With a worldwide box office of over 1 Billion dollars, the purpose of a “review” today may seem lost. However, I think it’s important to still look at Aquaman because it means something for DC: a bright future. Following the extremely divisive Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, and Justice League, this movie had every reason to be a disappointment and a box-office flop. Yet, we instead have a bloody fantastic film that puts DC back on the map, but also that proves not only Marvel can make all-around kick-ass movies. Furthermore, if Shazam! is as good as this movie, then for the first time in history (or at least a decade), a Marvel movie (Captain Marvel) will be sandwiched by two better DC movies (Aquaman and Shazam!). So, here is my review for 2018’s box-office phenomenon, Aquaman.
A visionary storyteller: that is the sole secret to cinema success. With James Wan, Warner Bros tapped into something that has been sorely missed from the large majority of their slate. Directors and writers are artists, and to keep them on either a strict schedule or repress their creative freedom has been the downfall of DC in every movie aside from Wonder Woman thus far. While some may argue that Zack Snyder had this freedom with Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, the point is not simply to allow a visionary to be free, but to hire a storyteller. Snyder is historically a filmmaker that looks to string beautiful shots together and not to tell a beautiful story. His movies look great, no doubt, but they’d be more meaningful without dialogue. James Wan is a visionary and a storyteller, and that truth leaks through every frame and note of this fantastic superhero romp.
While the surface-level story has been told a million times, the way this movie feels fresh is that it balances what makes both Marvel and DC great. Yes, it has the light-hearted tone of a Marvel movie with the hero that enjoys doing what he does, but it has the stakes of a DC movie which is really what makes me feel optimistic about the future of the franchise. If Aquaman were to fail, then chaos would befall Earth as the people of the sea would wage war on the surface-dwellers, forever altering the fate of humanity. Furthermore, the people of the sea feel attacked because of the pollution that the surface-dwellers throw into the ocean. The Antlantians and other under-water humans don’t just want to “wipe out everything”
or “take over the world,” but they believe that they’re doing what’s best for the preservation of their race. Those are stakes. That’s good writing by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall.
The stakes go well beyond there, however, as Aquaman himself, Arthur Curry, was conceived by an Atlantian queen and a quiet light-house keeper. When Atlantis found out about her debauchery, they sent her to her death via the Trench (monsters), and all of Atlantis reviles Arthur for his existence. However, Arthur’s brother, Orm, is leading
Atlantis 30 years later and will stop at nothing to defend his place on the throne and prove his might by saving the people of the sea and destroying the people of the land. Arthur, disregarded by people of the land and of the sea, must do his best to save the world before either of his races are wiped out. Thus, we have captivating characters to follow through this epic fantasy. The stakes are high, the characters are deep, and the action is incredible.
Tapping into a director like James Wan is great for a few things: cinematic ingenuity, and fluid action sequences. Luckily, Wan’s ingenuity feeds into these action sequences as, coming from a background of horror, he knows what to do to make the audience feel as though they’re in the scene. As he made Furious 7, he stated
That’s the one thing I could really put my stamp on. The action stuff. When I came on board, the whole concept of dropping cars out of the back of a plane was already conceived but then it was up to me to execute it and make it as thrilling as I could. To give you an example, the very first action beat I designed was the armored bus teetering on the edge of the cliff and Paul has to jump over and climb onto the roof as the whole thing is falling off the edge. That is what I brought to this film. That kind of stuff was what I really wanted to do. Some of that horror/thriller suspense to an action movie.
This quote tells us half of the story, as you can visually see his efforts when watching the movies as well. The first fist-fight in Furious 7 and a few of them in Aquaman both showcase one of his techniques to increase audience engagement: the camera roll. If a character is standing vertically on the ground, but then gets knocked back to a horizontal position, the camera will roll 90 degrees so that the audience feels the impact of the flip. In horror, you can get the audience to feel thrills with many things such as lighting/shadows, intense music, total silence, and other technical tricks but in an action movie, it’s hard to get the audience to feel as if they’re present instead of watching somebody else do things. Wan’s ability to get the audience to feel engaged is really a highlight of not only his technical prowess but also his creative ingenuity. He can film action in a way that few others can in this day and age, and it shows especially well in Aquaman.
All of that being said, the one thing that I was worried about with this new superhero movie is how well it stands alone. Some movies lean too heavily on what’s been set up in previous films that they can’t tell their own story, and some lean too heavily on the idea of sequels that they don’t even bother creative a narrative. Aquaman does neither, and I love it. This film stands on it’s own in every way and while it references Justice League and teases Aquaman 2, it doesn’t bog itself down in either direction which allows the plot to focus on what’s present, and it achieves it beautifully. I found myself completely engrossed in this specific film without caring about it’s connection to other DC movies. I mean, this is a Universe with Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, etc and I didn’t care about anything other than Arthur Curry the Aquaman. If somebody had said those words 10 years ago, people would have laughed. Now, DC has done a better job with Aquaman than any other character in their pantheon…save for Wonder Woman, debatably.
So, here we are. DC has made a truly excellent film now that they’ve started to take their storytellers seriously. Giving David Ayer six measly weeks to create Suicide Squad or firing Zack Snyder as he filmed Justice League were incredible mistakes, but now that they’ve seen what success they can have when they allow artists to craft good movies like a Wonder Woman, Aquaman, or the upcoming Shazam!, I don’t see them making the same mistakes. From here on out, I consider myself a huge DCEU fan and I simply cannot wait to see what they do next. I’m going to give Aquaman a “Woohoo!” out of 10.
As always, thank you for reading this! If you liked it (or didn’t), check out my other posts, and I’ll see you soon