Review: Aquaman

13 | 01 | 2019
Review: Aquaman

There’s an element to Aquaman’s chutzpah that feels lost to contemporary cynicism, as if its as much an artifact as the trident our titular hero chases. Here is a superhero epic that skews closer to something like Stephen Sommers Mummy trilogy, enveloped in sincerity and willingness to dazzle without winks or too-cool posturing.

But cut that with an over-caffeinated, sugar rush aesthetic packed to (forgive me) the gills with technicolor extremity, and you get a superhero film that’s delightfully batshit. It’s both beyond absurd and the guiltiest of pleasures, like Lisa Frank for dudes or gay underwater Indiana Jones. For some it might be an acquired taste, but it succeeds by pairing simplistic narrative ambitions with an authentically wild visual experience.

Jason Momoa’s hero Arthur Curry returns to save both land and sea from his half-brother Orm, Patrick Wilson’s evil caped ruler of the underwater Atlantian kingdom. Smartly the film scatters the usual origin story benchmarks throughout its narrative, detailing Arthur’s training at the hands of Willem Dafoe’s Nuidis Vulko. When Amber Heard’s Mera reemerges to recruit Arthur to reclaim his birthright against Orm and his plans for destruction, Aquaman begins a quest to reckon with ancient history and his own feelings of abandonment.

Yes, Aquaman is a film for those resolving some mommy issues. Nicole Kidman stars as Arthur’s queen mother Atlanna, cursed to marry Orm’s father and later sacrificed for her romance with Arthur’s earthly father. If you’re wondering about one of our greatest actresses starring in a project that once was something of a punchline, you should know outright that no one is having as much fun as she is. You didn’t know that Kidman kicking ass in feverish video game fashion was something you needed, but Aquaman proves it to be so.

The film however represents an about face to the often deathly self-seriousness of the current DC era, opting for decadence instead of the franchise’s defining grimness. And it is unavoidable that this one is at times as lethargically bloated and lugubrious as its (much worse) predecessors. But like Patty Jenkins before him, director James Wan is able to mold something that repositions where this franchise should steer itself. While Aquaman doesn’t attempt the impact of Wonder Woman’s social significance, it delivers something vibrant and unpretentious while stealthily working in conscious themes around climate change.

Rather than something roided out in macho buffoonery, this is a superhero tale whose inclination for injectables is on the hallucinogenic variety. Wan creates a complete world and then some - and then some more. Yes, the CGI excess is occasionally garish but its mostly a relief to have a superhero film so buoyantly earnest. It’s (sea) monster movie, campy adventure epic, and commercial for pecs - but the whole of it is far more enjoying digestible than its parts.

What is largely lost is Jason Momoa’s charming wit, drowned out a bit by the spectacle surrounding him. He had been one of the bright notes to Justice League, but this is perhaps an acceptable compromise if this film is to upend the shitshow grimness of that already forgotten fiasco. But our hero is one of the least distinct or arresting pieces to this overloaded spectacle, and the lag is felt.

Aquaman is what I imagine taking mescaline is like. Heard battles baddies with a wine sword, Wilson has hilariously pointy hair, and Kidman wears a costume straight out of Fury Road. Wan throws everything but the kitchen sink at it, and that’s only spared because you don’t need a sink in the ocean. It’s a “too much”, overstimulating miasma, but uncommon for how its rampant kookiness comes from goodwill that aims to please. Immodest but modestly motivated.

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