Carl offers his perspective on James Wan’s incredibly immersive DC Universe blockbuster
Now, this is more like it DC!
The DC universe hasn’t had the best of times from day one. From the soulless Man Of Steel up to the lacklustre Justice League, they haven’t exactly lagged behind the MCU, more like they haven’t hardly made it off the starting grid. DC has the better characters but Marvel has the better writers. Marvel are in British soccer’s Premier League, DC are languishing in League 2. The gulf is massive.
Wonder Woman went some way to bridging the gulf but then Justice League widened it again. Avengers: Infinity War made $2.048 Billion. Justice League made $657.9 Million. Marvel and Disney are raking in the cash. Warners is barely breaking even. Big name characters like Batman and Superman are not drawing in the crowds like they used to. Only Wonder Woman has appealed to the masses. Why? Because it was written, directed and starred women? Possibly. That the lead character was a strong-willed woman with heroic powers being in the lead with men behind her? Most probably. The real reason? Because the film has HEART. And plenty of it. Patty Jenkins poured her heart and soul into her subject matter, dragging what up until then was a supporting character, putting her front and centre and making her the hero of the entire film. Add to that, the towering performance of Gal Gadot as the lead character and you had a film that DID appeal to the masses. Ms Gadot was pregnant during filming and CGI had to be used to hide that fact in the final edit but it showed everyone that a pregnant actress would do an action film and help deliver a fantastic superhero film while some big-time actors would cry in their trailer over a split nail! A Wonder Woman indeed.
Yet another supporting character has been dragged to the front of the main heroes. James Wan’s ‘Aquaman‘ film finally hitting multiplexes around the world. I was honoured to have been granted a press pass from Warner Bros to see the film before its UK and US release. I walked into the Cinema hoping for a good film and praying that it wouldn’t join Man Of Steel and Batman VS Superman in being just another nail in DC’s Cinematic coffin. The lights dimmed, the film started and I got my answer.
*BEWARE – SPOILERS AWAIT YOU BEYOND THIS POINT*
Aquaman is absolutely fantastic! It’s DC’s answer to Marvel’s Black Panther and then some. Yes, its main character is a man. Yes, it’s big and bold with action sequences galore. But it has the same thing going for it as Wonder Woman did. It has heart and plenty of it. Strip away the visuals and big score and you’re still left with a film that appeals to everyone and is pure joy and great entertainment. The film serves as both a prequel and sequel to Justice League, setting up the character as a young boy in flashbacks and bringing him to his destiny as a man.
The film opens on a small lighthouse in Maine. Thomas Curry (played with grace, charm and superb prowess by the fantastic acclaimed New Zealand actor Temuera Morrison, a personal favourite actor of mine) lives out a lonely existence, maintaining the lighthouse day in, day out. He spends his time looking out on the ocean, one man by the sea. Looking out one day, he discovers a woman lying unconscious on the shore. Going down to rescue her, he is astonished to discover a severely injured and untrusting young woman, Atlanna (Nicole Kidman). Bringing her inside and giving her medical treatment, Thomas is astonished to discover she is, in fact, the princess of the underwater world of Atlantis. Atlanna, although very distrusting at first warms to him and the pair fall in love. They have a son together. Arthur Curry is born with the power to communicate with marine lifeforms. He is half human, half Atlantean. However, Atlanna is promised and fated to be married to another and after an attack from the kings forces makes the decision to return to Atlantis to save the lives of Thomas and Arthur, abandoning her surface family. She entrusts her loyal advisor, Vulko (Willem Defoe) in the training of her son. Arthur becomes a skilled warrior but is rejected by the other Atlanteans as a half breed. He makes the decision to ignore his Atlantis heritage and live on land as just a man.
