SPOILER WARNING – THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR WARNER BROS.’ NEW FILM AQUAMAN
Whatever people may think about the DC movies so far, it’s almost universally agreed upon that Jason Momoa is a sexy hunk of man beef.
Oh, and that he’s been pretty fun on screen as Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman.
To say I’m surprised to be writing about a big-screen Aquaman movie would be an understatement. And just a few years ago the idea that Aquaman would have a brighter cinematic future than Superman or even Batman would have seemed absurd. But thanks to severe mishandling by Warner Bros. and fans’ taste for derision bandwagons, that’s where we are.
The first trailer for this movie was nothing short of breathtaking, promising huge action, bright colors, and sexy leads. Everyone here at Needless Things was absolutely delighted and immediately granted Momoa permission to come aboard.
Were we too hasty or did the charming fish man earn his entry into our hearts? Read on and find out!
1 – Spectacle – I’ve never, ever seen anything like Aquaman.
This movie is Flash Gordon (1980) + Clash of the Titans (1981) + Indiana Jones (1981-1989). It’s a truly epic, world-spanning adventure that brings so many elements together it’s almost bewildering. The only time you have to catch your breath and rest your eyes from gazing into glorious worlds previously only imagined are when our characters are on land, and even then the plot is barreling right along.
We saw it in standard format, but I am dying to witness this in 3D. I can’t even imagine how the undersea scenes must look.
2 – FUN FUN FUN – When I mentioned Flash Gordon above it was for more than just the action and the scope of the film. There’s also a bit of the camp of that movie here, but in a way that’s palatable to modern audiences. The tone is set fairly early on, so that Aquaman can take us to wild places and show us wonderful things like fish people and grown men riding giant seahorses. And you guys – there are so many rad scenes of dudes riding seahorses.
Over the course of the adventure – and this movie is 100% adventure – our heroes Arthur and Mera travel the world, fight villains in exotic locales, and fall in love. It’s a classic, globe-trotting scenario turned up to 11. My swash was thoroughly buckled.
3 – Fish Man – Jason Momoa is wonderful, but that’s not news.
What was critical to the success of this movie was showing how this world responded to Momoa’s Arthur. Would people literally call him “Aquaman”? Would he actually “talk to fish”? How do Atlanteans respond to his stonewashed jeans and chain wallet?
I think that the filmmakers’ hardest job was to make this potentially silly character palatable not just to the audience, but to the world he inhabited. And they did it.
People straight-up call him Aquaman because, similar to Burton’s Batman, he’s sort of an urban (nautical?) myth. The news talks about him and Atlantis as a sort of hushed conspiracy kind of thing. It’s valid enough to be discussed on cable news, but is dismissed as nonsense.
He straight-up talks to… well, marine life. It’s not just limited to fish. When he uses this ability – which is unique to him – it looks and sounds exactly like the old Super Friends cartoon brought to life.
IT IS FUCKING AWESOME.
And you guys, there’s a fish-talking scene at the end that makes “You’ll Believe A Man Can Fly” seem like old news.
YOU’LL BELIEVE A MAN CAN TALK TO FISH
NOTE: No, of course nothing will ever lessen the impact of “You’ll Believe A Man Can Fly”. I was being hyperbolic. But holy shit is that scene incredible. Like, jump up out of your seat and throw up a shaka and shout “HELL YEAH” incredible.
4 – Category 15 – Speaking of that scene, there’s a motherfucking kaiju in Aquaman. I think it’s supposed to be the Kraken of Greek mythology, but I don’t recall it being clearly stated.
Slattern, the big bad from Pacific Rim, is a Category V and Godzilla is colloquially thought of as Category 10; this thing is Category 15. Or at least, my delight at seeing Aquaman command it and ride its gotdamn head into glory was a Category 15.
It’s also worth noting that this is one of the “fish” (marine life) that Arthur talks to. Turns out it’s a “she” and whoever did the voice is so good. She’s conveys powerful and ancient and regal incredibly well. Obviously there are some effects over the dialogue, but it’s just great.
NOTE: Okay; hyperbole again. It was not bigger than the modern American Godzilla. But it was a big mamma-jamma.
Update: In fact-checking something else I discovered that this creature is called Karathen and is supposed to be the most powerful creature on Earth. And was voiced by Julie Andrews(!). So that explains the somewhat surprising quality of the work.
5 – There’s Nothing About Mera – Amber Heard is very nice to look at and fills out Mera’s absurd fish suit wonderfully, but in this movie she has all the charisma of a sack of broccoli.
