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Review: Aquaman

Aquaman
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It's been a long journey for Jason Momoa in getting his proper time to shine as the titular character in DC/WB's big-screen venture of AQUAMAN. Having been fished from the sea by director Zack Snyder to portray the traditionally blonde-hair/blue-eyed King of Atlantis, Momoa (half Hawaiian/half German/Irish/Native American) embraced the character and made him his own, while waiting patiently to portray him on the big screen, first in a cameo in Snyder's critically-divided BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE in 2016 and then again in the retooled "Jossenstein" that was JUSTICE LEAGUE in 2017, which left much of Momoa's extended performance on the cutting room floor, but still gave audiences a decent intro to his rebellious take on Arthur Curry. Now, Momoa has the spotlight in AQUAMAN, the first ever big-screen adaptation of the underwater superhero who has been treated more as a punchline (who can forget "James Cameron's Aquaman" in HBO's Entourage?) than a force to be reckoned with by casual moviegoers. However, the ace up AQUAMAN's sleeve and the deciding factor that could steer Momoa's ship to better waters is none other than director James Wan, who has made a name for himself in Hollywood as a horror master (see: SAW, THE CONJURING, INSIDIOUS) and, most recently, as a man of action with FURIOUS 7. But, would that be enough to make AQUAMAN a success?

The short answer is: Absolutely. The longer answer follows and, true confession, as a comic-book nerd, both with the physical medium and the film medium, I'm beyond relieved to say that. AQUAMAN was always going to be a tougher sell, seeing as he really has very little awareness in most moviegoers' minds beyond a cartoon goof riding dolphins. Well, this ain't that AQUAMAN. And yet, it is, which is one of many things that make AQUAMAN a success. Having followed the film from it's production, visiting the set in Australia last year and hearing the intent that Wan, the producers and the stars had for the film, it's amazing to see that they pulled it off. It doesn't always go down that way. In fact, it rarely does. What Wan wanted to do from the start was take what people joked about with AQUAMAN and turn it on its head, making it something that's actually cool. With a massive attention to detail and respect of the character and his comic-book origins, Wan has crafted a film that pays homage to the roots in big strides, while expanding and growing the mythology for modern audiences. In short, he makes AQUAMAN cool as hell by embracing who he is and the world he lives in, but improving upon it at the same time.

Momoa, at this point, has solidified himself as Arthur Curry, a wild and rebellious half human/half Atlantean that's been hidden away after his parents (Temuera Morrison and Nicole Kidman) consummate a forbidden relationship and attempt to raise him to inevitably embrace his preordained destiny. When his mother is taken away, Arthur's rebellious nature kicks in, but he's tempured, honed and shaped by Willem Dafoe's Vulko, who sharpens the young (Aqua) lad into a warrior in anticipation of his eventual return to Atlantis. All of this unfolds in storybook detail and feels a bit clunky and drawn-out at times, but such is the case with most origin films and AQUAMAN, no matter how well it swims, can't escape that tide. However, whenever the film begins to slog into exposition there's always something cool waiting around the corner that easily makes up for it. When Amber Heard's Mera reappears (after a brief appearance in JUSTICE LEAGUE) to enlist Arthur's help in defeating his half brother, Orm (as played by Patrick Wilson), who is attempting to take over the surface world and Make Atlantis Great Again, he is reluctant until he witnesses Orm's wrath firsthand.

The crux of the story focuses on Arthur's quest to find the Trident, which makes the bearer the true King of Atlantis, as it's no simple task to find, let alone carry. We see early on that he's already in the habit of becoming a hero, using his powers to help those in trouble at sea, including a hijacked submarine by Yahya Abdul-Mateen's David Kane/Black Manta, who finds himself in a quest for vengeance against Arthur after their chance encounter there. The submarine sequence becomes our first indicator that AQUAMAN is no slouch; the action is strong, visceral and kinetic, giving the film a superhuman feel right off the bat. Momoa's imposing force and energy against the bad guys is a blast to watch and his presence and charisma carry the same weight as his physical imposition. But, don't think that Momoa gets all the fun; Mera also gets in on the action, showcasing her own unique underwater abilities, while the likes of Wilson's Orm and Abdul-Mateen's Kane/Black Manta are powerful and threatening villains, giving Arthur a true match for his own strengths.

As the film unfolds it becomes apparent that it absolutely knows what it is, what it's selling and who it's selling to. With some truly stellar action sequences, a visual feast at every step (particularly in Atlantis) and performances that range from emotional to funny to menacing to downright badass, AQUAMAN feels exactly like what it represents; a comic book. It also has the distinct feel of a 90's action movie, complete with some great one-liners worked into some brutal, fast-paced battles with a few moments that venture into the fun, cheesy and insane antics of that long lost genre, but updated to fit the modern era. It's a refreshing thing to see and gives the film that much more to chew on; this isn't the dark and serious tone that we've seen before in the DCEU, but it's not light and fluffy either. AQUAMAN, for me, felt like the DC films have begun to find their footing, particularly after WONDER WOMAN proved she could handle it in her own right. Now, you can add AQUAMAN to that equation.

There are some tonal issues with the film and a few scenes that lag a bit early on, but there's so much great stuff in the film that you can easily forgive those drawbacks. Some side characters play better than others, but you can't deny the truly stellar batch of stars they enlisted, particularly Kidman, who gives her most fun performance in a long time. It's great to see her cut loose and get in on the action in between doing award-garnering stuff for once and she's just as good at that as she is at the latter. Heard is stunning as Mera, but hopefully they can move her along with a few more layers outside of just being a strong-willed warrior princess in future installments. Wilson's Orm is good, but he's also fairly one-note in terms of his overall plans for world domination. Still, he looks great and is imposing in the role, while Abdul-Mateen's Black Manta steals the show. A classic and iconic villain, he simply looks amazing and is such a great and layered bane for Arthur Curry and one I hope to see again in more films.

In the end, AQUAMAN really shines as a film that puts all its chips on the table and goes for it. Nothing is held back and it builds to a finale of truly epic proportions that will leave you satisfied in so many ways. Seeing Arthur in full AQUAMAN garb and kicking ass is truly a sight to behold and reminded me so much of seeing Batman for the first time in Tim Burton's 89 classic; it was a monumental moment and seeing AQUAMAN shine in his scaled armor, riding an armored shark and kicking the shit out of Orm's army was a true blast. Wan doesn't let you forget that, either. There are so many iconic moments that felt like they were ripped from a double-page splash in a comic and projected onscreen that I'm simply dying to see them again on the big screen. You could seriously screenshot so many awesome moments and plaster them on a poster and I love that more than anything else in the film. While many filmmakers have attempted to subvert the genre they're adapting, Wan embraces it and in doing so makes a superhero film that looks and feels like the medium it's adapting, while also being a true cinematic experience. For Momoa, his long wait has paid off and it's my hope that we can see him swing that trident again and again in future installments with this underwater badass. I never thought I'd say that about AQUAMAN, but there it is. My one resounding thought after watching the film was this: I'm so glad this movie exists. Even ten years ago I don't think it could've come together this well and AQUAMAN is proof positive that were are living in a golden age of comic book films.

Source: JoBlo.com

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