Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Aquaman

By sati (harlequinade) Tuesday, December 25, 2018 , , , , , , , ,

(spoilers!)

When James Wan, acclaimed and successful director mostly known for his horror films, was asked which movie he wanted to make - The Flash or Aquaman - he decided on Aquaman because the character is "an underdog". And Wan was right - the character was ridiculed for a very long time, with jokes at his expense, appearing most notably in South Park and The Big Bang Theory, becoming the most famous thing about the character.

Well....who's laughing now?

Wan wanted to make this film into a classic adventure story and he most certainly succeeded. It's amazing how much he manages to do here - we travel to so many different places as Arthur and Mera search for the legendary Trident of Atlan. There are dozens of moments that are truly jaw-dropping and if there ever was a film to see on the big screen, this is it.

The underwater world is unique and gorgeous, the frames so intricate you don't even know where to look (in two scenes Wan even managed to sneak in Annabelle doll). The film has so many things you simply cannot believe are happening  - octopus playing the drums (Wan did that inspired by the guitar guy in Fury Road), people riding sharks and seahorses, Mera jumping on extremely cheerful orca and of course a gigantic sea monster voiced by Julie Andrews. You have to admire that they had the balls to pull this off.

The film has the difficult task of following Zack Snyder's failed attempts at establishing the DC cinematic universe. Seeing how nothing about Atlantis was established in previous films, Wan had to do everything himself. There was even the necessity of retconning the moment with Mera and Arthur from Justice League - a movie so botched that we don't even see Mera giving Arthur Atlanna's Quindent (we found out about this from interviews with Jason). Because of it, Wan had the difficult task of having to establish absolutely everything about Atlantis in this movie.

One of the film's greatest strengths is that it's a completely new world we are seeing and Wan does beautiful job introducing the audience to it. We find out so much about Atlantis and other underwater kingdoms and we are never confused by what we are seeing. Wan even manages to introduce a little bit of Atlantis' history. The film leaves you wanting to return to this world and find out more about it. And thankfully, Wan's ambition and imagination never exceeds his skill.
The scene where Mera and Arthur enter Atlantis is the single most beautiful thing I've ever seen in cinema. Aided by the score's greatest track, the moment is practically indescribable. Remember that episode of That 70's Show where Eric and the gang watch Star Wars? I felt just like they did when I was watching Aquaman. There is so much happening in every single shot, showing us the incredible architecture of the Kingdom and Mera delivers information that makes everything even more astounding - Atlantis has technology and ways of life not not unlike those on the surface world.

The further we get, the more we learn about this magical place and Momoa's look of amazement is even more impressive when you consider everything we see was done in post production so he was acting out of imagination.
Aquaman includes so many fantastical visuals - the moment when Mera and Arthur escape the Trench is glorious to witness. That scene allows Wan to showcase his horror skills and his ability to capture the dread of the situation - Arthur and Mera are protected only by her powers and a single flare, the light of which shows us thousands of monsters around them.

The scene where Arthur rides on Karathen's head and commands the creatures is the film's most epic moment. Not only that, until now the most epic thing I've seen in a movie was Gandalf leading the charge near the end of The Two Towers but that moment in Aquaman easily tops that. We see Arthur, evoking the power of the Trident and then we see the wide shot of creatures scattering around and bending to his will. It's impossible to put into words how spectacular it is. It is this film's No Man's Land sequence, not as moving or symbolic as Wonder Woman's iconic scene, but just as memorable and as beautifully done.
The film's finale is the grandest sequence ever portrayed on the screen in comic book movie genre. The reported budget is 200 million and it's truly incredible if they manged to do all of that for that money because that finale alone could have cost that much. It's a gigantic battle, involving several different armies of Atlantis and it all culminates in fantastic duel between Arthur and Orm.

The film is shot by Don Burgess, who also shot The Conjuring 2 so there's no wonder there's all sorts of fun trickery happening here, like 80's action films homage with frame rate changing as Arthur walks through the smoke and the camera rotating as Manta falls off the cliff. One thing I want to mention about the film's structure - there is so much whining out there about "conversation being interrupted by explosion" trope used at various points in the movie. It's concerning that people don't recognize Wan is doing it purposely for comedic effect. This is a film done with great care and love and as much as some would like to call it stupid it's funny (and embarrassing to witness) how many things went over these people's heads.
Production design and costumes are absolutely top-notch. From Atlanna's gorgeous outfit, through Orm's mask which moves matching his expressions to doing Arthur's classic look justice. Who would have thought that we are going to see it on the big screen? And yes, they completely pulled it off. Even with that moment being present in nearly all the promos, it is still incredibly impactful on the big screen.