Heard is easily the worst thing about Aquaman and I can’t even imagine how anyone let this happen. Everyone else in the film is having so much fun and is absolutely eating up every crazy damn thing going on around them, but she’s just there, barely emoting.
She isn’t terrible, but she just isn’t into it. Maybe she isn’t comfortable with the kind of effects-heavy filming this required or maybe she just isn’t a very good actress. I don’t know because I haven’t seen much of her work. It just shocks me that this wasn’t corrected. In a movie full of action and fun her dull disinterest sticks out like a sore thumb.
Don’t get me wrong – it doesn’t take away from the rest of the film, but it could have been so much better with someone fun in the role like Emma Stone or Mary Elizabeth Winstead or Alison Brie or Hayley Atwell or Jenna Coleman or heck, Bella Thorne. At least she has fun in everything.
6 – The… Villain? – Patrick Wilson is the actual star of Aquaman.
While Jason Momoa gets to run around punching things while grinning, Wilson has to hold down the plot at every turn. His character, Orm, is the very best kind of villain in that he’s not actually wrong about what he’s trying to do. Heck, he’s barely even a villain.
To parse it down, Orm is mad at the surface world for fucking up the planet for the last several hundred years. He wants to unite the seven undersea nations of Atlantis and wage war on the dirty shitbags who inhabit the land.
Sure, it would be nicer to try and make peace and work together to improve the world, but Orm’s motivations are relatable. It’s his methods that aren’t the nicest.
Where Wilson’s magnificence comes in is in his uncanny ability to portray all of the things Orm has to be – a king, a gladiator-man-of-the-people type, a caring son, a ruthless general, a uniter, and finally a guy that can believably face off against Jason Momoa riding a Category 15 gotdamn kaiju.
He does it all. Without breaking a sweat.
It’s going to take repeated viewings to verify this, but I’m comfortable right now typing that Orm is one of the best comic book movie villains ever. Maybe the best. No, he’s not as fleshed out as Thanos, but Thanos didn’t have to look good fighting Jason Momoa.
Finally, Orm’s battle mask moves to emote because it’s made of undersea magic and it’s great.
7 – The Greatest Film Dad of All Time – Temuera Morrison plays Thomas Curry, Arthur’s human father. He’s awesome and has fantastic chemistry with Jason Momoa. I could’ve gone for more scenes of them together. He’s not in the movie a ton, but he’s the touchstone to Arthur’s humanity and is a delight on the screen.
You probably know Morrison best as Jango Fett, but if you haven’t seen a movie called Once Were Warriors I encourage you to seek it out immediately. It’s a powerful family drama – not my usual fare – but it’s outstanding.
8 – Nudist Falco – Willem Dafoe plays Nuidis Vulko, Arthur’s trainer, mentor, and secret ally.
He’s great. That’s all.
Okay, that’s not all – CGI de-aged Dafoe would make a great Namor.
9 – A Whole New World – I mentioned how big and epic Aquaman is above, but I want to specify just how spectacularly the digital effects are used.
Because the filmmakers are creating an entire underwater world, the typical problems of digital effects – needing to blend seamlessly with the real world – don’t apply. Everything is gorgeous and immersive. It’s very easy to lose yourself in this world and suspend disbelief. The oceans are vast and deep. Atlantis has layers upon layers that make it not just huge, but ancient. It consists of technologically advanced super-cities of the future built on top of majestic ruins. It all looks fantastic.
Of course, the seas are teeming with life and Aquaman knows this. There’s motion everywhere, from the characters floating in the foreground to millions of different lifeforms bustling about in the background.
I cannot believe how great the Atlanteans look underwater. Hair floats, bodies sway, and every movement has a different weight to it. There’s a fight between Orm and Arthur that is fast-paced, but at the same time balletic. They move with speed and power and it comes across just how different submerged combat is.
The creatures of the sea work because they aren’t being compared to living creatures in a real environment. Don’t get me wrong – they look wonderful. They work. But sharks next to giant sea dragons and crab monsters don’t need to look quite as photorealistic as sharks next to a coral reef on the Discovery Channel.
I’m not saying they don’t look and move realistically, but the fantastical elements of Aquaman create a different level of reality for all of the world in which they function.
10 – Lots of Movie – Aquaman packs a whole lot into one movie. With each new setting I was amazed that a whole different portion of story was unfolding. It didn’t seem possible that everything could be wrapped up by the end of the film, bit it was. Perhaps a bit more abruptly than you’d expect, but that’s not to say it was unsatisfying. As a matter of fact, a big part of my personal enjoyment of the film was the manner in which it ended.
