We were late to see Aquaman, but here, finally, are some random thoughts in no particular order.
Spoiler warning very much in effect!
- First of all: visually, it was a feast! In the theater while waiting for the movie to start, Erik mentioned he’d read somewhere someone say that Aquaman will change the way movies are expected to look for this generation the same way (I assume the original) Star Wars did for previous generations. I’d fully believe it: so many different effects and environments, all polished off to a regal shine (if you’ll pardon me for being corny for a bit). I’d also say this: while the SW prequels attempted to shower the audience with rich sets and visuals, they ultimately just didn’t reach the level of breathtaking; Aquaman (and Moana, Rogue One, and SW:XIII) actually succeeded.
- The character Tom Curry (played by Temuera Morrison), the lighthouse keeper, looked Polynesian and sounded like a Kiwi. For a character who’s supposed to be a Mainer that was a bit of a whiplash. Then again, the world is more international these days than ever before.
- Speaking of Maine and lighthouses, even I could tell there were too few trees in the “Maine” scenes. It looks like they were filmed in Newfoundland, so that would explain it. Other than that, the supposedly northern locations looked at least plausible—the rocky coast looks just right, in fact—so a plus for that. (I’m the kind of northener who happens to care whether my home is misrepresented or not.)
- I’ve never read the comics, so I have no idea which plot elements came from where; I can’t comment from that point of view. (Literally, what I knew is Raj from The Big Bang Theory saying “Aquaman sucks!”) With that caveat, at first I was merely amused by the mixing of the Atlantean and Arthurian legends, but they kinda made it work. The antagonist’s father-son-tragedy-as-backstory was unfortunately tiresome, but at least it was given to black people, plus Yahya Abdul-Mateen II really rocked as Manta. (I’m so sick of seeing middle-aged white men wrangling with son guilt. Hey Leverage—I’m talking about you especially!)
- The Tom-Atlanna romance was seemingly set up exatly like the dime-a-dozen action movies that have come before: man meets woman, she blows his mind with her awesomeness, they fall in love only to have him lose her In Order to Have Feelings(TM). Thankfully, Aquaman not only didn’t follow the trope through, it subverted parts of it: instead of dying, Queen Atlanna thoroughly wiped the deck with the team sent to bring her back to Atlantis (while he protected their child, Arthur, having correctly determined that her enhanced abilities would allow the family to survive—I just LOVE smart, self-confident, genuine, non-egotistical men). After the attack, Atlanna decided she’d better return voluntarily to protect Tom and Arthur, and subsequently was reported to have been sacrificed to a Verifiable Monster of the Deep, again making it look like the plot fridged her to give Tom the Official Permission to Wallow, but no—towards the end, we find out she not only survived, but carved a haven for herself and joined Princess Mera and Arthur in their quest for the super trident.
- In the same vein, the Mera-Arthur romance was foreseeable and dull. At least the movie gave her the initiative unlike so many prior Hollywood stories.
- Surprisingly, I didn’t mind Nicole Kidman as Atlanna.
- Hairwise, surprisingly many characters kept their long hair loose even underwater. I would’ve thought it would be in the way too much, at least for the guards and other fighters. Mera’s hair was too red for my taste (The Little Mermaid, anyone?), but Vulko (played by Willem Dafoe) had quite a cute man bun/thing.
- Overall, I felt that characters didn’t fare that well, unfortunately. Apart from Atlanna and Mera, I can’t remember any other women having more than a line, if that, except for the Fisherman Princess (and that’s really pushing it, too). Why is is that the only women being shown as active, rounded-out people instead of plot-relevant placeholders* are royalty? Not to forget the many mer-men who barely got defined as individuals. The creators clearly made a choice to focus on the story and visuals instead of characters. I’d rather see great characters AND great story, preferably with knock-out visuals, too; that’s why I love Black Panther so much.
- I found the five underwater kingdoms that separated from the original Atlantean culture quite cliched, flat, and underdeveloped. Looks like developing the visuals took precedence indeed.
- And wow—the Verifiable Monster of the Deep was monstrous!
- And whatever else you might say, Aquaman really was epic. That said, some of the power poses approached ridiculous, but I suppose that happens easily when adapting superhero comics.
- The final fight between Manta plus his goons and Mera plus Aquaman happened in a small seaside town in the Mediterranean, and it was inventive and not too predictable. However, we last see Manta plunging into the water from a cliff, bouncing off the rocks in the process. Now, one of my pet peeves is when a protagonist survives repeated and super violent hits, shakes, car crashes, what have you, because no matter how well a human body may be armored, your brain can still whiplash inside your skull, and that, as I understand, is really the life-threatening aspect of being hit too hard on the head. I thought that was it for Manta after his plunge and felt pleased Aquaman avoided yet another trope, but no—in a stinger, we see him drag himself to the shore. Argh!
Did you see Aquaman? What did you think?
Image: Aquaman Comic-Con poster via IMDb.
*) The delightful term plot-relevant placeholder is from a review by Liz Bourke—thank you!
In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.