“Permission to come aboard?” - Aquaman
Here’s a confession.
As a kid growing up reading DC comics, I never liked Aquaman. I got all the Aquaman I felt I could handle just by reading the goof’s involvement in Justice League of America. He never appealed to me. But, balancing the scales, I felt pretty much the same about Marvel’s Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner. There was very little that was intriguing to me as a kid about either one of them or their deep-sea adventures.
Moving right along, I’ve always been pretty glad that Marvel have yet to make a Sub-Mariner film, and until his appearance in Justice League kind of dreaded seeing Aquaman on screen. To a large degree, Justice League changed that, and my attitude change was due entirely to the casting of Jason Momoa. And now for my second confession. Brace yourself.
I had only previously seen Momoa in Game of Thrones, as a brutish muscle-bound warrior that grunted in every scene and I doubted he could act even the blandest of superheroes, which Aquaman was. What can I say? Sometimes I get it totally wrong.
I’ve seen Aquaman twice now, once in 2D and once in 3D. Regular readers will know that I’m not convinced in the whole 3D thing and consider it a passing fad, but as a fad, I’ll concede that it’s taking its sweet time to pass. You pay your money and you take your choice; my usual preference is for the crisp clarity of 2D. Often I’ve seen details when watching 2D that I’ve missed when I’ve previously only seen the film in 3D. The screen seems darker and to be honest, in most cases, so low is the “wow” factor that I tend to forget that I’m even watching a film in that medium.
So, three potential gripes – the Aquaman character, Momoa as an actor and 3D as a viable medium – all dispelled. Even my grumbling about there not being a Star Wars film at Christmas for the first time in three years was satisfied at the sheer spectacle and scope of this sprawling underwater epic.
I’ll go so far as to say that I haven’t seen a film look this good since Peter Jackson visited Middle Earth. The tone of the movie has kind of a fairy tale tone to it, especially with the framing story of a lonely lighthouse keeper discovering an injured mermaid, and the story of two half brothers at war with a kingdom at stake. It’s classic. But within that story is a whole lot more, it’s an epic for our times which includes an effectively delivered message about our pollution of the Earth’s seas which plays into the plot and isn’t in the least bit preachy, which makes it even more effective.
Director James Wan (whose work on Insidious and Conjuring films left me disinterested) has delivered a movie that should even satisfy the DC movie universe naysayers, and satisfy those of us who basically love DC.
Jason Momoa is engaging and charismatic as Arthur/Aquaman, building on the firm foundation he set for the characterisation in last year’s Justice League. Arthur is the half breed son of a lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and Queen Atlanna of Atlantis (Nicole Kidman). After a foiled attack by an elite squad of Atlantean commandos to take her back to Atlantis by force, she returns to the sea voluntarily, leaving the lighthouse keeper with their infant son, saying she’ll return one day. The Keeper walks to the end of the jetty every day thereafter to look for her.
Growing up, Arthur discovers that he has an affinity with the sea and the creatures living in it. Visited by Vulko (Willem Dafoe) a counsel to the Queen, who mentors him in combat, swimming at unbelievable speed, talking underwater – honing the skills that will make him Aquaman, though the actual intention is for him to become king of Atlantis, which Arthur dismisses. And that is basically the origin, told in a quick series of flashbacks.
This film is set after the events of Justice League, and the action really starts with Aquaman’s intervention when a group of high-tech pirates try to hijack a nuclear submarine. While Arthur is busy saving the world heroically (even to the point of missing happy hour) all is not well in the depths of the ocean. Orm (Patrick Wilson) seeks to unite the seven kingdoms of the seas to launch an attack on the surface dwellers who have polluted the oceans. Orm is Arthur’s half-brother and now ruler of Atlantis.
Mera (Amber Heard) the daughter of King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren) one of the kings of the seven kingdoms is sent to summon Arthur to return to the sea and help avert the disaster and destruction planned by Orm. Adding to the problem, she’s betrothed to Orm.
So that sets the scene for the adventure to come. Pirates, epic underwater battles, mythical creatures, battle sharks, giant sea horses being used as steeds to ride into battle, plus the inclusion of two of the arch villains of the comics, Ocean Master and Black Manta – it’s all crammed in here.
It’s a two hour and twenty-minute marathon of a film that feels like it’s clocking in at around the 100-minute mark. There are no wasted scenes, and no padding. Never does the plot falter, and not once did my attention stray. If you had told me about 18 months ago that I’d be totally engrossed in an Aquaman film, I’d have laughed in your face. I mean, where else are you going to hear Julie Andrews of all people provide the voice for …. well, you’ll have to see the film for yourself to answer that one.
As I mentioned, I’ve seen the film in both 2 and 3D and exceptionally, I preferred the film in 3D. I’ve always had the notion that one of the best uses for 3D is in an underwater setting. I saw that proven to some degree earlier in the year in The Meg, but the use of the medium in Aquaman is probably the standard by which the use and effectiveness of 3D in the future must be measured. It’s never less than completely convincing. It adds to the film, rather than being a semi annoying distraction which tends to fail more often than not.
In terms of where would I place this in the DC movie universe canon, I’d certainly put it on a par with Wonder Woman, maybe even slightly ahead. If you only see one movie this Christmas season, I’d suggest making it this one. Hang around for the midway point of the credits, though – there IS a sting.
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