AQUAMAN OWNS THE OCEANS AND THE BOX OFFICE: But has he EARNED that Crown? Let’s find out..
Before I commence the review, ‘proper’, like..I have an idea for a super-hero.
It’s called RUBBISH-MAN! He is a bit..rubbish? Born the son of a refuse collector and a Queen, he is entrusted with joining those two worlds and meantime, ridding the streets of uncollected trash. An eco-warrior, literally. Warding off the rats and other vermin by talking to them, near wheelie bin sites. His enemies include apathetic councils who will not rise pay for the rubbish men and the unions seeking to foment strikes. Whatever your politics, he is just in it for the rubbish! He also takes on militant fly tippers and makes time to educate kids about the evils of allowing bins to go uncollected.
Batman comes to recruit him one day for the Justice League.
BATMAN: I hear you can talk to trash.
Rubbish-Man: Well, I’m talkin’ to you so I guess you must be right?
They then kiss and make up? Film ends with a clear statement: WHO AM I? I AM THE RUBBISH-MAN! Credits roll, to a cover version of ‘SCAT-MAN’ but changed to ‘TRASH-MAN’.
He’s the hero you cannot REFUSE! 🙂 Cue sequels, merchandise, spin-offs, a franchise for life. Plus educational tie-ins and arts council / lottery funding so we can have school programmes to boost awareness of conservation and environmental responsibility. Bingo! Dun!
Ok, maybe not. But it’s not THAT far removed from..yep..AQUAMAN!
This comic book hero did have a profile in the DC comics universe and even roles in cartoon shows. But the inbuilt camp value and colourful profile, plus slightly over-optimistic / ambiguous power set, especially as heroes had to be ‘dark’ and ‘gritty’ (two words that MUST be banned in 2019)..meant the guy needed a serious reboot. Which, of course, did happen: the ‘DC 52‘ is the prototype visual / mythological scheme template (from the last decade) to which this film adheres. They do throw in some added humour and epic set-pieces and the whole thing is genuinely made with loving care and attention.
Like the eponymous lead character, this whole affair feels like a fusion of worlds. That is the base both of its great strengths and weaknesses. Let’s dive in..
- There is just something about this film. One cannot help but like it. I cannot explain, articulate or dissect that. It’s just got a nice spirit to it.
- NICOLE KIDMAN! NICOLE KIDMAN! NICOLE KIDMAN! Did I mention, Nicole Kidman? She’s divine. Beautiful. Timeless. Elegant. Funny. Moving. I’d watch a whole movie about her Mermaid person adjusting to surface life.
- Visually rich and stunning: every land and seascape is brought to epic, vivid cinema screens.
- Familiarity does NOT necessarily breed contempt. Yes, there is a formula at play here that owes much to THOR / assorted other movies in the genre. So what? You don’t NEED to reinvent wheels to turn them. Comforting!
- There is a genuine attempt at old school, action adventure movie-making here and a linear, even logical, progression of plot and its associated obstacles. Feels a BIT like a Bond film, albeit of the 1970s variety.
- Some world building: yes. But notice they neither reboot nor deny nor excessively over-explain the connections to existing ‘DCEU‘ material such as Justice League. Good move!
- Jason Momoa looks the part: an UBER man! Strong, compelling, convincing physical presence and therefore a joy to watch him in action, kicking some serious arse. And you WANT him to win. He’s cool, without overdoing the surfer dude, poor man’s Thor routine with which he was lumbered previously. Trust me when I say this man is a GOD. I have seen him, in person. Though I did not approach him. Not coz I was scared (he’s lovely) but because I was busy talking to the girl who played Mrs Miggins off BlackAdder. Seriously. I know. Anyway. She was lovely. Moving swiftly on..
- You get : Beautiful shots of desert/city/ancient ruins as well as seascapes. Worth the 3-D /IMAX/etc additions but equally clear in normal viewing.
- Captures the appeal of the sea, swimming, family, learning and reconciliation of worlds. Family friendly.
- DOLPH LUNDGREN rides a sea-horse. ‘Nuff said. Worth the admission price for that alone!
