DC Comics have been racking up some L’s for the last couple of years. Or at the very least, films that have been teeter-tottering on the edge of monotonous drudgery and passable, above-basic narratives. Justice League and it’s forerunner Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice left even less an impression on us than Batman’s nipple in Batman Forever. The last ‘wins’ one can chalk up to the current Snyder-infused DC cinematic universe has to be Wonder Woman. Which ultimately isn’t a win when you let age chip away at the novelty of the greatest hero in history getting her first DC film.
So next in line after the abysmal Justice League is Aquaman, which, save for the teasing of the classic Aquaman suit in the poster and trailer, felt new. It’s Jason Momoa, and he, alongside Cyborg was the minute saving grace of Justice League.
Finally, DC’s Aquaman would have in time in the light. A solo film with Momoa’s Arthur Curry, directed by James Wan (a director known for making my life a living hell [I live near to the so-called haunted house depicted in The Conjuring universe], Aquaman has made a triumphant splash in cinemas for the festive season.
With a big cast, including Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren and Willem Dafoe, including my man Yahya Abdul-Manteen II, I was looking forward to a great film. It is worth noting that I feel no film will save the state of the current DC Universe as long as new films are spurn from the same poisonous tree, but it would not stop me from hoping that Aquaman would be the dazzling jewel in an overall sea-rusted crown.
So where does Aquaman land in the DC cinematic universe? A buoyant Flotsam or a post-iceberg Titantic?
Our story brings us two wave-swept lovers, separated by two different worlds. World of land and the sunken city Atlantis. But during a stormy night, kismet would have the souls of these two worlds come crashing together violently in love. One is a simple lighthouse keeper. The other, the royal queen of a long forgotten underwater empire, injured and washed ashore. And together they learned to love. And with that love, came a child. Named after a king. Arthur.
But this happy home on land takes an ugly turn when Atlantis finds their deserter queen. So Atlanna takes leave to return to Atlantis for her transgression, taking the brunt of Atlantean law to safeguard her love and child.
Arthur grows up to become the great Aquaman nonetheless and gets basic training in the ways of Atlantis via Vulko, a royal advisor to the throne by the secret charge of Queen Atlanna before her supposed banishment.
King Orm is now ruler, Aquaman’s half-brother, is kinda getting sick of the surface world and advocates for the long-coming reconning that will wipe clean all the world. But Orm needs the support of the other Atlantean nation leaders and their armies. And Orm isn’t above little false-flag operations to stir doubters in the direction of following his lead. And if he gets his way, he would command all the 7 seas as Ocean Master. Seeing the destructive path Orm was on, Vulko and Princess Mera go topside to seek the help of Aquaman, to challenge Orm for the throne and avoid the coming bloodshed. Can Aquaman come to terms with his royal heritage and the fact that the word “bastard” gets thrown around way too often in the movie? Like, it felt way beyond the outside of wet-lock… get it, “wet-lock”… wedlock… only high-brow puns here.
In any case, there is a treasure hunt, rigidly-animated water VFX figurines in a fountain and…
Black Manta is not like the comics. which is hella okay with us. Working in a child abused out at sea who does not get helped by Aquaman wouldn’t make for the greatest of stories. But the Black Manta here feels… cool. His origin story played out right in front of us in three quick scenes. So whilst there was a lot of emotion in that cry from Yahya before his dad blew himself up, Manta didn’t quite tick the “flawed villain with a redeemable quality” box. Why. Come on – they were pirates. But now imagine what’s happening in Somalia where pirates were literally taking ships and having to deal with corporate toxic polluters dumping shit in waters of a country that has no governmental body or agency protecting the waterways. Imagine a scenario where a team like the Manta’s comes in to rob some shit and Aquaman comes in and deals with them both. Already my premise is way more interesting.
