EXPECTATIONS: An obvious improvement over Justice League.
REVIEW: The DCEU (DC Extended Universe) film franchise is currently at its lowest point right now. Starting off with ambitious, yet flawed entries like Man of Steel, only to be hit with critically reviled flops like Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman – Dawn of Justice. Although there was hope for the franchise when Wonder Woman came out, due to being a success both financially and critically, most of the goodwill went down the drain when Justice League came out.
Plagued with studio edits and restrictions, tragic events and change of directors, it was directly responsible for giving the DCEU a bad name, that may have resulted in delays on the solo Batman film, Henry Cavill and Amy Adams became unwilling to reprise their roles as Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Lane respectively and many more problems. But like the best of superheros, they may get beaten down but they will always get back up and now, we have the latest project from the DCEU, James Wan‘s Aquaman.
Wan has proven to be a capable director in the horror genre, but what is quite underappreciated is that he was able to shepherd an incredibly problematic film production that was Furious 7, which was plagued with problems due to Paul Walker‘s tragic death. The fact that the final cut of the film was as good as it was, a major part of praise should have gone to James Wan. Now, he is in charge of another blockbuster film. With his directorial expertise, a varied and multicultural cast of rising stars and acting veterans, a huge budget and oddball source material to play around with, will Aquaman steer the DCEU back on track?
Set after the events of Justice League, Arthur Curry (Jason Mamoa) is currently living in exile on the land, saving people on the sea. He is then contacted by Mera (Amber Heard), who informs him about the power-hungry King Orm (Patrick Wilson), who plans to conquer the remaining oceanic people and the surface world with his vast army.
Despite his reluctance, he is supported by Mera and royal counselor Vulko (Willem Dafoe). The quest involves Arthur retrieving the legendary Trident of Atlan and in order to accomplish his goal, he must embrace his destiny as protector of the deep and truly become Aquaman.
Does Aquaman succeed in being an entertaining superhero film as well as a course correction for the DCEU franchise? While it may not be a great film per se, Aquaman is a very entertaining ride that shows director James Wan at his energetic best. One of the things that made Furious 7 stand out in comparison to the other entries in the Fast and Furious franchise is that Wan brought a certain sense of vitality to the film, making the material seem more fresh and full of life, especially in how he was able to spin all the plates of various characters, giving them all their moments, indulging in the insanity of how far the limits of the franchise can be stretched and coalescing them in a very entertaining whole. In the case of Aquaman, he brings the same type of verve to the material and it really makes all the difference.
The pacing is so fast, that the editing of the film by Kirk Morri starts to crumble a bit and the moments of exposition are dealt with in such a swift way, it almost becomes a bit of a running joke, leading to scenes when Vulko starts to explain something, Arthur utters lines like “Really? Another story?”. Reaching the peak of this running joke, sometimes in the middle of a scene of exposition, villainous characters repeatedly explode into the moment and an action scene ensues, bring a self-awareness that action is play of the day here, even with the runtime of almost 150 minutes.
Besides, most of the exposition is well-executed through visual storytelling and world building and the special effects crew deserve massive credit for creating a world that is absolutely wondrous and yet also insanely goofy. There are many moments and sights in the film that could have only have come from a fantastical and comic world (inspirations include tokusatsu TV series and sci-fi stories like The Abyss, Humanoids from the Deep and especially Journey to the Centre of the Earth) eg. sharks with freaking laser beams attached to their freaking heads, an octopus that plays music out of shells like a drum kit and weapons that can be armed with water; and thankfully, Wan and the scriptwriters embrace the material with utmost sincerity, making the film amusing without coming off as abrasive and more fun.
The varied and multicultural cast assembled are all in for Wan’s vision of the film and they all treat the material the same way. Amber Heard nails the aura of Mera, providing the convincing action chops, the conviction in her character’s motivations, the overall wonder of witnessing new things outside of her world and being a great foil to Arthur’s antics.
Patrick Wilson brings both pantomime fun and grounding to the role of Orm and makes the most out of the role, despite the entertainingly ridiculous costumes he has to wear and the moniker that he’s donned with: the Ocean Master. The rest of the cast including Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison, Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Julie Andrews and others add credibility, colour and fun to the proceedings.
But let’s look at the star of the show. Saddled with terrible circumstances, Mamoa’s debut performance as the titular role in Justice League was not good at all, but thankfully, all is redeemed and it is perfectly clear why Mamoa was cast. Similar to the casting of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince, he may not have much acting range, he certainly has the presence, the physique and especially the charisma to pull the role off. He is so charismatic and joyous in the role, that he genuinely looks like he’s having the time of his life, but never at the expense of the audience.
As for its flaws, the film does tend to overuse CGI to the point that it looks like a videogame and the musical score by Rupert Gregson-Williams, while it was a good effort overall, tends to be a mishmash of styles, veering on orchestral to synthesizing that comes across as jarring at times. But the big problem is the formulaic and predictable script co-written by Wan. The story itself plays out exactly the way you expect it to happen and the many beats of the story can be off-putting, since they are derived from other stories like Lord of the Rings, the Indiana Jones films, The Little Mermaid and many more.
Aquaman is an incredibly silly and incredibly derivative film thanks to the adherence to the source material as well as the anemic and uninspired script. Thankfully, James Wan‘s directorial eye brings much-needed energy to the proceedings, as well as an element of sincerity to its goofiness that is much appreciated. With the game cast, a charismatic lead performance by Jason Mamoa, the electrifying visuals and fun tone, Aquaman is a cinematic wave you’ll want to catch.
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Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison, Ludi Lin, Michael Beach, Randall Park, Graham McTavish
Director: James Wan
Screenwriters: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall, James Wan, Geoff Johns, based on characters from DC; Aquaman created by Paul Norris, Mort Weisinger