Movie Review: Aquaman

Aquaman was a weird movie.

It felt like three separate movies. One movie was a DC set-piece action flick with a stoic lead and a heavy premise. Another was a quirky action comedy about a muscle-bound, dimwitted lead and his adventure to save his mother. The third was a fish out of water rom-com.

I would have enjoyed either the latter two premises--and maybe even a hybrid of them together--but I didn’t enjoy this. I think James Wan did the best he could, but at the end of the day there were too many cooks in the kitchen. Excluding the original creators of Aquaman, this movie had 4 writing credits. Sometimes it felt like another entry in DC's dour cinematic universe, and other parts seemed to be trying to recapture the lighthearted positives of Wonder Woman. They missed the mark.

But it wasn't all bad. I enjoyed it. There were enough moments where I laughed, or found myself really into the action, that I would still say you should give this movie a try in a theatre. That, and some moments were downright gorgeous.

There’s good and bad in the performances. Jason Momoa shines as Aquaman but he sometimes played two different versions of the character. He was fun, then he was serious. He should have stuck with fun. His father’s character was excellent too, unfortunately they had very little screen time together and the rest of the performances were dull. Aquaman spent most of his time with Mera, played by Amber Heard. I’m not familiar with her work, but it felt like she wasn't trying very hard. Sometimes she'd be great. Sometimes she'd just be standing around. There was something was very strange about the performance, but I don’t think it was her fault. Even Nicole Kidman, who played Aquaman's mother, seemed like she didn't know what she was supposed to be doing most of the time.

This was an effects driven movie. Sadly, I noticed the effects in all but two scenes. Of course, most of action was underwater, so effects were clearly needed, but they weren’t good. I’m confident in saying that nobody in this movie actually got wet during shooting. Underwater, characters moved unnaturally, hair looked silly, and none of the scenes felt right.  The worst offenders were the action scenes. Every time action would kick off the camera would start spinning around. Sure, there were no cuts, but it made it very difficult to get an idea of where things were and reduced the weight of the action itself.

There's a lot of negative in this review. Like I said, it's a weird movie, but there are redeeming qualities. Go in with an open mind. Don't expect much, and you should get your money's worth.

-- Spoilers Ahead --

Here's an ad to offer a visual buffer between the spoilers and the introduction.

-- Spoilers --

It doesn’t feel like there’s a lot to spoil in this movie so I’m just going to divide a bunch of little observations into two categories: weird stuff, and good effects.

Weird stuff

Mera liked Sicily. There was a whole sequence without dialogue where Mera experienced human life in a little Sicilian town. This was so unbelievably out of place, it wasn’t funny. This is when you should take your bathroom break. Nothing important happens.

The big CGI battle at the end of the movie. This was completely unnecessary. Aquaman rode a Kraken to the surface, killed countless thousands of fish-people, and then challenged King Orm to a one-on-one. The battle stopped immediately when the one-on-one began. The scene had no value to the story.

The scene where King Orm throws the trash and warships out of the ocean. Two questions: how? That sounds like an interesting deleted scene. And, why give the surface world so much advance notice of your impending attack? It didn’t fit the story.

Why was Black Manta in this movie?
Who was driving the submarine that Black Manta stole when it crashed into the meeting?
What was the point of the “Black Manta makes his suit” scene?
Why did King Orm hire Black Manta when his soldiers clearly had no problem shooting at Aquaman and Mera?

As you can see, I have a lot of issues with the way Black Manta was handled by this movie. It’s another example of the movie lacking focus. The rooftop chase in Sicily was cool, sure, but it seemed like it wasn’t edited. It didn’t make contextual sense and didn’t even flow together nicely with itself.  I will give Manta one positive point: his suit looked like a practical effect. That stood out like a sore thumb in this movie, unfortunately.

How did it take King Orm more than two seconds to realize that the tracker he put on Mera was still active and she hadn’t been horrifically killed in the lava? Just how?

Aquaman’s mother’s trident had five tines. Is it still a trident?

Great Effects

There are three reasons why you should see this movie, in ascending order:

  1. The first reveal of the city of Atlantis

  2. The fight between the Guardian of the Trident, and Aquaman

  3. The shot when Aquaman and Mera abandon their boat and dive into the ocean, pursued by the Trench.

That third scene was incredible. It was dark, which probably helped, but it was amazing. In the scene Aquaman uses a flare to fight off the attacking monsters in a pitch black, rainy scene. The contrast, the light and dark, and the pace were gripping. When finally Aquaman and Mera dive into the water and you see the overwhelming number of baddies around, and they’re only lit by the bright trail of the flare as they descend deeper and deeper, it is awesome.

That shot may be worth the price of admission.

So, all in all, this review came out more negative than I intended. I enjoyed my movie going experience. You might too, just don’t go in expecting something that will change your life. Turn off your brain. It’s better than Bumblebee.

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