The action in the film is so well done - a lot of movies have the problem where because of editing and cinematography you really can't tell what is happening but that is not the case in Aquaman. Every single action sequence is topped by the next one. The film's most impressive one is Arthur and Mera fighting Atlantean soldiers and Black Manta in Sicily. The camera goes from Mera to Arthur over the walls, we follow the characters in long takes and the fight choreography is incredible.

Rupert Gregson-Williams' score adds so much to the movie. It has hints of Tron and Blade Runner's scores in it but it manages to be completely unique. Arthur and Manta have their own themes and Mera's motif is lovely. The greatest piece though is the Atlantis' theme. The film also has incredible song choices - Greta Van Fleet, Sigur Ros, Roy Orbison and Depeche Mode's songs all make appearance. Much has been written and said about Pitbull's cover of Toto's iconic "Africa" but the way it is used in the movie adds to the light and humorous identity of the film.

Jason Momoa owns the role even more than Gal Gadot owns Wonder Woman. Much like her innocent charm shaped Diana, Momoa's wonderful charisma and cheerful energy shapes Arthur. Momoa manages to match Nicole Kidman in one of the film's most heartwarming moments, unsurprisingly slays in film's action scenes and gets to show off his amazing comedy skills. His Arthur is brave, instantly likable and you can really see how much fun Jason is having which only adds to the enjoyment of the film.

As a fan of his I have been incredibly proud and delighted during the movie. Ever since he exited Game of Thrones (by the way - there is a neat Khal Drogo reference in the movie!) Jason has been struggling when it comes to his career, so it's wonderful that he is finally having the success he deserves so much. There is simply no one like him out there in the world. He has that spark that makes a superstar.

Nicole Kidman, returning to the genre after 23 years (she was Batman's love interest in Batman Forever), gives her work here the same kind of commitment she would in a very serious drama. Her Atlanna is a wonderful character and the fight scene she has in the beginning of the movie is amazing. You can see such determination on her face, she is ready to do anything to protect those she loves. Much like Arthur is the bridge between the land and the sea, Atlanna appears in the end (but only after finding the appropriately stunning outfit for her entrance!) to be the bridge between her sons and for the fighting to stop.
Willem Dafoe has a lot of fun playing Vulko, Arthur's mentor and Dolph Lundgren is hilarious as King Nereus, Mera's father. Nereus' condescending attitude is so funny to watch as are his "bitch, please" looks he keeps throwing Orm's way.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II makes for a formidable foe for Aquaman, Black Manta. The film takes its time to give him a proper back story and motivation. Temuera Morrison (who Jason suggested for the role) does a great job as Arthur's loving father. With how diverse this movie is, it sure is curious how the media isn't praising the film more for that aspect.

Is "curious" the word I am looking for?
The primary villain in the movie is Patrick Wilson's Orm. He resents Arthur because he blames him for their mother's death and his goal to start war is motivated by the humans polluting the oceans. Had Orm not gone so over the top in his actions, going as far as committing murder, it would actually be really difficult to root against him.

I enjoyed his final scene the most - the smile he gives Vulko and Arthur suggests there is hope for Orm to redeem himself and adds depth to his character. I would love it to see his childhood in the sequel, him and Mera being raised by Atlanna. After all, in the end Orm didn't just lose his title but also his betrothed.
The weakest link in the cast is Amber Heard. Mera is an interesting character, trapped between doing her duty and doing what is right, but the scene where she explains that to Arthur on the plane is Heard's weakest moment. However, she does very well with humorous and charming moments - most notably the sweet scene in Sicily where Mera confuses roses for a food (a scene bringing Ariel brushing her hair with a fork to mind) and manipulates water to the delight of a little girl. I also enjoyed a quick moment of Mera playing a flute, highlighting how ladylike and stoic she is. World is going to hell and your companion is out cold. What else is there to do for a princess than sit on the edge of the boat and play some tunes?

The chemistry and banter between Arthur and Mera is great, but that's mostly thanks to Momoa's efforts. I wish Wan aided Heard a little bit, showing us Mera giving Arthur curious glances, much like she does in Sicily. Still, Heard's reactions to Arthur's antics are very funny, as is her triumphant "aha!" as her Atlantean GPS proves Arthur wrong.
The moments borrowed from old fashioned adventure films (Wan was inspired by Romancing the Stone, among others) - like Mera continuously offending Arthur before she finally warms up to him and Arthur grabbing her hand after she gets startled - are very charming. And the two share one of the greatest kisses in recent memory.