- JULIE ANDREWS (MY Mary Poppins!) voices a giant lobster thing.
- THIS FILM IS OVERLONG. AS IN AN HOUR LONGER THAN NEED BE. And you FEEL it.
- Amber Heard is unremarkable here in every way. I have no other, nicer way of saying that. Sorry. It MIGHT be because she’s upstaged by NICOLE KIDMAN. But then, Nic would upstage anyone. Dunno.
- There is a tagged on love story that DOES NOT WORK. It just SLOWS things further in an already bloated film.
- Momoa is great at the physical stuff but lacks the comedic timing of a Dave Bautista or Chris Hemsworth. It’ll come to him in time. Matters not helped by fact that he reminds one of a jacked up Johnny Depp: especially awkward when his leading lady is..Amber Heard? Sorry. I know. But it is ‘there’. Kinda. The sea / pirates/mythical creatures also inevitably evoke the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean‘ series.
- Tone is all over the shop: veers from light comedy to high drama and therefore never excels at either. Mirrored by character inconsistency: is our hero an illiterate lug or refined history expert? Either is fine or at least explain the dual identity. But don’t try pleasing everyone by making him a mixture of everything. It does not work. See also: Green Lantern (2011)..or rather, maybe DON’T see it, especially if you are Ryan Reynolds. 😉
- Rules of this universe lack definition and consequently the..er… consequences of potential conflict or promised big finale battles never truly hit home.
- Not helped by a CGI overdose when really, a simple, innovative, underwater world, WITHOUT all the Phantom Menace meets Avatar effects, would be far, far better. Special effects MUST be truly ‘special’ or they’re just visual noise.
- Yes, there are some big names here: Willem Dafoe crops up as a mentor, for example. But WHY? These parts could be played by ANYONE in the Equity Phone book. Of ALL the parts these people could have played..
- The onscreen title cards are written in same /similar font to the 1989 BATMAN. Same way Justice League hinted at that connection? Great: Aquaman vs Killer Penguins? No. It’s just distracting, especially when one does not have the luxury of a pounding Danny Elfman score (we instead get the WORST cover version ever of ‘Africa‘??) or a Tim Burton auteur, directorial vision.
- I like James Wan as a director: but he should keep things simple for now and has overstretched himself here. His Fast and Furious 7 was fun, but it did well in part because it stuck to a limited definition (ersatz / chav take on Mission:Impossible but that’s ok coz Mission is in a way Tom Cruise playing James Bond and I love all the franchises, equally).
- A film like AQUAMAN needed that unpretentious, unabashed, unashamed simplicity to truly soar. Wan COULD and indeed SHOULD have stamped that as the signature ethos here. He didn’t. Shame!
- Also: is it me..or does our hero appear to engage in drink driving here? Aquaman drives his beloved Dad home (good: nice, decent) but after a pub session (bad: even if you can drink like a ..fish?!)
By no means unmissable and certainly does not leave one begging for sequels. On the other hand? AQUAMAN goes some way to repairing the troubled reputation of the ‘DCEU’ brand. Whilst its many parts do not cohere effectively, each can be enjoyed as segments. In that sense: when viewed as a series of mini movies woven together that stretches a BIT longer than it ought to but is by no means without merit? And when you simply focus on the entertaining bits? I would say: YES: You CAN enjoy AQUAMAN! Especially if you feel compelled to see/’sea’ it, by/with/for kids?
‘Helps Pass the Christmas-New Year time vacuum in the Cinema and lends itself well to Home Cinema scene selection in 2019. This movie neither sucks nor stinks nor sinks but JUST misses its potential to truly soar or swim in the depths of great/truly distinctive entertainment, by overstretching itself and failing to embrace and enjoy a focus on the innate limitations of its own brand /pitch.
It’s fine. Just fine. Stays afloat but needs arm-bands 😉
‘MY MAN’! GRADE B-
JAMES MURPHY IS CURRENTLY TAKING SWIMMING LESSONS TO IMPROVE HIS IMMERSION TECHNIQUE. NEAR A LIGHT HOUSE. WITH MERMAIDS. 🙂
photo blurred as taken underwater..by an Atlantis fish-person. 🙂