Review: Aquaman

Let me begin by saying, this review WILL have spoilers. The non-spoiler review is that this a fun movie. If you like the Fast and Furious franchise, I think it’s safe to say you will enjoy this (James Wan, also directed F&F7). I didn’t know this going in, but when my husband told me afterwards, I could feel the similarities. It’s a fun rompy-action movie with great special effects.

Ok, so everything after this might be spoilery. Fair warning.

Let me begin with the good. The action scenes are GOOD. Not always great, some of them might have gone one a fraction too long for me, but it was VERY GOOD. They were well choreographed and well shot (no shaky cam or other shitty camera tricks). The characters styles fit their personality (I always hate when the “well training tiny dude takes on gianormous dude hand-to-hand”).

The colors were spectacular. It felt like a comic book. Nolan’s Batman was good, but I am (honestly) tired of the “let’s make it gritty and real” look for superheroes. Superheroes need some bright, unrealistic colors. Aquaman did that fabulously. I hope that this movie does well enough that more producers, directors, etc. say “good, let’s throw some really purple hair in there” and such.

The less good: This movie had issues that stood out to me in the theater. Most superhero/action movies I can turn my brain off and just suspend disbelief. Some of these were so glaring they stood out to me and threw me out of the fantasy.

The big one that stood out was Jason Momoa’s character. The writers/ director couldn’t seem to decide if he was a jock-meathead or a well-rounded, intelligent man. They bounced from one to the other. There is a scene very early on where some burly dudes in a bar look like they are going to fight him but just want selfies. It was a great twist on the “pick a fight with the big guy in a bar” trope and I appreciated it a lot. But during it, Arthur (Momoa) looks less than thrilled. Does he want to be an anonymous superhero or does he not like people? Did he just want to fight? I dunno! As much as I loved twisting the trope for the big-burly-beer-bros, it said more about the human world Arthur is part of than it said about Arthur’s stance in it.

This theme really got broken later when Arthur and Mera (Amber Herd) are in Greece and somehow he just knows his Greek/Roman kings vs. generals. Like, I am a history MAJOR and I’d have been guessing (granted, not my favorite time period). And he makes this comment about “my dad made me learn it” – but there was NOTHING in the character of his dad (which I feel like we got some good doses of) to give us ANY indication of that level of education-interest or hell, even interest. When we first get into Dad’s house he’s watching a shitty monster-movie on tv and reading HG Wells. Replace EITHER of those with a “historical battles in greece” sort of thing to give me (the viewer) some indication he IS interested. Or make Mom (before she leaves) give him a book of ancient Greece. ANYTHING.

Arthur’s comment totally threw me out of the movie and literally made me squirm. It felt like someone asked “hey, how DOES Arthur know this” and so the writers threw in this line about Dad making him learn it. I’m sorry, Dad was so sloshed on beer a few scenes ago he didn’t wake up when Arthur was driving like a crazy-man to escape a giant wall of water, dad hasn’t struck me as the “strong on education type” or “nerd about ancient Greece dude.”

The other part that utterly threw me out of the movie was a combination of scenes with completely disconnected historical events. They have to go to the Sahara desert to learn a thing because “back when it was inland sea.” Do you know how long the Sahara desert has been a desert? ME NEITHER (not my area). But I know it was a desert when the Egyptians were just beginning to muck around the Nile with clay tablets. Much less the height of Greece. So….. either Mr. Ocean King’s people somehow still were living in the MegaLake under the desert (which WOULD have been a really cool reference!) and their deaths were relatively recent (I could suspend my disbelief if they said “they kept the water hidden, but something happened suddenly and it vanished 500 years ago. “) Make it a reference to the ‘city of Dionysis’ – THAT would have been cool. But nooooo….. sea disappeared 7 million years ago and Greek kings TOTALLY THE SAME TIME!!!!

History major. I can’t turn it off and it hurt. My husband even asked me if I was ok and I glared at him and said, “No. They are wrong!”

And I know 99% of people probably won’t be bothered by this – they will be able to suspend their disbelief. But it could have been so much better. They had some great opportunities that they half-hit on. The group in the desert was called “the deserters” – and at first I thought that meant they deserted the sea (or the Atlantis collective) – but then no, apparently they lived in the sea-in-the-desert. Or they were deserters….. Ok, I’m not sure what they mean and if they MEAN for it to be a play on words… I can’t tell. ARG. It could have been such a cool reference to make it the ‘City of Dionysis’ and they DID desert (abandon) to the desert (sandy place). They became the desert-ers. Some lore about them mingling with the blood of man and THAT’s how they “deserted” the people of Atlantis. But nope. No explanation what they mean by “deserter.” Could be either one I guess!

Lastly, why is Arthur so much more special than the other kings/princes/princesses of Atlantis? Like Mera is a princess and theoretically at least equal to Arthur (or his brother) because she’s the heir to one of the 7 groups. Why can’t SHE just go get the ancient trident and become supreme ruler of the sea. Why is ARTHUR so special? Glaring plot hole that again, made me physically squirm. She is supporting him and helping HIM -WHY????? Like, just say “I don’t want the power, we need YOU because you are the only way to link the land and sea. I couldn’t do it, I don’t understand the land peoples.” and I’d go, “ah, it’s not a birthright thing, it’s a politcal machination thing. Ok,” One sentence somewhere could have fixed this. But noooooo…. it’s supposed to be Arthur, it WILL be Arthur…. BECAUSE.

And that is the core of my big complaint. You might have already caught on (if you’ve managed to read this far!) – it’s always just shy of “ok, that was awesome.” It’s like 85-90% good. But then they drop that last nugget, that last reference, that last… piece to make it GREAT. From the twisted trope of beer-bros to deserter (my god what a great pun that COULD have been!) to making Arthur a real nerd… But they missed the bullseye and hit an uncanny valley of writing that constantly disappointed me.

I will grant this is a good superhero or action movie. But it isn’t great. It is my second favorite DC movie to come out in about the last 10 years (Wonder Woman is #1). I think DC is beginning to actually hire decent writers, but they still haven’t managed to get all the loose ends tied up and the laziness which I think “Batman and Superman always make money” gave them since the 70’s hasn’t finished wearing off. They are closer, and definitely I think the punches in the face they’ve gotten in some of the recent movies is slowly dawning on them. But close is almost worse than an utter miss (Suicide Squade is #3 because it’s SO AWFUL I just throw my brain out the window and ride the crazy).