.

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Overall, I do believe that there is plenty to be improved with Aquaman, specifically the story. A character with such diverse mythology as the titular hero definitely deserves a much more well-constructed screenplay that focuses also on character development above all else, and not merely rely on dazzling and arresting visuals. Though relying on presentation would be distracting for the viewers, it would not be artistic if one would not do something much bolder. I commend the efforts of the actors who truly did the best that they could have, and Wan himself for spearheading an "okay" film that showcases some ambition. My final rating for this film is 15/25 (Okay?)

I still implore everyone to come see the movie for themselves, as the theme of this flick suggests. I do believe that even with the room for improvement, this movie is fun, adventurous, and light-hearted, with the tone being quite jarring considering that the first two installments were dark, and I would have loved to see what could have happened if this film was quite mature as that, but not overly dark to the point of alienation.

As always, we leave a few extras at the end of our posts. For this one, we have two songs from the movie's official soundtrack. The end credits song by Skylar Grey ... and one remix of Toto's "Africa" ... by Pitbull. It really is not the worst of remixes, but this is more of a passable type. Trust me, I have heard worst versions of a song before. Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!


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