Saturday, December 22, 2018

Movie Review: Aquaman

I'm honestly not sure whether I'd characterize Aquaman as good or bad - there are a lot of aspects the movie juggles exceptionally well and others that are technically failures. I'll get to some of that in a moment, but...

Here's the thing. I don't care whether this is a good movie or not, and I have a feeling you won't either. This is one of those movies you smile through, beginning to end. It's a wonderful experience, in spite of its flaws, and my only regret is I didn't spring for IMAX.

There are a handful of reasons this is as enjoyable as it is. First, the pacing in this movie is phenomenal. It moves quickly from backdrop to backdrop, showing off a fantasy undersea kingdom at a scale we've never seen before. The movie features diverse settings that feel like a half-dozen different worlds.

There's one location lifted from DC comics that had me staring in wonder and shock at the screen. It's a short bit, and I don't want to give anything away, but it comes right after the most artistically impressive sequence of the film. The movie had already blown my mind with that, then it dropped them into a place I honestly couldn't believe they'd included in a live-action movie. This is the kind of thing even Marvel's too timid to include, and here it's barely a side note.

DC Comics are at their best when they embrace the fact they're composed of fairy tales, modern myths, and absurd premises. And this, more than any other adaptation of any DC property, doubles down on that. This is the first DC movie in decades that feels like it's proud it's based on a comic.

Even if you don't care about any of that - if comics have never interested in you - this is still an engrossing, ridiculous fantasy/adventure extravaganza. It's like a cross between Star Wars and the 1999 Mummy with visuals borrowed from Tron. Imagine an entire movie full of the best moments of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and you'll be close.

Is that good film-making? Sometimes. The stuff with Black Manta is incredibly well done. Both his back story and the fight in Italy are incredible. But most of the movie is technically flawed. I'm seeing estimates that they spent around 200 million on this - I'm not sure 300 million would have come close to paying for the effects they really needed. This is one of those movies where you can tell you're watching actors standing or being dangled in front of green screens for 80% of the run time. A lot of it looks, well, cheesy. And a lot of the acting's cheesy. Dialogue: cheesy. Then there are plot contrivances, background that's illogical or under-explained, motivations that don't add up...

And you won't care at all, because you'll be sitting in a theater watching superhumans interact with undersea monsters. I've seen reviewers discuss whether Aquaman is closer to Thor or Thor: The Dark World, and I'd like to weigh in on that debate. For my money, the experience is on par with Ragnarok - I don't care if that's sacrilege.

This movie is silly, absurd, and at times campy... and I really think you'll love it as much as I did.

No comments: