Aquaman A Solid Effort In The Stormy Sea Of The DC Extended Universe

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Prepare yourself for a nearly three hour tour...a three hour tour...when Aquaman starts everywhere Dec 21, 2018.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name, “Aquaman?” The 1970s Super Friends cartoon, where the superhero of the seven seas was voiced by Norman Alden? The Mego action figure that had to sometimes stand in for your sister’s Ken doll when the real Ken was MIA but Barbie just couldn’t take another ladies night? Maybe all you know of the character is that he’s in the lyrics to “One Week” by the Barenaked Ladies. Thanks to Warner Brothers and DC Comics, that’s all about to change in a big way.

Aquaman is WB/DC’s latest attempt to transform their beloved line of comic book characters into billion dollar cash cows as their Marvelous competitors have consistently done over the past decade. The results have been generally poor, ranging from Superman murdering a fellow Kryptonian in public view and finding out that if your mother’s name is Martha Batman won’t touch you. Then came Justice League, which was an uneven patchwork quilt of a film as Zach Snyder’s principal production and Joss Whedon’s reshoots ad editing just didn’t blend well. The best part of Justice League was the scenes involving Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Jason Momoa’s Aquaman. The Aquaman film is a sequel to Justice League, featuring the origin of Aquaman and first big exploits after the events of Justice League.

Jason Momoa is, of course, the hulking Hawaiian hunk who flew somewhat under the radar on Stargate: Atlantis and the remake of Conan the Barbarian before finally catching fire on HBO’s mega-successful Game of Thrones. As Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, Momoa looks more like modern comic book interpretations than the original square-jawed blonde prototypical hero originally created in 1941 by Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger. With long hair, tattoos and a reluctant hero attitude, he feels more like Marvel’s Wolverine than the campy “dude who talks to fish” that cartoons have often characterized Aquaman. He’s joined by a strong cast including Amber Heard as Mera, Patrick Wilson as his half-brother Orm aka Ocean Master, a cruel ruler who seeks to untie the seven tribes of Atlantis and wage all out war against the surface dwellers (that would be you), Willem Dafoe as Vulko, who is divided by his loyalty to the throne of Atlantis and his preference for the half-breed brother of the tyrant who sits on it, and Yahya Abdul Mateen II as Black Manta, a modern pirate with a tricked out wetsuit.

The biggest surprises, and for me the highlight of the film, were Nicole Kidman as Aquaman’s mother Atlanna, Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus and Julie Andrews as Karathen. Kidman gets the de-aging treatment much as Michael Douglas did in some of the Ant-Man scenes, and while she hasn’t aged poorly at all, when she first appears on screen the reaction was, “Wow, who’d they find that looks so much like a young Nicole Kidman?” Not just young, but ass-kickin’ too--the Queen of Atlantis goes full-on ninja on a goon squad sent by Orm to bring her back to Atlantis after she finds true love with Arthur’s father.  I sure wasn’t expecting that much physicality from Kidman. Lundgren’s appearance took a little longer to realize. His hair is red and he plays Nereus more like a political ally than the all-out action roles we usually associate him with, though that’s not to say that he doesn’t get into any fight scenes. The more I watched him, the more I felt like Aquman could be for him what Pulp Fiction was for John Travolta. Maybe this will propel him to a career resurgence with new opportunities for roles he would likely never have been considered for before. AS for Karathen, think “The Kraken” from Clash of the Titans meets Pacific Rim only bigger and voiced by Julie Andrews—yes, JULIE FREAKING ANDREWS! SHE’S MARY POPPINS, Y’ALL! It’s preposterous, and monstrous, and s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and I dig it!

In fact, I enjoyed a lot of the film. Momoa isn’t quite Dwayne Johnson yet but he’s on his way to superstardom. Amber Heard is pretty and quite likeable as the love interest/battle partner. Despite neither Ocean Master nor Black Manta being anyone’s idea of A-List super-villains, they both work well enough here. Be prepared to leave your brains in “popcorn blockbuster” mode and don’t think too much about what you see, because science is mostly thrown out the window. There’s a scene where Aquaman shoves a manned submarine from some distance under water to the surface in a hurry, and yet nobody suffered from the bends after ascending so fast. I’m no expert, but shooting machine guns and incendiary grenades as Black Manta’s pirate gang does in a submerged and pressurized submarine is probably a horrifically bad idea.  At nearly two and a half hours long, it’s approximately 30 minutes longer than Justice League and at least that much too long, causing some slow back story development. Director James Wan falls a little too in love with the special effects, and seeing it in 3D just magnified the overabundance of CGI.

All in all, Aquaman entertained me more than I expected. It’s not a game changer like Black Panther and it’s not quite as fun as Wonder Woman, but particularly for Warner Brothers it’s a step in the right direction. It's easy to dump on WB after so many misfires and many critics will. It's not perfect, nut it's not that bad either. Besides, where else are you going to find such a good role for Dolph Lundgren and JULIE FREAKING ANDREWS as a giant monster? 

3.5 / 5.0