More noise than signal


Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

I believe I mentioned in passing during some podcast passim my thoughts on the trailer for Aquaman, and for once that trailer proved to be quite representative of the tone and general quality of the final product. So, the very short form of this review is “go watch the trailer and judge for yourselves”.

But I’m not being paid the big bucks to shirk my duties. I’m not being paid at all. More fool me. Anyway, the latest of the quote unquote troubled DC universe films to appear centers on Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, or Arthur Curry, which splits it’s duties between action outing and origin story, although perhaps less origin story than assuming the mantle story.

Sure, some attention is paid to what happens when a lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and Nicole Kidman’s exiled Atlantean Queen Atlanna are very much in love and do a special cuddle, and how a young Arthur is trained by Willem Dafoe’s Atlantean majordomo Vulko on the quiet to harness his powers, but for the most part we’re joining Arthur after all that Justice League unpleasantness, with him still wanting nothing to do with the undersea world.

However, the undersea world has decided it wants a piece of us, in particular Aquaman’s half brother and ruler of one of the powerful undersea Kingdoms, Orm (Patrick Wilson). He’s underhandedly setting about uniting the clans against a perceived common enemy, us landlubbers, and Vulko and Amber Heard’s Mera, Princess of something or other, come to the conclusion that the only way to stop this is have a highly reluctant Arthur challenge his half-brother for leadership.

As part of that he’ll need to be recognised as a rightful ruler after his long absence and “half-breed” status are counted against him, so he’ll have to seek out authority by reclaiming the legendary Atlan’s MacGuffin, sorry, Trident from the bosom of the water which if you ask me is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony. Out to stop him are Orm’s goon squads and Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a human mercenary / pirate powered with Atlantean technology, holding a grudge against Arthur.

Like most comic book movies it’s a silly premise, and like most of the best of them it leans into this rather than trying to fight it. It’s helped massively by Jason Mamoa being such a likable, charismatic son of a gun, and he’s rapidly becoming the best hope for Hollywood action cinema’s survival after The Rock’s hip goes or something.

Of course, it’s basically one big parade of CGI, which here is on a sliding scale between works really well and really doesn’t. Most of it’s used to create fantastic undersea worlds the like of which could not be realised before Renderware was a thing, and this is all gravy, the usual unreality of CG swinging back to being an advantage rather than a hindrance.

Sadly the pendulum swings the other way for a few scenes taking place on-shore, and in a film that’s half an hour too long there’s one particular Italian village destroying scene that could have been pruned out without anyone missing it. It’s not enough to sink the film, ho ho ho, do you see what I did here, but in common with damn near everything we speak of there’s a great, tight 90, 100 minute film here scraped out past two hours. Also, Black Manta’s character design looks daft, in a bad way, on land, as opposed to some of the underwater army shenanigans towards the film’s end, which I find to be daft in entirely the correct way.

While there’s nothing overall outstandingly great or dreadful in Aquaman, some fun dialogue, decent performances, Momoa’s presence and the unique visual stylings make this a pretty enjoyable slice of entertainment, and I liked this as much as any other of the least dreadful Marvel or DC Universe films. Worth catching up with, should this sort of thing be your bag, and I congratulate it for have the incredible twist of not having Willem Dafoe be a bad guy. I did not see that one coming.

As a side note, I’m glad that Aquaman‘s the first DC film to cross the $1 billion mark purely on the basis that we can now retire the silly DC films are doomed argument, which never made a lick of sense to me. Sure, Marvel films made more bank, but when even a film as irredeemably awful as Suicide Squad can take in nearly $750 million, I don’t think we need to worry about customer demand. Now they seem to have worked out how to film something without reshooting half of it and paying for cutting edge mustache removal work, I suspect there’s a Scrooge McDuckian future awaiting them. For better or worse for the cinema landscape.