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The UnPopular Opinion: Aquaman

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

I make this disclaimer every time I write one of these columns but I feel it is necessary before trolls begin their rampages against me. I am a fan of both Marvel and DC. I have enjoyed the good and bad films from each studio in equal measure and have even liked some of the shitty failed films maligned by both critics and audiences (I am looking at you, JUSTICE LEAGUE). But, as much as I want to see DC succeed in the manner that Marvel Studios has, I cannot sit by and applaud mediocrity. While there has been an overwhelmingly positive response to what James Wan and Jason Momoa have created with AQUAMAN, it is nowhere near the level of quality that it should have been. In fact, I think it is fair to say that AQUAMAN is just as messy and all over the place as VENOM. While it is possible to have fun with both movies, the mere fact that they have both banked as much profit undermines the chance that the sequels will be any better in terms of story, acting, or special effects.

I appreciate the journey that AQUAMAN has had in reaching the big screen. After becoming a joke thanks to HBO's Entourage, AQUAMAN was far from a slam dunk for Warner Bros like Superman, Batman, or even Wonder Woman. But, after the failure of GREEN LANTERN, it seemed only natural for there to be hesitancy in bringing the tale of Arthur Curry and his Atlantean roots to the big screen. The casting of Jason Momoa went against expectations and has never been a point of contention for me. A blonde haired traditional superhero is just not as exciting today as it was fifty years ago. Momoa represents a modern appeal and is a perfect fit for playing Aquaman. The problem is that Momoa isn't the strongest actor and is just playing himself but underwater. Every role Momoa has played has been a slight variation on himself with Khal Drogo being the biggest stretch since it required zero sense of humor. Letting Momoa be Momoa was the smartest move that James Wan and the creative team made on this film. It is unfortunate that there were so many bad moves.

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AQUAMAN feels like it should have been made twenty years ago. Even though it more closely resembles offerings from Marvel Studios, it pales in comparison to anything in the MCU or the efforts from Zack Snyder and Patty Jenkins in the DCEU. Because AQUAMAN required so much world-building, this film feels overstuffed and overlong with none of it's part building to a satisfying finished product. There are too many characters who end up not mattering when they really should have. Neither villain is up to par with their comic book counterparts which is part of the film's overall problem: while heavy on style, the substance is given short shrift. AQUAMAN 2 will be superior if only because it doesn't have to spend time explaining the different factions under the sea. But as I said previously, that does not guarantee that the movie will be of better quality.

Where AQUAMAN fails is in igniting any sort of excitement or stakes for what is happening. Patrick Wilson's King Orm wants to be Oceanmaster so that he can wage war on the surface dwellers. Why? Because we pollute the oceans, I guess. Clearly, his true motivations are power and a disdain for his half brother. That propels the story to the massive fight sequence at the end that results in the reveal that Nicole Kidman's Atlanna has been alive this whole time. Banished to a mysterious realm in a twist that ANT-MAN AND THE WASP featured  earlier in 2018, Atlanna's presence somehow renders all of Orm's animosity and hatred moot and ends the conflict with barely any true ramifications aside from the naming of Arthur as the rightful King of Atlantis. This opens up a host of plot holes and narrative conveniences that, even if you could ignore them, make you question what the hell you just spend over two hours watching. That doesn't even begin to cover the waste that was Black Manta. While the character design and acting by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II were good, the character ended up feeling tacked on and only existed to provide an obstacle where the screenwriters couldn't come up with something better.

In just under two and a half hours of screen time, AQUAMAN manages to deliver one thrilling action sequence and several bland ones. The Sicily sequence featuring Mera and Arthur pursued by Black Manta and a team of Atlantean mercenaries deserves recognition as one of the best of 2018 and one of the highlights of the comic book movie genre. But, outside of that, the underwater scenes are a ploddingly mediocre mix of CGI and really bad CGI. Special effects are supposed to immerse you within a fictional world and the best effects can seamlessly integrate with the actors. AQUAMAN has some impressively subtle moments like in the Sicily sequence, but the major battle at the close of the film suffers from looking as unrealistic as a video game. Like BLACK PANTHER at the start of 2018, it is sometimes jarring how these massive tentpole studio films can suffer from such underwhelming effects work. I am sure the hours put into making AQUAMAN what we saw on the big screen were numerous, but that doesn't make up for the fact that it didn't deliver on what it should have.

I get that Warner Bros was scrambling after the failure of JUSTICE LEAGUE and wanted to reset expectations for their DC properties, but AQUAMAN goes so far in the opposite direction towards what Marvel Studios has done that it ceased to have any individual identity. So much of James Wan's film feels cribbed from every other successful superhero movie over the last decade that this film never stands on it's own two feet. And despite emulating successful comic book adaptations, AQUAMAN fails to maintain any sort of cohesiveness by going from an origin story to an Indiana Jones style romp around the globe to an epic war movie. Wan is so all over the place, literally and figuratively, that it is damn near impossible to tell what was studio interference and what was too many cooks in the kitchen. 

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Watching AQUAMAN is like eating dinner at Long John Silvers: it looks really good in the commercials and then once you eat it, you regret it and have zero desire to dine there again. While I applaud that the worldwide success of this movie means we will continue to see DC on the big screen, I have the same empty feeling that BLACK PANTHER left me with. There was so much potential with AQUAMAN to do something revolutionairy and it just ended up being okay. There are so many problems with this movie that I cannot sit back and just have fun with it. Taken in small, YouTube sized doses, AQUAMAN is a fun and energetic thrill ride but when you consume it in one sitting, it is simultaneously too much and too little. I would say I will hold out hope for the sequel, but seeing as how follow-ups tend to be bigger and grander than what came before it, I won't hold my breath.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to [email protected] or spell it out in the comments below. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
Source: JoBlo.com

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