Sunday, April 28, 2019

"Aquaman" - A Dozen Movies in One

*I write these articles under the assumption that you've already seen the movie, so...SPOILERS.

I know, it’s Avengers time, and I’m posting about Aquaman. But this site is about movies I own, not about movies currently in theaters...unless I plan on buying a movie I watched in the theaters (I know I’m not buying Endgame because I so rarely buy Marvel movies; I like all of them, but I don’t want to watch many of them ever again). I just happened to buy Aquaman recently, so since I was watching it, I figured I’d write my thoughts about it upon a second viewing. My initial review for the local paper I write for was glowing. I loved this movie. So I was interested in seeing if that feeling held up to a second viewing.

Does it hold up after a few months?

As I get to the theater less and less these days (due to work and having a toddler and another baby on the way…), going to the movies has become special again, something I get to do rarely. Because of this, I worry that I will automatically like anything I see. I broke myself of this when I was going to the movies at least once a week, but now that I go once every month or two, I’m falling back into my old ways.

I left Aquaman blown away. I thought it was all over the place in a good way. Director James Wan leaned hard into the weirdness of the character and the world, and I was on board with it. Because of this Aquaman ended up in my Top Ten, and I even placed it above Black Panther, my favorite Marvel movie since Guardians of the Galaxy. But would the weirdness of the film hold up now that I knew what was coming?

It would. Despite knowing what to expect this time around, I was still drawn into the movie in a big way. This is a very big deal when you’re watching a movie at home. In a theater, you pretty much have to pay attention. At home, there are a million distractions, but I found myself totally focused on the movie.

Aquaman is a movie that goes all out in everything it does. I can’t think of a boring scene in the film. The locations are so varying you never seem to see the same place twice. Even if some exposition is going on, like when Orm is convinving Nereus to join him, it’s interesting because people show up riding seahorses and sharks, and in the middle of the talk a submarine shows up attacking them. The interrupting attacks are kind of a joke about the movie, but I love them. Each explosion is like the audience was saying, “Okay enough talking, let’s move on.”

It also helps that Jason Momoa is a great choice for Aquaman. The guy seems to truly enjoy being a superhero, and it comes through onscreen. If the film had been a bit more on the plain side, I imagine Momoa would be considered the saving grace of the film. Thankfully, he’s just part of what makes this movie awesome.

I’m not using “awesome” in a general way. As I was rewatching it, I got to the trench sequence, and I was so impressed with it that I scanned back and watched it again. It plays out like an eerie, beautiful silent film, and it’s my favorite sequence in a film filled with crazy sequences.

I’ve stated before that I’m suffering from Marvel fatigue. In fact, I’m going to watch Endgame more out of obligation than desire. I still like the movies, but I get sick of everything just being a set up for the next movie. Even with Endgame (can we acknowledge how ridiculous it is that the neverending Marvel/Disney machine names a movie Endgame?), there are already multiple movies coming out afterwards. And eventually it will all be recast, and we’ll start over again. But with Aquaman, I felt like I was watching an individual movie. Aquaman’s previous appearances were not required viewing, and while there is a mid-credits scene setting up Black Manta to come back, it didn’t feel like this was just the start of something bigger.

Basically, Aquaman has everything I want in a comic book movie these days. It’s weird, it’s fun, and it doesn’t feel like homework to watch it.

What genre is this?

A movie that seems to jump from genre to genre in every new scene would normally be a fault (and some may argue it still is in this case), but I loved that Aquaman was all over the place. So I just wanted to go through all the different genres or specific types of movies that showed up in Aquaman. This is not definitive, and it’s in no particular order. I just wanted to list all the ones I noticed and include some examples and/or explanation.

80s action movie - “Permission to come aboard?” That one-liner along with the guitar riff that introduced Aquaman made this movie feel like an action movie from the ‘80s at times.

Lovecraftian horror - The trench creatures were definitely influenced by H. P. Lovecraft. But if you needed more evidence that this is the influence, look no farther than Aquaman’s dad’s copy of The Dunwich Horror on full display early in the movie.

The Karate Kid -  “You taught me how to fight, Cobra Kai.” Any number of movies could be listed here as the influence for the training sequences with Vulko, but obviously the filmmakers were aware of the influence of this specific film because of that line.

Indiana Jones - Halfway through the movie, Aquaman and Mera go full Indiana Jones and search a ruin for clues to find a magical artifact. Along the way, they fall in loves a la Indy and Marion.

Gladiator movie - The Ring of Fire battle is reminiscent of a gladatorial fight. You could also argue it’s kind of like a monster truck show, too.

