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Movie Review: Aquaman

Aquaman is ridiculous and over the top and a bit insane. And it's fun. So, so, so much fun. Absurd levels of fun
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Aquaman
Directed by James Wan
In Theatres

Aquaman is ridiculous and over the top and a bit insane. And it's fun. So, so, so much fun. Absurd levels of fun. Aquaman has people riding giant seahorses and sharks and firing lasers. It has a Polynesian man living in Maine, a queen played by Nicole Kidman, a king played by Dolph Lundgren and a prince named Orm played by Patrick Wilson. It's packed with mythology and world building and action scenes and a hunt for a Mystical Thing and stuff going boom. It has both Pitbull and Roy Orbison on the soundtrack. And it has an octopus drum solo and Julie Andrews voicing a sea monster the size of Cthulhu.

So, yeah, Aquaman is ridiculous and over the top and a bit insane. 

But, this is a movie about Aquaman. You go all in or you walk away from the table. 

Aquaman. The dolphin riding, orange shirt and green pant combo wearing, bane of people everywhere who grew up watching Super Friends. This is the guy that made the Wonder Twins almost bearable just by being lamer. Aquaman's chances of being taken seriously as a cinematic superhero just got dimmer as the years went on. Mocked for years by South Park and Family Guy and Robot Chicken. Referred to by non-comic book people as "the fish guy". By the time the character was a running joke on Entourage any chances of Aquaman being taken seriously in a blockbuster were downright abysmal. So a feature film about the fish guy has to be ridiculous, has to be over the top, has to be a bit insane. 

Aquaman the movie might be completely nuts but it needs to be, is what I'm saying here. It seems like it was born out of a writing room where no idea was a bad idea. The film's faults are more technical than storytelling. For a character as derided in the culture at large as Aquaman is, the kitchen sink approach is probably the best idea. There's a lost mother, secret training, royal subterfuge, revenge, political machinations, eco-terrorism, impending war, a road movie, and a buddy comedy all packed into Aquaman's two hour and twenty minutes. There is no concise plot summary that won't sound like the ravings of an insane person. So, yeah, it's overstuffed. And somehow it all works. 

Watching Aquaman should be like watching a multi car accident but where all the cars are clown cars. With James Wan conducting, though, we get less cacophony, more Beethoven's Ninth. James Wan has proven himself a master of horror with Saw and The Conjuring. And he has proven himself a master of near-anarchic bloated action films with Furious 7. Watching him being given a blank canvas and being allowed to create worlds unlike any other in recent film is kind of breathtaking. Like Patty Jenkins on Wonder Woman before him, Mr. Wan is generally ignoring the chaos and the mess of the cinematic universe around him. He is creating whole worlds from eighty years of storytelling and from his own imagination. 

But as ridiculous and over the top and insane as Aquaman is, it lives or dies on its casting. And everyone involved is on the same page, everyone is having giant heaping amounts of fun. This is a movie that features Dolph Lundgren and Nicole Kidman and Amber Heard, that features Patrick Wilson and Willem Dafoe and Temuera Morrison. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays an over the top villain. And Julie Andrews voices a sea monster. On paper this casting looks like a mess. Yet it all works. 

But at the centre of the cast is Jason Momoa. And, hand on my heart honest here, as much fun as Aquaman is, as much fun as the cast is, as good as the action scenes are, I don't think I would have enjoyed the movie even half as much if it was anyone else in the lead. Really. Jason Momoa bumps a ridiculous and over the top and little bit insane movie into Must Be Seen. If I gave these things ratings, Jason Momoa bumps it from two out of four Ramones to three out of four Ramones. Mr. Momoa is Aquaman's secret weapon, unleashed on audiences needing a new kind of action star. A multi-lingual, Haka dancing action star who is having as much fun as he can whether he's playing Khal Drogo, the nomadic warrior king or Arthur Curry, the fish guy. 

But as much fun as Jason Momoa is on screen, as much fun as the cast is, as insane as it is that Julie Andrews is voicing a sea monster, Aquaman is not without its faults. Most of the time the CGI is fine, it looks good. The worlds are full of depth and age and gravity. But then there are other moments, when there is too much on screen, that it all begins to fall apart and the seams start showing and it all starts looking like video game cut scenes. It's not as bad as some of the other DC movies but it's not particularly nice to look at either. And Aquaman has the same issues of most of the genre, a third act climax bogged down by CGI nonsense. It looks ugly, is near impossible to follow, and sucks the air out of the room for almost ten minutes. Look, there is a scene about halfway through the movie when our two leads are battling some baddies and the framing and the CGI and the actors and the green screens and the choreography and everything comes together beautifully. We always know where everyone is in relation to each other, the ones and zeroes never show their nasty little heads, it all looks real no matter how ridiculous it gets. Moments like those are wonderful to watch so when we get to the Comic Book Movie Giant CGI Third Act Showdown, it looks, well, unfinished. But there's no Ghostbusters ending, so there's another plus for Aquaman.

So, yeah. Aquaman is completely ridiculous, it is way over the top, and, yep, it's full on nuts. But it owns its insanity and has a ball with it and wants to invite you to the party. Accept the invite. It's worth the monies. 




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