A year after the events of Justice League and the invasion of Steppenwolf, Arthur confronts pirates who have been hijacking nuclear submarines. Led by Jesse Kane (Michael Beach) and his son David (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the group board a Russian submarine and brutally kill most of the crew including the Captain. Arthur takes down almost all of the group but leaves Jesse trapped with his son aboard the rapidly sinking Sub. David begs Arthur for help in saving his father even to the point of asking him for mercy. Arthur coldly replies that they gave the sub’s crew no mercy and to ask the sea for their own. Jesse is killed but David escapes, swearing revenge on Arthur. David later attacks Atlantis at the request of his employer, Arthurs half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson). Orm wants to start a war against the ‘Surface Dwellers’ as the land-based inhabitants are referred to, using the “attack” as an excuse to rally the rest of the undersea kingdoms to join with him in launching his crusade.
Nereus, ruler of the kingdom of Xebel (Dolph Lundgren) supports him but Nereus’ daughter, Mera (Amber Heard) and the betrothed of King Orm refuses to aid them and instead journeys to the surface to ask Arthur for help. Arthur initially refuses but after a tidal wave attack that almost kills his father, Mera earns Arthur’s trust by saving Thomas. Reluctantly journeying to a rendezvous with Vulko, Arthur is told the only way he can defeat his half-brother and claim his birthright as King of the seven seas is to search for, locate and retrieve the fabled Trident Of Atlan, an artefact that belonged to Atlantis’ first ruler. They are ambushed and Arthur is captured and brought before his half-brother. Orm explains that their mother, Atlanna was executed for the crime of having a half breed son. Orm blames Arthur and the surface world for her death. He offers Arthur the chance to leave forever but Arthur challenges his half-brother to a duel in a ring of underwater lava. Orm almost kills Arthur but before he can strike the killing blow, Mera rescues him and flees, starting their quest for the Trident Of Atlan.
The film then takes us on a tour of the Sahara desert and to Sicily. It is here where David makes his reappearance, now armed with Atlantis technology and calling himself Black Manta. it would be unprofessional of me to have cheered at this point but I almost did as one of the comic book heroes most deadly villains FINALLY takes his place in the DC universe. It’s been a long time coming and boy, he doesn’t disappoint.
After gaining the co-ordinates of the trident’s location, Arthur and Mera travel out onto the ocean. After being attacked by a large group of amphibious creatures known as the trench, they reach a wormhole that takes them to an uncharted sea located at the centre of the earth.
I have skipped over some of the plot to get to this point and haven’t described much of the action and will not go any further with information. To go any further would enter into spoiler territory and that’s not fair on anyone who has yet to enjoy the film for themselves. All I will reveal is it gets even better from here on in.
The cast plays their roles to perfection. Jason Momoa is outstanding as Arthur Curry/Aquaman. He looks the part of the character, makes us feel every emotion he feels and we want to be with him on his journey. Momoa comes across as both naughty schoolboy and king in waiting with equal effect. He commands our attention and we are drawn to him without fear. There is one scene in the film, based on land in a bar which you think you know what’s about to happen. All I will say is…ENJOY!
Where Arthur is a strong character, he is matched and to some extent bettered by Mera. Amber Heard’s character is in the same vein as Wonder Woman. She is front and centre of most of the film’s action and her character is badass! This is no damsel in distress, this is a strong-willed, fierce woman. Heard gives her all in the role in her best screen performance to date. We believe in her from the start. If she says she’s going to do something then you better believe she will do it and then some. Mera fits in brilliantly in the film and Amber Heard must be commended for bringing her A-game to the role.
Patrick Wilson as Orm is a revelation. Here we have an actor of outstanding quality. His portrayal of Orm is both chilling and understandable. His is a character ripped from Arthurian Legend, the young sibling who feels aggrieved towards his elder one. The one that wants to grab the throne, not sit on it rightfully. The one that will do what he feels is necessary to attain his ambitions. His is a classic villain in every sense of the word. We can feel his pain, his anger, his need from the very first time we meet him. Wilson has appeared on stage during his career and it shows in his performance. He portrays a cinematic villain as a Shakespearean one to devastating effect.