11 – Happily Ever After – Everybody lives!
I mean, aside from the people that Orm murdered and the millions of sea creatures that probably met their demise during the massive undersea war that was the film’s climax.
But at the end of the movie, all of our principal characters are still standing. There are no cheap deaths to up the stakes, no last-minute “I’ll have my evil revenge!” stabbings. The very satisfying conclusion is that Arthur defeats his half-brother, who has possibly seen some of the errors of his ways and is taken away for justice.
Arthur says, “When you’re ready, we’ll talk”.
Arthur’s parents are even reunited at the end! I thought for sure that something stupid would happen like Orm screaming and murdering his mother, but nope. As I said before – he’s not really a bad guy, just misguided.
12 – Villain(s) – At first glance it might seem a little crowded to have both Black Manta and Ocean Master (Orm) in the movie. It isn’t.
David Kane (Manta’s real name) is a real villainous bad guy. He’s a criminal with no scruples who murders innocent people. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays him as a counter to Jason Momoa’s easygoing casualness – Manta is ruthless and detail-oriented, the leader of a gang of militaristic pirates.
Kane’s character arc is utterly predictable from the second he steps on screen, but surprises and twists aren’t always needed. Especially when an actor as riveting as Abdul-Mateen is in the role. I just enjoyed watching him emote and evolve.
Naturally it turns out he’s working for Orm, which is why having two antagonists of the stature of Black Manta and Ocean Master doesn’t crowd the plot.
13 – Picture It – Sicily, 2018 – A key portion of Aquaman takes place in a town in Sicily. It’s a setting that we don’t often see in movies and it felt incredibly fresh and interesting.
The first part of the sequence lets Arthur and Mera breathe a bit and spend some time together, the second is the breathtaking chase/battle with Black Manta and the Atlantean soldiers that was glimpsed in the trailers.
This could have easily been the climax of the film. It’s intense and exciting and I’ve seen great movies end on lesser notes. But you guys – this awesome encounter is like two five-year-olds slap-fighting compared to the epic undersea war that actually ends the film.
14 – Atlanna – Nicole Kidman is appropriately charming and weird as Arthur’s expatriate mother, Atlanna.
I haven’t loved Kidman in everything she’s done, but she’s good in this. And later in the movie she has this awesome battle armor made out of sea monsters that really deserves an action figure.
15 – Here There Be Monsters – I’m going to have to buy The Art and Making of Aquaman because of all of the amazing creature designs in the film.
I’ve mentioned before that I adore nautical-themed horror movies and undersea monsters in particular, and Aquaman has a seemingly endless supply of monstrous eye candy. From the giant seahorses to the warriors of the Brine to the Fishermen, each new species or character is a delight to experience. I need toys of all of these immediately.
My favorites, though, did get a toy – the Trench. These are a collective of Lovecraftian fish/human hybrids that are terrifying in their ferocity and sheer numbers. It’s unfortunate – and, quite frankly, idiotic – that Mattel made this the build-a-figure for the DC Multiverse Aquaman line, but hopefully the basic line will get some. Heck, they got sharks and crab monsters, too!
16 – And Finally… LUNDGREN – King Nereus of Xebel isn’t a huge role, but is one of the main supporting characters. For the time he has on screen, Dolph Lundgren is mesmerizing as the monarch that also happens to be Mera’s father.
It took me a minute to realize who he was thanks to a fairly good ginger job, but he has a real presence in all of his scenes.
Aquaman is a big, bright, technological marvel. It represents even more of a departure from Zack Snyder’s DC vision than Wonder Woman did and gives me hope for the future of this section of the DC movieverse or whatever it’s called.
I know that going forward we’re getting a ton of weird, unrelated stuff, but I still think the existing characters have value and can be salvaged and integrated into this brighter new world. I would love to see Henry Cavill’s Superman through the lens used to create Aquaman.
BONUS! – Here’s a list of Aquaman toys that need to be made:
-Battle Armor Atlanna
-Atlantean warriors in surface gear
-Orm’s gigantic sea crocodile mount
-The Fishermen royal family and Fishermen warriors
-Trench warriors that aren’t build-a-figures
-Various Brine warriors
-Atlantean warrior on seadragon
-Dead King Atlan on throne
I left Vulko off the list because he’s already available as an Amazon Exclusive.
While I’d love to see Black Manta’s sub and Mera’s cruiser, that simply isn’t going to happen.
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