Waterlogged, But Who Cares? - A Review Of 'Aquaman'
DC’s Aquaman is one smartly packaged Hollywood product that should make a killing at the box office. Think about it; in this age of inclusion, diversity, women empowerment, and the search for the next Black Panther, Aquaman has been deftly ‘assembled’, with all the right boxes ticked, and its global success a foregone conclusion.
For diversity, out goes the Nordic Caucasian Aquaman of the comic books, and in comes Hawaiian Jason Momoa, a lead actor/action figure man’s man - who men can safely rally around without having doubts about their own gender preference. And the women were a given to begin with, what with his Bad Boy aura. Jason is today’s version of Dwayne Johnson; but with stronger animal appeal. And Mera (Amber Heard) is no damsel in distress, but one tough customer, who stands her own ground.
Then you get a director, James Wan, whose name evokes China, regardless of the fact that he’s originally Malaysian, and grew up in Australia. You even open first in China where it made over $94M over the weekend. Given Wan’s film provenance of horror films (Insidious and Conjuring) and action (Fast & Furious 7), it’s an easy step to the superhero genre, where you know he’s bound to produce the goods.
Plus you open on a December where fates have decreed there is no Star Wars release, and the only other superhero movie on the horizon is an animated Spider-Man. So you know the theaters will be lining up to carry your film, and end the year on a strong note. Other than Wonder Woman, DC has been getting the short end of the stick as of late; but this one has factored in all of the above, and they’ve put out all the stops, making the lead actors visit even the smaller markets like Manila!
Director James Wan, Amber Heard (Mera), and Jason Momoa (Aquaman) at the Aquaman Asian Press Conference in Manila
Photo by Gian Escamillas
So what is the movie actually like? Well yes, there’s leaden one-note acting, cheesy dialogue, a sappy soundtrack, derivative kaifu-inspired special effects, and a glaring absence of any true sense of drama or uncertainty - after all, this is an origin story and we know Arthur/Aquaman comes out on top, to later appear in Justice League. Jason’s surfer dude attack on the role is amusing; but the humor never quite takes off (Compare this to Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnarok, for example). But you know, it doesn’t really matter. The energy, the flashy lights, shiny costumes, and classic ‘half-brothers warring over who gets to rule’ storyline will carry this film far.
They are jump scares involving deep sea monsters, so Wan has put his horror film experience to some use; and Mera (Amber Heard) is one of the better-realized characters of the film. Patrick Wilson as the half-brother never quite gives us the malevolence required to see him as a true villain. The first half of the film with Arthur as a young boy seems to work better in terms of engaging the audience - perhaps the story of a mongrel, half-blood being shunned and treated like an outcast resonates strongly with Wan, and this shows.
This is definitely one glossy product; and I don’t doubt for a moment that it’ll make a ton of money; but like staying in the water for too long, this left me cold. I appreciated the effort and energy, but the screenplay and storyline just didn’t engage me. And there’s a sequence in a quaint Sicilian village that leaves you wondering who cleans up after these superheroes and their foes have wrecked the centuries-old church, and homes of villagers? To which, the obvious reply is to echo the title and simply say, ‘Who cares?’
Lead images from @aquamanmovie