Aquaman

2018

Director: James Wan

Starring: Jason Momoa, Nicole Kidman, Amber Heard, Willem Defoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

Where to start with Aquaman. The character has been a bit of a joke in the comic community for years. Then Jason Momoa was cast and suddenly Aquaman was cool. Next, James Wan jumped off The Flash so he could realise his own world with Aquaman. Things were looking good for the fish talking hero. Then, Justice League happened. Jason Momoa came out unscathed from that train wreck, and even bagged some of the films best lines. The film didn’t highlight anything that made Aquaman different though, he seemed to have the same skillset as any other hero, and the scenes shot underwater were dreadful. When two sea dwelling characters have to create an air bubble to speak to each other, you know that this world hasn’t been fully thought through. Thankfully, Aquaman has been made as an almost soft reboot, and Wan has promised a new experience for cinema goers.

Aquaman, played by Jason Momoa, is Arthur Curry. The son of a lighthouse keeper and an Atlantean Queen. He is half human and half Atlantean, although he has distanced himself from the underwater world since he found out that upon learning of his existence the king of Atlantis sacrificed his mother to The Trench, a part of the ocean filled with monstrous sea creatures. He is forced to return though when Mera, played by Amber Heard calls him back to deal with his brother Orm, who plans to wage war on those who live on land.

My thoughts coming out of this film are generally positive. It completely erases any memory of Justice League, and it was great to see a film in the DCEU which felt completely stand alone. The cast all did a pretty great job, and Momoa lives up to top billing with a performance full of confidence and charisma. Patrick Wilson did feel slightly out of his depth as the main villain, but that may be due to the fact that as a villain his character is never really that interesting. James Wan obviously had a total blast with the world building, and some of it is fantastic, but there is a lot of it, sometimes too much.

Aquaman is best described as a real mixed bag. A pick’n’mix of a film. It wants and tries to do everything at once, and can become bogged down in the sheer amount of storytelling going on. There are so many worlds visit, creatures to see, plot points to tie up, and characters to introduce. It all becomes a bit too much. It should be applauded for its ambition, but maybe a more stream lined version of this film would have made for the more enjoyable experience. For me the film really finds its feet when our characters are on land. The scenes both in the desert and Sicily being two standout moments in the movie. These scenes recall classic adventure movies like Indiana Jones and Romancing The Stone, they also don’t rely as heavily on distracting CGI and the action scenes here feel more real and have more weight to them.

This might be the biggest problem with Aquaman: they still haven’t mastered the underwater world. When it works it looks fantastic. The scene where Arthur and Mera get attacked in The Trench is gorgeous to look at, combing dazzling visuals with some horrific imagery. It’s epic. Then there’s the scene where Curry fights Orm for the throne of Atlantis. It’s awful. None of it looks real, and it’s hard to invest in a fight between two cgi characters. The actors are obviously restricted by the wire work, and whilst there is no air bubbles for them to talk in this time, they’ve still made the decision to add a little reverb when they speak to give the impression of talking underwater, which is more than a little distracting.

The pick’n’mix nature of this film also refers to the tone, style and references on display. One scene is straight out of Black Panther, another from Iron Man, there’s a little bit of Jurassic Park here, a lot of Star Wars. Indeed when they first enter Atlantis it’s hard not to think of our first visit to Jar-Jar Binks’ home in The Phantom Menace. Some of them work, some of them don’t. There is also a sub-plot which involves another, more interesting villain. We get to travel to a lot of different worlds, there’s people riding sharks, octopus playing drums, there’s a lot going on. One things for sure, it’s a long film, but it’s way too interesting to be called boring.

The Aqua parts of Aquaman tend to be its weakest, but don’t let that put you off one of the most creative blockbusters this year. It is a little all over the place, but that comes from a filmmaker taking his first chance at a superhero blockbuster and wringing it for all its worth. There’s a lot here to be commended even if it’s not quite the home run that DC fans were hoping for.

