Movie review: Aquaman

(image via IMP Awards)

Being a superhero is a pretty serious undertaking.

You are, after all, usually the one responsible for not only stopping the bad guy/gal/weird mutant person with delusions of grandeur from ending the world in some of over-complicated and avowedly-cataclysmic fashion, but also coping with a host of family and personal issues that are far greater in scope and existentially-epic than the average person on the street.

That’s a lot for anyone, even a superhero to handle, and so most superhero movies tend to be Very Serious Undertakings, the high level of seriousness deserving of even more capitalisation than just apportioned.

Thankfully, some filmmakers appreciate that it is possible, in the midst of all this gravity and import, to have some fun, a lesson not lost on the likes of Deadpool and The Guardians of the Galaxy, and now thankfully for the DC Universe, which is usually so serious it makes a convention of dour pessimists look giddily-Pollyanna-ish by comparison, Aquaman who rises from the deep to claim his place in the landlubbers’ zeitgeist.

And what a hell of a big dumb cinema fun ride it is.

Moving from one visually stunning action scene to the next with only brief, but fortunately well-executed pauses for expositional breath in-between, Aquaman, with a suitably-muscular Jason Momoa in the titular role, is one of those films that does not spend much time looking in the storytelling rear view mirror or stopping to ruminate in any kind of thoughtfully-ruminative fashion.

This is not to suggest there isn’t some depth to the film; there is, with some pretty heartfelt moments sprinkled throughout that give Aquaman the superhero the kind of humanity and substance needed to make us give a damn about the trials he has to endure.

But the film, directed by Australian horror maestro James Wan, knows that too much navel-gazing on the part of any superhero can become tiresome and drag down a story to the point where you wish the likes of Batman and Superman would just get a few therapy sessions under their well-equipped belts and be done with it.

Aquaman is not, it has to be said, a man in need of much therapy.

Sure, his lighthouse keeper land-dwelling dad Tom (Temuera Morrison) and his mum, Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) an Atlantean queen from the goregously-dazzling kingdom in the briny depths have had to split up, desperately reluctantly, to stop Tom and son Arthur aka Aquaman ending up on the kill list of the Atlantis hit squads who are fearsomely kitted out in high-tech armoury that includes a sizable amount of water to keep them alive on land.

(In a rather poor evolutionary move by our underwater cousins, who are none too impressed with the muck and grime we pour into the world’s oceans, seeing it as some sort of environmental declaration of war, only high-born people can breathe on land and underwater.)

And yes, Arthur is estranged from his bitter, war-mongering half-brother Orm Marius (Patrick Wilson) who is intent on laying landside humanity to waste in as brutal and violent a fashion as possible.

Yet for all this familial emotional baggage, and it’s there in abundance, Arthur Curry is a remarkably upbeat guy who spends much of his time quipping his way through situations that are pretty intense and loaded with all kind of portentous import.

The thing is, so deft is Momoa with the delivery of these lines, many of which are ridiculously cheesy and should have landed with the grace of a 1000kg wheel of gouda, that you don’t notice that they;re kinda silly and just go with the bonhomie and loopy grins that accompany them.

In other words, like Deadpool, many of The Guardians, and yes even Wonder Woman when she sets her mind to it, Aquaman is serious when he needs to be serious, such as fighting his brother for control of Atlantis and the Seven Kingdoms to avert an apocalyptically-nightmarish war against people on land, but doesn’t take other aspects of his destined life under the sea with too much gravity.

What this means for Aquaman, with its cheesy dialogue, and some of it is laughably dire such as when mum Atlanna encourages her son to be a hero or fighting coach and mentor Volko (Willem Dafoe) admits things aren’t as rosy as he led his charge to believe, melodrama, and action scenes which comes fast and furiously (Wan tackled Furious 7 in 2015 so that’s deliberately apt), is that there’s a lot at stake but it’s treated with a reasonably lighthearted tone which leavens proceedings enough to stop everything disappearing under a stultifyingly-bleak narrative black cloud.

Along with a nicely-balanced tone which makes things feels involved and intense without being onerous, Aquaman comes equipped with some damn impressive visuals.

The time that has been taken to world build is staggering with everything from the transport vehicles, both civilian and military, and all of which reflect their marine surroundings in design, through to the cities and even fashion sense – the jellyfish dress that Princess Mera (Amber Heard) wears at one point before she goes all bad ass is stunning – reflects that a great deal of time and effort has been expended in making Atlantis and its sister kingdoms every bit as real and believable and our own.

That’s important because even though Aquaman is often a gee-whiz boys’ one adventure much of the time, pumped full of adrenaline and adorned in technicolour dance-party brilliance, it needs to feel authentic and real if we are to buy into any of the preposterous goings-on.

That it accomplishes that is testament to the team behind it who, while they don’t always succeed (oh the dialogue! The dialogue! It hurts my ears at times), hit the mark more often than they don’t, gifting us with a robust, fun-and-serious-times under-the-sea adventure that does a brilliant job of introducing Aquaman, setting the stakes for future adventures, in which bad guy Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) will no doubt feature prominently, and opening a wildly-expansive and high-imaginative world in which DC Universe, and the audience by extension, will have plenty of room to romp and play.

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