The supporting cast all do their parts. Dolph Lundgren is completely believable as Nereus. We can tell he has been duped into joining and supporting the coming war and can feel empathy for him. Willem Dafoe yet again shows us why he is such a loved and respected character actor as Vulko. His character is the most vital one during the story that unfolds and the actor plays it to perfection. Nicole Kidman, although her role is brief, brings a touch of class to the film. We want her to find happiness with Thomas. We want her to be a mother to Arthur. We feel her pain and sadness as she’s forced to abandon her surface family and return to the depths. Temuera Morrison in yet another brief role brings a human touch to proceedings. The actor is digitally de-aged at the films beginning, only some of which is believable but is seen as his normal self at the film’s end.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II makes for a great Black Manta. From the first time we encounter him, we see he’s a violent man not to be trifled with or underestimated. But he also shows a vulnerability during the opening sub attack, refusing to leave his trapped father and begging his adversary for help. His is not a token, throwaway villain, he has a reason for his anger and thirst for revenge. And even though she’s not seen, Julie Andrews’ voice cameo is quite enthralling. Who would have thought Mary Poppins would voice a large sea monster!
The film is visually stunning. To me, it’s like seeing Avatar‘s Pandora underwater. The colours, the buildings and set out of the undersea world and its various kingdoms are breathtaking. ILM And WETA Digital have outdone themselves with the effects and look of the worlds. Adding to the imagery during some of the underwater scenes are various objects that SHOULD NOT be under the sea but on land where they belong. The film does have a welcome environmental undertone to it during its 143 minutes run time.
The aftermath of the tidal attack shows us the devastation the sea has reaped against the land. Homes are destroyed, people have been killed, Warships that we rely on for all our nations safety beached. But the main imagery is of all the plastic and trash we have been dumping into our oceans the world over. THIS is the real devastation. We have been poisoning our oceans, now the ocean is spewing our own waste back at us to poison us instead. The irony is not lost on us and the film must be commended for raising this important issue to the movie-going world and not sidestepping the issue, the cause and the aftermath.
Rupert Gregson-Williams’ epic score complements the whole film. The composer has written a fantastic and moving, rousing score for what we see on the screen. It flows like the tide along with the film and raises the bar for future comic book music to come. Like his score for Wonder Woman, Williams proves again that he is the perfect go-to movie composer for the DC Universe.
The film does contain dark moments but this is lightened by a fantastic sense of humour throughout. One in-joke near the beginning had me giggling like a school kid! No spoiler from me, all I’ll say is watch what is playing on the T.V in Thomas’ lighthouse. It’s a perfect little joke and a welcome nod.
James Wan directs the film with marvellous glee and the screenplay by David Leslie Johnson McGoldrick and Will Beall brings Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris’ character to life in such an enjoyable way, you can’t help but hope all of the crew return for the inevitable sequel. This is how Aquaman should be on the big screen. No longer will he be the butt of jokes of being a poor character. This is the Aquaman I grew up with. And I welcome his arrival in a film that finally does him justice. Bringing him and Mera to the screen has been a hard task and could easily have been allowed to slip beneath the waves to join almost all of the DC Universe we have been given so far. Instead, in James Wan’s capable hands and with Jason Momoa and Amber Heard playing their parts to sheer perfection, the king of the seven seas will rule the oceans and the box office for years to come.
My complete thanks go to Warner Bros UK for granting me and Future of the Force the press passes we obtained for the screening. It was a pleasure to attend and to see the film. And my thanks go to The Vue Cinema in London’s Leicester Square for looking after the whole gathered audience and for their friendly, professional and helpful way throughout the evening.
My advice is to go and see the film on the biggest screen you can. I saw it in 2D but have to admit, it deserves to be seen in IMAX as well. The film may join the exclusive club of being seen in 2D, 3D and IMAX. It really is that good and deserving to be seen in all its various cinematic formats. And make sure you pick a screen with excellent sound as the film deserves to be heard in an auditorium with fantastic speakers and acoustics.
Wear your costumes and take the plunge into DC’s cinematic ocean. Dive into the sea and swim down to Atlantis. See all the finest creatures the sea has to offer in glorious colour. Allow Aquaman to be your guide into the world under the waves above. Allow Mera to accompany you on your journey into the undersea kingdoms. For it really is a rewarding experience. One which you’ll want to repeat again and again.
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