Movie Review: Aquaman
I really wanted to like the new Aquaman movie. I promise I did everything in my power that I could do to ensure maximum success. Let me explain. I found a true IMAX theater, with a xenon laser projection system. I sat in seat C20, which ensured that not only was I in the so-called sweet spot, acoustically, but that I was close enough to the screen that it filled up slightly more than my field of vision. I even took a marijuana edible, which amplifies everything and stops the monkey mind chatter. Alas, to no avail. The movie wasn’t bad, per se, but it wasn’t good, either. It was derivative.
How? I’ll explain as best I can. This is an issue with most DCEU properties, they draw heavily upon mythology, and their characters are often larger than life, and overpowered as a result. Superman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman aren’t human. Though Aquaman is a half human, he doesn’t bleed or bruise, ever. Even Superman bled and died, but it took enormous, mindbendingly, overwhelming circumstances. Then they just resurrected him. In the comics, he actually didn't die but entered a kind of stasis. In a way, these movies are too, well, super. Human beings can’t connect to them, we can’t empathize.
There’s a reason people lost their shit at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. That Spider-Man death scene? It kills me even now and harkens back to David Tenant’s exit as the best modern Doctor Who. Also, notice the continuity of the new Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse movie doesn’t use the dead Spider-Man at all. Take notes kids, this is all important stuff. Now back to DC, but first, where’s my Advil?
A couple of DC characters that we can empathize with are the Flash and the Batman. They started as human and became something greater through the sheer power of circumstance, grit, and resources. I for one hope we don’t ever see a Batman film starring Ben Affleck, because, well, it’s Ben Affleck, and he fucked up DareDevil so badly that they relegated the character to a now-canceled Netflix series. Can I also point out that all we’ve seen of the character is a grumbly old man of sorts trying to save the future? Which, is fine and all, but there was no human depth to Batman in the recent movies so, if the rumors are true, bye Felisha.
Meanwhile, the source material for the Flash is so rich that the TV show is still going strong and is a really fun ride. I’m not taking anything away from Ezra Miller, I did like his performance in Justice League, but I wanted more, as we get with the show. Like they have done with the so-called “Arrowverse” and the way those shows cross over and affect each other. I think DC rushed their team up movie and as a result, the individual properties are sort of left to flounder like a fish out of water. Pun intended. Now you’re probably reading this and thinking, “What in the blue hell does this have to do with Aquaman?”
As I said, I’m trying to explain but there’s a necessary backstory that must be filled in. See what I did there? I’m going to keep going, whiplash be damned. I wrote previously that I found Aquaman to be derivative. I felt like they took themes from a bunch of different movies and cribbed them to build the Aquaman world. We had a little romcom, we had a little Assassin's Creed video game, a little Star Wars, a little Tron, a little scripted wrestling (both in action and script), a little Prince of Persia, a little battle simulator. It even had a happy ending and of course, set up a potential sequel. No appearances by anyone from any of the DCEU, because, again, this movie was not slotted in a proper sequence in continuity.
The one shining light in this starring vehicle for Jason Momoa was, Jason Momoa. He did a fantastic job, a lot of his personality shined through, a lot of who he is as a person shined through. There was a humorous element to his performance in that he was winking and nodding along with the audience that the situations he continually finds himself in are flat out ridiculous. In a way, as I wrote previously, the mythic heroes journey aspect of the film was so overwhelming. Add to it the scope and mixture of elements and it bordered on a psychedelic trip, it was so fantastic that I couldn’t let myself fall into the world they tried so damned hard to create. I kept trying to wake up and I kept wanting Aquaman to wake up, too.
So while I wanted to like it, I really tried to like it, I couldn’t relate, I couldn’t empathize. This is going to sound strange, but, in the new Mary Poppins Returns it was easier to suspend my disbelief and inhabit the created world than in Aquaman. Same goes for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The name of the game in television and film is getting the audience to suspend their disbelief and fall into the world you’re creating and Aquaman fell far short of the mark. It was EXTRA in a bad way. It was derivative. I'm not blaming this on the filmmakers or actors or even the writers. The source material is so unwieldy that it forces the creative hand in a direction that humans can't follow. So while this film is technically and beautifully executed, it's not art.
The double-edged sword of truth is that had they changed the source material, had they made it bleed, like a Marvel film, they wouldn't have done any better a job. Because they would have been accused of being disloyal to the mythos of the character, or of copying the style and tone of Marvel films. It's a catch-22. As of this writing, this is the lowest grossing DCEU film opening to date, though it has good scores with Rotten Tomatoes and the like. So we'll see where it ultimately ends up. We'll also see if we get a Flash movie, which, if an origin story, will again be out of continuity. We've already lost our Superman and perhaps Batman, so who knows what the future holds for the DCEU.