Arthurian legend - A character named Arthur is the rightful king even though he is unknown to his kingdom. He must prove himself worthy by retrieving a magical trident (sword). Once the trident is recovered, everyone acknowledges him as the king. You can dig deeper with this, as well. Vulko is a Merlin-type character. Mera is Guinevere, etc.

Sci-fi - Yeah, this applies to a lot of comic book movies, but I’m including it because of the technology used by Atlantis both in the past (the flying ships and steam-punk AT-ST Walkers) and the present (those crazy water-suits the soldiers wear).

Fantasy - Once again, this applies to most comic book movies, but they really lean into it with this movie. The crab people of the Brine Kingdom come to mind when I think of Aquaman as part fantasy. Also, that whole final battle scene plays out a bit like one of the major battles from a Lord of the Rings movie.

Romance - Yes, once again, there is usually a romance in a comic book movie, but what sticks out in Aquaman is not that it’s slightly about Arthur and Mera falling in love, it’s that the actual main love story is between Arthur’s parents. The movie is framed by the story of their love.

Kaiju movie - The Karathen is right out of Pacific Rim.

Comic book movie - I’m just being technical at this point…

There are other genres you could argue are on display here, but you get it. And I also understand that you could do this to a lot of movies, but I focus on this with Aquaman because there are so many, and the film looks so different from genre to genre. If you just take this movie visually, it would appear to be a collection of short films. The amazing thing about Aquaman is that somehow all this very different genres, looks, and sensibilities come together to make a hugely entertaining, crazy movie.

Why do I own this?

Pretty much all the stuff I wrote in the first section. Plus, I can see myself watching this quite a few more times, but I’m not sure I’ll ever watch Infinity War again.

Random Thoughts

Why does Kidman eat a goldfish? I don't recall any other Atlanteans eating fish, but maybe that's a thing?

The landsuits(?) the soldiers wear are crazy-looking, and I love them. The whole look of this film just works for me.

I hate that he says, “Permission to come aboard,” when he shows up on the submarine.

Other than that, I like his introduction. There's a lot of interesting camera work during the fights.

I know later on Aquaman learns mercy or whatever, but I agree with him leaving the pirate dad to die. They killed a lot of innocent people.

Also, Aquaman did free Manta's dad, but then Manta's dad shot another grenade at him, which led to the torpedo trapping him. So it's doubly their fault. Sure, if Aquaman hadn't intervened, he would have survived, but Aquaman did not kill him. He just chose not to save him from the result of own stupid choices. Later, Aquaman claims that not saving him created an enemy, but what was going to happen if Aquaman saved him? Were they going to give up pirating and become Aquaman's buddies/sidekicks? I doubt it. They seemed to be pretty proud of being generational pirates.

“You need to live so you can kill that son of a bitch!”

After you see Dolph Lundgren show up on a seahorse(dragon?) and Willem Dafoe saunters up riding a shark, you're either with this movie or against it.

The Honest Trailer (among others) pointed out how many interruption explosions there are, and there are a lot. But I'm okay with them because they usually occur right when some jargon-filled exposition has reached its limit. “Vulko says that King Orm is searching for the fabled Trident to become Ocean Master and rule over all-” EXPLOSION

Atlantis has a real Coruscant from The Phantom Menace feel. It looks interesting and impossibly huge and complex, yet we don't really get a glimpse of the people or way of life there.

That scene from before the Great Fall (when Atlantis sinks) is insane. All that wacky technology blows up and makes some people breathe underwater, turns others into mermaids, and creates crab people! I want to see a prequel set in that era!

On their stat sheets before the Ring of Fire fight, one of Orm's pros is that he's a philosopher. Is that helpful during a fight?

This might disavow every opinion I've ever had about anything, but I like the Pitbull “Africa” cover/remix.

A lot of people had issues with the way hair looked underwater, but I didn't think it was all that distracting. In fact, I thought they did a good job in general with the underwater stuff.

You have to appreciate a movie that stops about halfway through to have a montage of the villain working on his new costume.

I like the Italy fight sequence, especially for how it shifts back and forth between Aquaman and Mera seamlessly.

That was a badass shoulder block to that giant bell.

The whole sequence from the boat through the trench is visually stunning. That kind of stuff is why I love this movie.

The war at the end of the film is possibly the most psychedelic battle ever filmed.

Looking back, I love the casting of Willem Dafoe. I kept expecting him to be secretly evil because, you know, it's Willem Dafoe. It's a casting decision that adds to the story without actually adding anything.

I like a movie that knows when to use wide shots.

Only Jason Momoa can make that suit and a trident look that cool.


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