Aquaman

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2018

Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Films/The Safran Company/Cruel and Unusual Films

Directed by James Wan

Produced by Peter Safran/Rob Cowan

Screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick/Will Beall

Story by Geoff Johns/James Wan/Will Beall

Aquaman created by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris

There’s this thing I like to do after I see a movie like AQUAMAN as I’m wildly curious as to how the average movie goer who doesn’t know the history of superhero characters as well as I do react to what they just saw. I can fairly predict how long-time comic books fans are going to respond. I’m far more interested in hearing what Joe and Jane Punchclock thought of the movie. So I hang around and eavesdrop on the conversations as the audience I just saw the movie with moves slowly past me in the lobby. And the snatches of excited chatting I hear kinda confirms something that occurred to me during the movie’s really outstanding action sequence in Sicily.

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The impression that I get from what I’m hearing is most of the people who have just seen the movie are under the impression that it’s a Marvel superhero movie despite the fact that the DC logo is slapped quite prominently on everything that has to do with AQUAMAN but I fully understand why they would think that because in attitude, spirit, look and feel, AQUAMAN has far more in common with “Thor” “Black Panther” and “Guardians of The Galaxy” than “Justice League” “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Wonder Woman.”

It’s a far more hopeful and optimistic superhero than we’re used to seeing from the DCEU, that’s for sure. People laugh, joke and smile in this movie. Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) is a superhero who gets recognized when he’s hanging out with his dad Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison) in a bar having beers and takes selfies with the other bar patrons. After all, it’s a year after Arthur, along with the other members of the Justice League not only saved the world from Steppenwolf but also brought Superman back to life. So Aquaman is very much a public superhero now. And he’s a busy one because he’s got Seven Seas to protect after all. Arthur has a very unique position in the pantheon of superheroes because he’s the heir to the throne of Atlantis thanks to his unusual heritage. He’s the son of a human lighthouse keeper and Atlanna, an Atlantean princess (Nicole Kidman).

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As his Atlantean teacher/mentor/martial arts trainer Nurdis Vulko (Willem Dafoe) tells Arthur, being an Atlantean means much more than just being able to breathe underwater. Due to his unique physiology, Arthur can withstand the crushing depths of the deepest parts of the ocean and this denser muscle/bone structure blesses him with super-strength that puts him on equal footing with Superman and Wonder Woman. He’s damn near invulnerable, can see in total darkness and a side benefit of his being a hybrid is that he can telepathically communicate with sea life.

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He will need all these blessings if he’s to prevent a war between Atlantis and the surface world. It’s a war promoted by his half-brother Orm, the current King of Atlantis (Patrick Wilson) who is busy coercing, blackmailing and downright threatening the kings of the seven underwater kingdoms to declare him Ocean Master so that he gains command of their armies. Arthur is contacted by Mera (Amber Heard) the daughter of King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren who quite comfortably fills the “Who The Hell Let HIM In This Movie?” quota) who persuades him to seek the sacred Trident of Atlan, First King of Atlantis so that Arthur can take his rightful place as King not only of Atlantis but of The Seven Seas

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I know director James Wan primarily for his horror movies. So if you had told me that he had a movie like AQUAMAN in him, I’d have laughed myself into a hernia. Much like with Ron Howard and “Solo” this is a movie I would have never suspected he could have directed which such an Epic feel. And the capital ‘E’ in Epic is not a mistake. I equate AQUAMAN with “Thor” and “Black Panther” because it does an equally good job of presenting us with the normal, everyday world we’re used to and see outside our window. And it also creates a totally fantastic other realm that is equally believable. The Atlantis in this movie is just as much fun to explore as Wakanda, Asgard or Thymescria. And just as believable as it is presented as an entire culture.

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Jason Momoa is an actor who I’ve long hoped would achieve the superstardom he deserves (he really deserves another chance at playing Conan) and he’s going to get it with AQUAMAN. The movie is an origin story but not the usual one we get. After all, Arthur Curry/Aquaman is already an established superhero. This is a story about how he deals with family history/feuds/issues and puts them right. And he’s my kind of superhero in that he enjoys being a superhero. He likes having superpowers and going on adventures and exploring realms of The Earth that no mortal has no business being in.

And YES…he rides a giant seahorse into battle.

That is SO mollyfoggin’ gangsta.

Amber Heard and Nicole Kidman are nothing short of amazing in their roles and it totally gobsmacks me that Amber Heard looks exactly like a Jim Aparo illustration of the character of Mera. It’s almost scary, in fact. Patrick Wilson…well, when is Patrick Wilson ever bad in any role he plays? This is a guy who makes great acting look so effortless that as a result, everybody thinks they can do it and such is not the case. It takes some really great acting to convincingly convey that you’re talking underwater to mutated merpeople and give the scenes real emotional weight.

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What else? Well, just when you think you’ve seen it all, then you get Willem Dafoe on a battle shark tricked out with plasma cannons yelling; “Surface dwellers! ATTACK!” Amber Heard demonstrating exactly how dangerous Mera and her hydrokinetic powers can be. Pay attention to the early scenes where it’s shown that Tom Curry is an H.P. Lovecraft fan because it pays off in the movie’s climatic underwater battle scene. When you see it, you’ll know exactly what I mean. And it’s a scene that had most of the audience I saw AQUAMAN with cheering and clapping. A battle scene that I also have to point out is as astounding as anything you would see in any “Star Wars” movie.

And this year started off with “Black Panther” that gave us a memorable African-American supervillain in Erik Killmonger and ends with AQUAMAN that gives us with I think is an equally memorable African-American supervillain in David Kane/Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). His origin is intertwined in Arthur’s in a way that I loved because if Arthur had made another choice, Black Manta wouldn’t have been created. I think it enhances the origin of a superhero if he is somehow integral in the creation of his arch-enemy and that’s the case here. It’s brought home to Arthur by Black Manta that if he wants to call himself a hero then there are some choices he has to make and live with. Otherwise he might not like the results if he makes the wrong choice. Especially when when they come back to bite him in the ass.  Yahya Abdul-Mateen II easily walks away with the movie’s MVP Award and trust me, in a movie like this, that’s not easy.

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Go see AQUAMAN. NOW. Trust me. You will not be disappointed. This is a movie that is going to be on everybody’s lists as one of the best superhero movies ever made. And as of right now, it’s my second favorite DCEU Movie. “Wonder Woman” is still the Champion but damn if AQUAMAN doesn’t come thisclose to taking the crown.

143 Minutes

PG-13

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