3 (out of 4)
First off let's not pretend superhero movies are more than vaguely artistic. For god's sake they've been Hollywood's fat calf for nearly two decades. The fruits of the genre are conceived for a general audience even if they are often subliminally designed for children and overweight forty-year-olds. The only thing left to explore in superheroism after all the formulas and subversions have been exhausted is a few eccentric characters (why I've always been fond of those misfits called X-Men), unexplored settings and formal experimentation. Aquaman has everything it needs plus its own variety of deliriously campy pleasures.
I have to come out of the gate in defense because saying you care for a DC movie that's not Wonder Woman leads your audience to believe you are a contrarian. Aquaman is one of the best, if not the best, the DCEU has yet to offer. As the first film since Justice League made no impact on the world of superheroes one year ago, Aquaman is a spiritual rebirth for DC and a new page in Warner Brothers capeshit saga. It's a refreshing tonic rinsing out everything so dull and putrid about earlier entries.
Aquaman's story is anything but complicated yet beneath the surface level there are fathoms of context to unravel. It’s no secret the DCEU has floundered one release after another – Man of Steel was promising before quickly becoming excruciating and same goes for BvS, credit to Snyder’s ambitions misguided as they may have been. Suicide Squad and Justice League are so utterly flavorless they can barely be classified as films considering the very public studio meddling. Wonder Woman, imperfect as it is, became the obvious exception to the rule two summers past.
Aquaman doesn’t reinvent the wheel – there are no challenging narrative choices like Nolan’s Bat-trilogy or in Infinity War earlier this year. James Wan – the man behind Insidious, The Conjuring and the most acclaimed of the Fast & Furious series (number 7 to be exact) – has the touch of a pop craftsman and you can register his audacious approach to Aquaman from head to fin. Before the turn of the century there was never any hope a movie like this could’ve been even remotely possible conceptually – Wan's blockbuster works with a boilerplate origin story that would have felt familiar 20 years ago and in spite of this Aquaman overwhelmingly prevails as pure spectacle.
What can I say? The film is good clean fun – it applies epic scope to conventional adventure plotting and archetypal characters including the macho reluctant hero and the capable and incredibly sexualized love interest. It all feels kind of classic in its own fantastic if farcical fashion, though it's easy to see the clichés too. For me Wan's unmistakable vision is so kinetically gratifying even the clunkiest lines are forgivable – altogether he keeps the mood just serious enough to care about and just goofy enough to enjoy intensely. Aquaman strikes a deft balance of copious entertainment in spite of every perceived preceding limitation right down to the drumming octopus. This kind of preposterous extravaganza comes only so often. There's a satisfaction in seeing something so sensational be taken at face value, especially when the visual realization has been rigorously storyboarded.
The humor is there but unlike Marvel movies Aquaman doesn't break from established drama to wink at the audience about the whole affair, tempting as that might have been. With loads of CG scenery to chew, the fairly talented and inarguably well cast performers hold our attention. Jason Mamoa's interpretation of an undersea outlaw and Amber Heard's entirely appropriate merwoman princess role play to their respectively moderate strengths. Patrick Wilson and Willem Dafoe are far above this material but that doesn’t stop them from giving their all to such blatant schlock. The subaquatic monologuing and mythology is its own reward if you have an open mind. Exposition isn’t this film's strong suit but the Atlantian mythos is somehow much more interesting than that of Wakanda, Themyscira or Asgard.
What Aquaman really does is revert the superhero recipe back to the dumb escapist fare it was before The Dark Knight wrongly encouraged people to expect sophistication from their capeflicks. The original two Spider-Man films are among the best the genre has ever spawned but they are absurd to a tee whilst achieving the gusto of a comic book. All in all I can't explain such vivid revelry in viewing Aquaman other than it has all the kooky creativity of an old-fashioned cult classic burnished with expensive contemporary cosmetics.
To keep it brief...
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