Review for Aquaman
The last year or so, I’ve really indulged that ever-present passion for superhero comic book movies, trying to get all of the MCU and DCEU movies into my collection. But I feel like I’ve hit the point of diminishing returns, having got most, if not all of them. Moreover, it seems the studios are hitting the same point, or worse, the dreaded franchise fatigue. We have two remaining, COVID delayed Snyderverse spin-offs to come from DC, but there’s new management in town, and the studio now wants a clean slate reboot of all its franchises. Marvel are still going headlong with their MCU, taking it into the Multiverse Saga through phases 4-6, but there’s very little that has matched the heady heights of Avengers Infinity War and Endgame, both critically and in terms of box-office. I take a look at the gaps in my collection, and there are just slots for Dark Phoenix and New Mutants in the X-Men side of things, or I’m looking for more vintage titles like the Blade sequels, The Phantom, or dare I say it... Batman and Robin. I’m not that obsessed!
At the time of writing, I have just two superhero comic book Blu-rays yet to watch. The first in my hand is the spin-off movie for the pointless character from The Justice League. Seriously, what did Aquaman do in that movie? Still, I shouldn’t be down on the Aquaman standalone feature just for that. After all, the film was good enough to green light the Aquaman 2 sequel, which has been in the can and waiting for a release slot for the better part of 2 years at this point. It should be out by Christmas this year. Incidentally, if you’re a purist, you might want to import the US release. Almost every comic book movie aims for an audience maximising 12 rating. The BBFC took exception to a couple of blood spurts when it came to that, and they were digitally erased on the UK theatrical and home video releases. The runtime is unchanged.
Arthur Curry, a.k.a. Aquaman may have helped save the world from Steppenwolf, but he hasn’t let that change him. He’s still a hard-drinking badass who takes no nonsense as he protects the oceans from villainy. That attitude leaves him with an enemy at his heels when he deals with a gang of undersea pirates with brutality. He’s going to have to work on that attitude as his past catches up to him. Arthur is the oldest son of Queen Atlanna of Atlantis, the sunken kingdom of ocean dwellers. Against all tradition and law, she came to the surface and fell in love with a mortal man, but to protect her family she returned to Atlantis, where she was eventually executed for having the affront to bear a half-breed child. Now Arthur’s half-brother Orm is King, and to consolidate his power he wants to declare a final war against the surface dwellers that have been poisoning the oceans. But there are some in Atlantis who want to stop this. Princess Mera comes to the surface to persuade Arthur to claim his birthright and take the throne from Orm and stop the war.
Aquaman gets a 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, opening out to 1.78:1 for the IMAX bits, which is the majority of the picture. I’ve gotten to the point that I’ve become inured to this, and it was only when I screen-capped the disc, that I realised that there were IMAX scenes in the film. A legacy of the BBFC mandate, this is a UK only disc, and comes with Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, as well as with a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround English Audio Descriptive track. There are English subtitles if you require. If you’re looking for other languages, once again you’ll have to import. The image is clear and sharp, colours are rich and consistent. The audio is nice and immersive, although once again, the Atmos track requires a little more volume than the DTS. On such a recent film, it’s more about the creative choices than the transfer, and this is another film where CGI outweighs the live action, and blue-screen and green-screen abound. Why take a chance on reality, when you can paint a perfect sunset on computer. It also took me a little while to get used to the music soundtrack, which at first sounded as obvious and as overwrought as a Bollywood blockbuster.
It’s been four years since its release, and I still got the film in an Amaray case with an o-card slipcover. Those things usually sell out within a month or two, which is a sign of how popular this film is. For whatever it’s worth at this point, there is also a digital download code. The disc boots to a static menu, and you’ll find the following extras.
Becoming Aquaman (13:03)
Going Deep Into the World of Aquaman (19:28)
James Wan: World Builder (7:42)
The Dark Depths of Black Manta (6:39)
Heroines of Atlantis (5:31)
Villainous Training (6:21)
A Match Made in Atlantis (3:12)
Atlantis Warfare (4:40)
Creating Undersea Creatures (7:15)
Scene Study Breakdown x3 (10:15)
Kingdom of the Seven Seas (6:59)
Shazam Sneak Peek (3:27)
Aquaman is a mess, a meandering morass of a film that is uncertain of what it wants to achieve. On the bright side, it is an entertaining mess, mostly on the strength of the characters, and in an otherwise disappointing film, the fact that it left me with a smile on my face makes up for almost everything. The more far-out a comic book premise is, the harder it is to take seriously, and creating a world where the undersea kingdom of Atlantis still thrives requires a lot of faith from audiences in a genre that has been trying to make people ‘believe a man can fly’ for forty-odd years.
To refer to the rivals, Aquaman’s world crosses Wakanda with Asgard and infuses it with the Arthurian legend. You have to believe that a civilisation more advanced than our own exists on the planet and always has done. The kingdom of Atlantis is split into several realms, all based on ancient myth and legends. And if Arthur Curry wants to be king of this undersea domain, he has to find an ancient weapon, lost for millennia. I had to work overtime to suspend my disbelief for this one, not helped by the Black Manta character donning the dumbest suit I have seen in a superhero movie for a long time.
The film takes its time to get going, as it has to find the space to tell Aquaman’s origin story (with copious digital youthification), introduce and set up the world of Atlantis, and the prominent characters, and set up Black Manta’s animosity towards Aquaman. Once King Orm’s nefarious plan is revealed, it’s time for Mera to come to the surface and enlist Aquaman in an attempt to prevent the forthcoming war. The first move in this is Atlantis grounding all the world’s navies and throwing all the ocean pollution back on land. One of the problems with a shared universe at this point, is that you’ll naturally ask, where’s Superman?
It’s then that the adventure begins, with Mera persuading Aquaman to take his brother’s place as king of Atlantis. Given that Arthur has no love for the kingdom given the fate of his mother, it takes some persuading. He impulsively wants to take the quick way to the throne, when he first has to win over the hearts and minds of his potential subjects. This being a comic book, he has to live up to legend, and find the fabled lost weapon of Atlantis’ first king Atlan. Thus begins a globe-trotting treasure hunt, a la Indiana Jones with the forces of their foes dogging their heels all the way.
The characters make the film into enough of a romp that it holds the attention. Aquaman comes with an attitude and irreverence that never lets the film get pompous or too serious. After all, the premise doesn’t warrant deep thought, and deserves to be undercut. Mera helps this, with Amber Heard channelling Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow (which is all to the good), and the two have some good chemistry on screen.
The story is bloated and messy and you have to wait for it to begin to satisfy. But for me the big problem is that Aquaman’s premise is such that it can only be realised on a digital backlot, practically the majority of the film is CG, even when it doesn’t need to be. At this point, I’m beginning to tire of the abundance of unreality on screen. Aquaman is fun but naff, which compared to many of the DC Universe films, is still a step up.
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