Still, the heart of the movie belongs to Arthur's parents. The idea of Tom waiting for Atlanna every day for 20 years is so moving and beautiful and the pay-off to that is bound to make you tear up. It was Wonder Woman who said that only love can save the world and that theme continues here, right before our eyes, as Arthur delivers the lovely voice-over that closes the film right before we witness the glorious final frame.
Aquaman is spectacular, entertaining, funny and heartwarming. It is everything not just a comic book movie but any movie could hope to be. The image of cartoon Aquaman riding a seahorse has been a subject of derision for years. Thanks to Momoa and Wan that very image brought to life in the movie doesn't inspire ridicule - it inspires awe.

I cannot wait till we have the opportunity to return to Atlantis. And hopefully we won't have to wait too long for that to happen.

95/100
Aquaman (2018, USA, 143 min)
Plot: Arthur Curry learns that he is the heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, and must step forward to lead his people and be a hero to the world.
Director: James Wan
Writers: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick & Will Beall (screenplay by), Geoff Johns, James Wan and Will Beall (story by)
Stars: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson and Nicole Kidman

14 comments:

  1. Great review, you really put your heart and soul into it and I love the passion you have for the movie and Jason :) I went to see it on the 24th, as a pre-Christmas present to myself and I am glad I did. The movie was fun, Atlantis looked amazing (and I really liked the forgotten land where Atlanna was for 20 years, can't remember the name, sorry). I also really liked Jason Momoa, he was fantastic in it and has amazing star quality. That being said, it had its weak links. Mostly some scenes that seemed over the top, and I think that's a script problem (I rolled my eyes a lot during the showing). So overall, I'm gonna say it was a good movie, although not something I will remember as one of the best. Thanks!

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    1. Thank you! It was the Hidden Sea :) I'm still not sure why there were dinosaurs there or whatever that was ^^

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  2. I always chuckle when I see your "fangirl heaven Harley" it's so perfect.

    I'm looking forward to seeing this as I didn't get the chance to yesterday like I originally planned.

    Great review!

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    1. Yes, it really had to be used in regards to this movie :D

      I hope you'll like it!

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  3. VERY nice review. I had such a good time with this. Seeing it again with the family next week. I LOVE the sheer weirdness of the whole thing and I'm so glad Wan embraced his vision instead of watering it down for a certain segment of moviegoers. Really glad it's doing so well.

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  4. Great review! Now I want to go back and see if I can spot the Annabelle moments. (As though I need an excuse.) I like Mera and Heard but you bring up good points. I think much like she told Arthur about doing his best thinking when he's not she's better in motion or with a quick banter and charismatic co-star and not long dialogues. I really loved her costume though!

    I'm so happy for Jason though! Fingers crossed they announce a sequel soon. It will still be a long wait!

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    1. Amber deserves praise just for wearing that thing and surviving, poor thing couldn't even sit down on the set and had to lean on a board!

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  5. Excellent review!

    I was expecting Wan to sneak in something from his previous movies but I guess I was too busy looking at the stunning world he created that I missed Annabelle. I'll pay more attention the next time.

    You're so right about the escaping the Trench sequence, Wan really showcased his horror skills there. It kind of felt weird because of the tone of the film, but it's so well done, it's one of my favourite moments.

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    1. It's easy to miss, but it's right after they get into Mera's little ship :)

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  6. I'm super disappointed I haven't been able to see this in theaters yet, or might miss it entirely. The visuals look spectacular, and I'd love to see how it compares to what critics think of it a la them being so wrong about Venom. Great review! I'm so happy this lived up to all the waiting and hype you had to survive. :)

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    1. oh no! If there's one movie that has to be seen in cinema this is it!

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  7. I don't know if my comment took. I was saying I hope you're well. I'm done with grad school. yay. So I'm hoping to returning to blogging again. I miss movies. I honestly haven't been to many after my dad died last year. But I am looking forward to seeing Aquaman. I really enjoyed your review!! Heard has surprised me. She has good comedic timing for a former scream queen in horror flicks.

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    1. I'm doing ok thank you, hope you are well too! I really hope you get to see it, it's so much fun!

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