7/10

Justice League

2017, Uncategorized

Dir. Zack Snyder

Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams

It’s a bit of a mess. There’s no getting around that fact. It reportedly cost $300 million dollars, had extensive reshoots, two different directors, and, following a poor response for Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice, a huge amount of course correction. The fact that it kind of works is probably the best compliment I can give it.

After the events of BVS:DOJ, and the death of Superman, Ben Affleck’s Batman/Bruce Wayne senses a coming threat and decides to unite a team of Superheroes. This team includes Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman/Diana Prince, Ezra Miller’s The Flash/Barry Allen, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman/Arthur Curry, and Ray Fisher’s Cyborg/Victor Stone. If that list of characters seems long, that’s because it is, and the film feels like it has 4 different openings, and we are introduced to all of the Superheroes and their alter-egos. The coming danger soon reveals itself to be Steppenwolf, a new god, who is hell bent on uniting 3 motherboxes. Three boxes which when united will turn the world into a living hell. These three boxes have been entrusted with Woner Woman’s Amazons, Aquaman’s Atlantians, and humans.

Saying anything more may be seen as a spoiler, so I’ll try to sum up what I thought worked in the movie. The best parts about Justice League are when it’s just the main characters being themselves and interacting with each other. Gal Gadot again proves her worth as Wonder Woman, a real shining light in the darkness which has been the DC movie universe. Both Jason Momoa and Ezra Miller make strong impressions as Aquaman and The Flash, riffing off each other and their other team mates, and providing moments of levity which has been missing is this universe. The film is also pretty short for a superhero movie, clocking in at just 2 hours, it never feels like it drags. The change of tone from BVS is welcome, it works with the new characters, but I feel it was a mistake with Ben Afflecks Batman, who doesn’t feel as strong here as he did in BVS. The change of tone also refers to the colour palette, which makes his costume look pretty awful.

There is a lot in this movie. Packed into the two hour run time we have the introduction of three new heroes, including the introduction of a whole new underwater world, there classic character cameos, such as Commisioner Gordon, a bad guy whose history needs to be explained and then be taken down, and of course the team up of the Justice League. It’s a lot to take in, and with that there is a lot that doesn’t work. Cyborg for one thing is never fully explained, and the character barely registers in the movie. The CGI on this half human, half machine face, meant that I couldn’t tell when it was the actual actor and when it was fully CG. In fact the CGI throughout the film is all over the place. You have superman’s CGI upper lip which becomes extremely off putting, whole CGI towns and armies which mean that the action scenes lose any sense of weight. This is especially apparent in the required climatic battle which could be substituted with any other climatic battle you’ve seen this year, just with worse graphics. It’s also clear that DC and Warner Bros. haven’t figured out how to portray Atlantis yet, with the brief scene set their being majorly underwhelming.

The biggest problem with this film though is the villain. Steppenwolf is the worst villain in any superhero movie. He has the characterisation of a PlayStation One villain, with the graphics to match. Most the time he is just standing their, spouting off vaguely threatening remarks, and any interaction he has with our heroes come across as though they were taken directly out of a video game. He is there to drive the plot forwars and this plot is flimsy at best.

It’s hard not to compare this with the first Avengers film. That film was the culmination of a six film plan from Marvel, finally uniting their separate franchises. Justice League should have felt like an event movie, but instead felt more like the pilot episode. This is the fifth film in to the DC universe, and we should expect better. If they want their audience to continue to follow these connected movies they need to show us that they have a plan, because at the moment it feels like they are making it up as they go along, and it’s not quite working.

4/10

On a side note, one thing that I found funny was the janitor at the beginning. There’s a close up of him, a black haired clean shaven guy, where we can see his photo identification pass. The guy on the pass is clearly not him, as it’s a white haired guy with a beard. Cut to a scene later and the pass has changed to the correct one. Only minor, but I found it funny, especially when this pass popped up in a later scene.