Instead, it’s a submarine. Not even the submarine that gets used in the King Orm-orchestrated black flag operation where a human sub was used to attack the meeting of royal Atlanteans. Just Manta pre the ‘Black’, seemingly acquiring high-tech prototype shit the ski-mask way. And Aquaman saving the “Russian” submarine crew to grab a few beers and damning Black Manta and his father to die. Who’s funding these scenes? #NoCollusion
And the father saying his son has to live to ‘kill that bastard’. Jee-Louis.
The most nauseating of it all, however, has to be the Black Manta suit creation. He retrogrades it from ALIEN Atlantean technology. We are not given any hint that he is technically-inclined or that his design skills could render such a polished looking suit in such a short time. “Suspension of disbelief” I hear you say. Still, come on.
Waterproof speakers could not handle the depth
Sound design. Dialogue. Music soundbed. All sank to the seabed. Much like the flaky fish-food you sprinkle in an aquarium. Aquaman‘s Achilles heel is most certainly the mix. You can hear in other films where sound and music were sculpted around scenes, edited to give dramatic crescendos, pauses to let the right word or SFX register with viewers. Aquaman was not that. The first reveal of Atlantis in the eyes of the empire’s forgotten son, Arthur. The underwater civil war sequence between the Atlanteans. The music did nothing to truly accentuate key moments in Aquaman.
In fact, it felt underwhelming. There were moments the music felt inspired by 80’s Tron. Other times, orchestral and grandiose. Which is fine. The problem comes when the music sounds more like UndrWtrBattle_01.wav found in some exclusive digital audio library that is then slapped on top of the other audio.
Death to the Relic
Things get pretty phallic when it comes to the tridents shown in, which gets weirder when you rewatch Arthur ‘crossing swords’ with his half-brother. The trident Arthur initially has is the one left to him by his mother, which is what he uses in the ritual battle for the throne, fighting against his half-brother King Orm. And utter defeat befalls Aquaman when his trident broken in half during combat. What you expect when your
penis trident is gifted to you by a woman *sexist high-five*. So the answer to this is to get the trident of all tridents. An ancient relic thought to be a myth (as they often are) and use it to sway the Atlanteans to his side and defeat Orm all before he enacts his assault on the surface world. Essentially, a tale of whose trident is bigger, brassier, stronger. And Arthur then completely obliterate his half-brother’s trident in front of the warring clans of Atlantis in a royal battle orgy.
So a decent amount of the film involves Arthur and Mera going on a treasure hunt in the Sahara, using a map to get another map to find the Trident guarded by a sassy tentacled sea creature. Another mythical thing thought be a made-up folk’s tale.
And the thing with relics is it robs much of the significance of that human, innate factor from protagonist’s story. Could Arthur not be king without a rusty, long-forgotten, golden, pulsating trident? Was he not worthy enough by his own merit? Apparently not. I am not a fan of the Lord of The Rings, but the relic here brought out (eventually) an inner strength to resist the lure of dark power. And I say this all to say that having Aquaman prove his worth and kinship in front of all the tribes of Atlantis should have been an endearing testament of innate vigour and fortitude. The trident, and the costume change emerging from the waterfall should not be the main hinging part of that confrontation. But nevertheless, the absurd relic count cannot beat that of Transformers: The Last Knight. Jesus.
I have to say I like Patrick Wilson’s King Orm. Cold, calculative and is that a man bun? Orm has a big vision for the future of Atlantis, and the disease of the land needed to be wiped out in order to return Atlantis to its former glory.
And despite the let down of his tribal war cries, Orm confidence and underhanded tactics, again (its a thing with me) could have used a bit of that redeemable bad guy quality to create a more balanced character. We got a sense of this when he thought he killed his sister; a slight expression of shock and maybe even worry. But when Vulko, a long-time advisor to his family was found to have been essentially helping Aquaman usurp his throne, I didn’t really sense that intense sense of betrayal from Orm. Was this purposely done?
