The DC extended universe grew a little bigger this week as fan favorite Aquaman finally got his much awaited origin story. While the superhero is often seen as little more than a joke in popular culture, the fresh eyes of contemporary society seemed to remedy the issues with 2017’s Justice League. However, DC finds itself in a continual push and pull, every time they make a few strides, something else sucks then back. Would Aquaman have them taking three steps forward, or once again falling two steps back?
Aquaman follows (and continues to develop) the story of Arthur “Aquaman” Curry (Jason Momoa) after the notorious superhero’s introduction in Justice League. The film features a big-name cast: Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman and Dolph Lundgren all co-star. James Wan directs the film from a screenplay by Will Beall and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick.
We all … unfortunately… remember Justice League and Jason Momoa (and Ezra Miller) were definitely the shining stars of the film. Gal Gadot might have stood out as well, had the camera not been too busy tilting up her leg… but, I digress. It seems right that Momoa’s Curry should get a stab bringing the (rather dated) Aquaman into the new century. Ultimately, he succeeds! However… it seems unfortunate that he’s also the best part of the much anticipated comic book movie.
Momoa brings his A-game to the part with his usual likability, charisma and sex appeal coming across in abundance. He has a winking delivery, clearly enjoying every moment he’s on screen. His introduction to the story elicited a number of “hoots” and “woohoos” from the ladies in the audience. If recent history shows us anything, men aren’t the only people who know how to gaze and the ladies in this preview screening of Aquaman were gazing openly at Momoa.
Jason Momoa continues to be an interesting (and unconventional) casting choice for Arthur Curry. His winking and wise-cracking presence is just what is needed for the relatively outdated superhero. Let’s face it, for much of the last few decades, Aquaman has been a joke. Momoa makes him cool again, but unfortunately, the film needs more than a solid male lead to make this work.
Unfortunately, the recognition really stops with the film’s lead. A number of the other cast member’s struggle throughout the story. Amber Heard never seems quite comfortable as love interest Mera. Her chemistry with Momoa feels tenuous at best. Meanwhile, Patrick Wilson never quite seems to hit as villain King Orm. The talented actor is most certainly under-utilized, never quite allowing the character’s sizable narrative a chance to shine. DC should take a note from the work Marvel is doing with their villains who have been fascinatingly well-crafted in the last few films from the other studio.
Heard’s take on Mera is particularly frustrating. They miss the mark in her character development, and she turns into little more than a mildly spunky princess. Every film has one. Her storyline exists largely to fulfill the needs of our hero, be it through love, sex, or simply assistance. However, as we saw with Diana in Justice League, there are two DCEU’s: the one which created Wonder Woman and then there’s everyone else. Aquaman very much falls into the “everyone else” category.
Aquaman is the first time that DC has truly strayed into the realm of the fantastic. Most of the previous features (despite dealing with the subject of superheroes) have been grounded in fairly gritty realism. However, as Aquaman takes shape, the film struggles with the complex imagery of Atlantis. The movie is a candy-colored visual treat, but they can’t seem to step passed the obviously computer generated look of films like Green Lantern. Everything from Amber Heard’s rather awkward wig, to Patrick Wilson’s strange French twist and even the disconcerting sight of our characters talking underwater without a bubble in sight just doesn’t quite work. Unfortunately, while the movie takes some interesting steps in terms of cinematic visuals, it needed some more time to percolate.
Meanwhile, DC continues its chronic inability to craft an interesting and punchy script. Since Aquaman made his filmic introduction in the crowded and clunky Justice League, any character development still found itself shoehorned into this movie. Aquaman runs an uncomfortable 2 hours 20 minutes, and you feel every second of it. There are a lot of walk and talks (yes, even float and talks!) as the story attempts to pay heed to everything it wants to do. It feels frustrating that this is a constant problem we see with superhero movies, yet studios keep doing it! Aquaman sets up not only Curry’s origin story, but also the main familial conflict with Orm while also trying to develop the Mera love story, all the while examining Atlantan politics through Atlanna (Nicole Kidman). Ultimately, this film could have been at least 30 minutes shorter and not felt rushed.
The film seems to struggle a bit tonally, very much walking the line it needs too… frustratingly so. There are definite hints of this movie being perfectly willing to not take itself so seriously. This is particularly noticeable in the opening act. Had the entire film taken this “so bad it’s good” perspective the entire runtime, this movie would be an absolute delight. I mean, an octopus plays the drums! However, as the narrative develops, the story looses this sense of fun which is vitally necessary to propel viewers through the action.
Now, fans of the DCEU are undoubtably wondering one thing… where does this stand in comparison with the rest of the franchise films? Due to the strength of Jason Momoa’s performance, Aquaman can probably drop lightly into number 2. The movie takes what was strongest about Justice League and turns it into a full movie. However, Wonder Woman continually proves itself an outlier in the cinematic universe. Aquaman just can’t compete in narrative and character terms with the 2017 Patty Jenkins film.
Ultimately, like much of the DCEU, Aquaman just can’t make things work. While there’s a definite sense of humor behind the film, it doesn’t take things far enough. Aquaman would be a heck of a “good/bad movie”; however, it doesn’t allow itself to give in to this sense of fun, and unfortunately, Jason Momoa is just not quite enough to save this on his own. Unless you’re a fan of the hero, you can give this one a miss.
Aquaman is in theaters around the country today.
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