People can talk under water without even making bubbles. There's enough neon and fluorescent colors to put a rave party to shame. Yes, animals are treated as slaves to ride on in the ocean world too. And in case you're interested, an all gold (and a half green-half gold) shimmery outfit looks just as tacky submerged in water as well. These and more takeaways are there to be taken away from James Wan's Aquaman, a highly stylized, extremely bombastic new superhero origin story that should give less scrutinizing members of the audience something to whistle about.
The film's first 20-30 mins had me all at sea. The VFX was less than satisfactory, the de-aging of characters in the flashbacks was cringy to the point of making me close my eyes and avoiding looking at the screen, the action scenes looked straight out of a video game in a bad way, and Momoa's introduction scene leaned too hard on the beefcake angle and gave me major Salman Khan flashes in front of my eyes. But after the rocky (and surprisingly rushed) start, director James Wan does start to come into his own and take charge of the material that he and his team of writers (David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall and Geoff Johns) have come up with.
Aquaman has been a much derided comic book character for too long, the butt of many a joke. So, one of the most important things that Wan does is make Arthur Curry aka Aquaman (Jason Momoa) a "blunt instrument" of force who thinks less and punches more, never taking himself too seriously. He isn't the smartest bloke around and Wan makes it clear often enough by setting him in contrast to Mera (Amber Heard), who clearly prefers exercising a different kind of muscle. This brings the audience in on the joke. "Agreed he's ludicrous but look at all the FUN ACTION he can do!"
Wan is a filmmaker who enjoys constructing and exploring unique worlds, and he only starts to enjoy himself here when the camera takes a long deep dive into the Atlantean world. Imagine if instead of the usual devastating oil spills at the hands of ships, there was a massive spillage of super-bright paint colors? That's what Atlanta looks like, and it's beautiful. Hereon, the film borrows liberally from Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther and even Da Vinci Code to deliver a family drama with some visually stunning action pieces that win you over (if you needed winning over).
The interplay between characters kicks up a notch, beautiful historical places are completely destroyed, the number (and sizes) of mystical creatures reaches a new high and Momoa finally starts clicking in the role of a chunk of meat with a heart (and costume) of gold. Heard's character gets more screentime and development as well, which balances the proceedings (and exposition) well. Nicole Kidman's character never manages to get past the terrible de-aging she is subjected to initially, and Willem Dafoe tries very hard to be least bothered about anything going on around him, reading the lines as they come. I had my doubts about Patrick Wilson playing the antagonist (despite him being a very bankable actor) and he surprises me the most with a pretty good performance, even though it never reaches the point that makes the audience reluctantly root for him and his cause (water pollution) the way they did for Killmonger in Black Panther. And Wilson is not to blame for it because Wan couldn't be bothered about the social angle as much as he is about going through the entire color palette on screen.
It's an utter shame that for all the rift between land and ocean forming the central driving motivation of the film, Wan and Co. never really address the wrongdoings of the "land-dwellers". Global warming and climate change are real, unlike superheroes. It would've been a really big favor to all of mankind if make-believe people dressed in gawdy costumes that have people of all ages fooled could've taken their position of privilege to do some actual good for once and spread the word about toxic waste and garbage dumping into water bodies, instead of just spreading rabid fandom and handsome profits to its producers. Oh well. If the world became a better place, how would frivolous films exploit real-life issues to make themselves seem relevant? After all, we definitely need more of Jason Momoa walking shirtless through random bursts of steam.
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