If the character of Orm was forced to do horrible things in the name of restoring his sunken nation back to the days of glory, I would have hoped that DC would show a moment of true regret, remorse and doubt. That human quality that would make us think that he is not just a heartless evil cunt. Conflict always make for the more enthralling villains. It is just so. The same thing that happens to heroes happens to villains. It is their ultimate reaction to things that connotes the key differences. Orm and Arthur lost a mother. Orm blames the surface world and she being seemingly enticed to abandon the ways of Atlantis. Arthur blames Atlantis for making him an outcast and exiling/killing his mother. Both felt betrayal and neglect by their own blood. It is how they reacted to this that gave rise to hero and villain. I just wish those low moments are not just reserved for the good guy only.
Atlantis as fantastic as Atlanna and Mera tried to make it, didn’t feel like a city, but more a plethora of neon lights underwater. Also as far as highlighting locations in the film, ‘somewhere in the Pacific Ocean’ means nothing to me or the narrative in all fairness. I felt where Atlantis should have been explored more, we ended up spending time strolling through Italy and conveniently finding a book about Pinnochio and the cover is an image of the puppet in the whale’s mouth, the same tactic Arthur used to escape Orm. Too many coincidences to bare.
Atlantean ‘technology’ all aquatic powered of course, felt more human with water replacing current or fuel. I think more thoughtful design could have helped in creatively conceptualising how Atlantean tech would look like. Ancient looking, but sophisticated. The closest comparisons that comes to mind I felt that worked well was X-Men Apocalypse transition ritual tech in the opening sequences and Black Panther‘s sand-like/3D print-looking communication tech. Adding water effects to holograms does not quite cut it for me.
The Bastard Sea King
Can we just say the word “bastard” gets thrown around way too much in the film for my liking. Particularly when Atlanteans look like they look and Aquaman is, you know, brown. Kinda feel things get a bit… racist… specist… xenophobic… choose your pick. The word loses its impetus a bit, but not its sting. So then it just feels more hurtful than for any form of narrative embellishment.
Aquaman’s varied versions of a young Arthur via flashbacks at his training by the hands of Vulko goes some way to show it’s always best to keep young versions of a character to a minimum. I believed the youngest version (not the baby, but the aquarium Arthur) was the best, the teenager version, not so much. And those unnecessary wipes as the camera revolved around Mera and Arthur in that scene before they dived off the cliff. VFX artist could have definitely used that time elsewhere in the movie.
We as fans have been primed with the idea of Jason Momoa as Aquaman since the promo days of Justice League. And trust us when we say you won’t be disappointed with that. Then again DC Comics shortcomings are rarely the casting choices. Seeing Aquaman rendition of Haka-like choreography pounding the mighty trident in the process is about the most manliest thing you’ll ever witness.
There were some heartfelt moments too, the reunion between Arthur and his mother Queen Atlanna for starters. Arthur thought his mother was dead. Atlanna, however, somehow survived her exile in the region of the deep where the lower, vicious deep water creatures lived. Products from regressed Atlantean de-evolution. Again, very specist.
In the seas, water carries away Atlanna’s tears. In DC Comics arena of fandom, Aquaman just gives us a solid pat on the back and says, “Chin-up, it can only get better from here”. Momoa’s Aquaman is great. Again, casting is never the issue. I feel James Wan’s film ticks the general slots as far as narrative function, but there is nothing spectacular that makes this a must-watch-again DC movie. Maybe I was expecting an even greater eco-film that showed the destruction of the sea and aquatic life. But Mera casually swims past a fish entangled in rings used to hold beer cans together. Maybe more talk of microplastics and oil spills? Redeemable villains. Surely. It just gets tiring and irksome to know DC has missed many a key shot to create a universe with great presence and impetus. We won’t even get into the timeline discrepancies of Justice League and Aquaman.
Aquaman proves that the butt of The Justice League of America can float up to the top and become one of the most iconic portrayals of a comic book character we’ve seen in a film in a good while. Alas, there certainly was no further risk-taking and pushing of boundaries. The result is surely a more memorable moment in the DC cinematic universe but arguably it drifts and sinks a bit with the chum churned out by the comic book film genre as a whole.
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