by Tanner Kinney
The biggest cinematic joke of the past decade has got to be the DC extended universe (DCEU). It’s gotten to a point where beating up on Warner Bros’ pathetic attempt to cash in on the extended universe trend set by Disney-Marvel is just stale and sad. Wonder Woman almost doesn’t even seem like it was a real movie because it was actually good, despite being forgotten almost immediately due to DC’s cinematic disaster of Justice League polluting the waters not even six months later. The promising Shazam! trailer at Comic-Con this year was paired with a trailer for Aquaman that looked just as schlocky and terrible as the rest of the DCEU. Needless to say, hopes for this being a good movie were at rock bottom.
So now that Aquaman is finally released to the public, is it going to be the real turning point we all thought Wonder Woman should’ve been? Or is the DCEU simply going to drown in a pool of its own filth? The answer, one so shocking that I’m not sure I believe myself when I say it, is that Aquaman is a good, competent movie. And for DC, good is as amazing as it gets.
Leaning into the joke of Aquaman
Aquaman is the standalone film about the previously introduced Arthur Curry, also known as “the Aquaman,” a slab of meat played by TV’s best meat mountain Jason Mamoa. Aquaman is a key member of the Justice League, but mostly as the butt of everyone’s jokes. He’s the guy who talks to fish and swims good. Justice League leaned too far in making Aquaman a serious character because the director, Zack Snyder, is a hack. This movie smartly makes the decision of turning Aquaman into a bit of a buffoon. He’s constantly joked about, loses a number of fights, and doesn’t really seem capable. But that just makes him a more relatable character overall, and a much more entertaining lead than we see in the rest of the DC movies aside from Wonder Woman.
This movie feels like a Marvel movie in its tone and plotline, along with having two villains and save-the-world stakes. For DC fans (and I mean the “release the Snyder cut” fans), this will come as a disappointment. Average moviegoers, however, will find this change a breath of fresh air, and most of the humor lands. Some lines are groaners, but there are some genuinely good lines of dialogue that make the film enjoyable to watch.
The cast of characters as a whole also feels much more dynamic than previous DC films, particularly the villains of Ocean Master and Black Manta. Ocean Master may have some questionable motives, but both he and Manta feel like threatening villains, which is likely because Aquaman is written as kind of a loser in this movie. The love interest and partner of Mera, played by Amber Heard, is great on her own as a character. Her snark with Mamoa’s Aquaman is at least enjoyable since I love me some petty bickering. It’s just a shame their relationship is ruined by the absolute lack of romantic chemistry between them. There’s a scene in the film where the two explore a village in Italy for a few minutes while romantic pop music plays and it’s just terrible to watch. Skip the love story next time DC; you still don’t know how to write one.
Aquatic action that’s quite the underwater show
If a “most improved” ribbon could be given to any category of Aquaman, it would be the direction and action of the film. Director James Wan, famous for The Conjuring, brings a fresh change of pace to the cinematography that is much needed considering how stale Synder’s film style has become. The usage of wide-shots, swinging and rotating the camera around the battle arenas and the expert usage of color makes the movie a joy to watch. The underwater city of Atlantis, despite giving off some heavy Star Wars: The Phantom Menace vibes, looks lovely with all of the neon colors illuminating the oceans. The gladiatorial combat sequence between Aquaman and Ocean Master is also a joy to watch with its great usage of a three-dimensional underwater space. It reminded me, strangely enough, of Final Fantasy X. The movie likely didn’t intend that, but since I love that game, it made me enjoy the movie more.
The action sequences also excel because of how well the different shots flow together. Although its strengths are almost certainly in the underwater fight sequences, the close-quarters combat also looks and flows great. The sequence in the submarine that’s shown in trailers flows particularly well, making the action feel well-paced. The main focus of the fights are always shown clearly, which is amazing to see after the rest of the DC mess. The only thing that can become distracting is the CGI in these sequences, particularly the CGI hair, but that’s mostly a nitpick and something that most people can ignore.
The ride never ends and the terrible music won’t stop
Aquaman is not a perfect movie, however, and its biggest crime is in the length. Most movies feel too long these days, but Aquaman really pushes that limit with some incredibly rough pacing. The first half of the movie leading into the underwater city is amazing, and had the movie kept that tone and pacing for the rest of it, I would have been content. Yet, once the characters start their discount Indiana Jones adventure in the desert, the film starts to really drag. Even the fight in Italy with Manta was unnecessarily long, since it had to cut between two different fights going on at the same time. There was also an unnecessary Lord of the Rings-esque big underwater battle between two ocean kingdoms that was just a CGI slugfest. It really shouldn’t have been in the movie, and turns what would have been a fantastic final battle into something you just want to end.
Finally, the soundtrack must be mentioned. The original soundtrack, a surprisingly synth-heavy superhero score, is perfectly fine and does its job well despite being a little too bombastic at times where it didn’t fit. The inclusion of some (pretty terrible) pop songs during the movie, however, did a lot to hurt the experience. If you haven’t seen Aquaman, be warned: there’s a song in the movie so hilariously terrible that I broke down laughing and almost got thrown out of the theater. This kind of toxic waste is exactly why the Atlantians want to destroy humanity.
Featured Image: IMDb
‘Aquaman’ is a big surprise from the DCEU, doing the impossible in making something fairly watchable. The characters are fun, the visuals are stunning, and the action is the most well-directed it has ever been for the franchise. Jason Mamoa plays a likeable, if a little boring, lead that plays well into the public perception of Aquaman as a character. Despite that, the film can’t escape issues of pacing and musical choices that have plagued the DCEU since its inception. If the action of ‘Aquaman’ and the writing of ‘Wonder Woman’ can be combined into one movie, DC can make something truly amazing. In terms of the genre as a whole though, ‘Aquaman’ is a dumber, but more enjoyable ‘Thor.’
Tanner is a Film and Media Studies major and a Digital Media minor. His Neo Yokio review won a second-place CSPA Golden Circle award for the 2017 semester. He enjoys playing JRPG’s of any variety, regardless of how obscure and strange it is. Tanner is also the host of Byte at the Movies, the premiere movie discussion live-stream.