Aquaman (2018)

2019 #55
James Wan | 143 mins | Blu-ray (3D) | 2.40:1 | USA & Australia / English | 12 / PG-13

Aquaman

DC Comics have had a turbulent time of it on the big screen these past few years. After Zack Snyder’s Marmite Superman reboot Man of Steel they tried to get in on the Marvel-inspired “cinematic universe” boom with the unfairly-derided Batman v Superman and the behind-the-scenes mess that was Justice League, in between which the similarly “buggered about in post” Suicide Squad did them no favours. But they also attracted a lot of praise for Wonder Woman, mainly because it starred a female superhero (not unheard of, but a rarity on screen, and even rarer for a female superhero film to be good), and, earlier this year, Shazam! So maybe their fortunes are on the up again, especially as anticipation is high for both of their 2020 efforts, February’s Birds of Prey and June’s Wonder Woman 1984.

In amongst all of that, in pretty much every respect (release date, critical standing, etc), we have Aquaman. Like Wonder Woman, its tied to the Justice League attempt at launching a shared continuity between these films; but, also like Wonder Woman, it doesn’t seem to have been tarnished by that association, grossing over $1.1 billion at the box office (Justice League maxed out at just over $650 million). While something about it obviously clicked with the general audience, in some respects it’s as much of a Marmite film as Man of Steel — although, tonally, they could hardly be further apart.

For thems that don’t know, Aquaman is Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), a half-human half-Atlantean chap, who was raised as the former by his lighthouse-keeper dad but has the underwater fish-communicating powers of the latter, which he uses to do superheroic things like rescuing submarines from pirates (those being modern high-tech pirates, natch). Arthur also has claim to the throne of Atlantis, but he doesn’t want it and there are plenty in the kingdom who would dispute it. But when the current king, Orm (Patrick Wilson), attempts to unite the undersea kingdoms to attack the world of men, his betrothed, Mera (Amber Heard), goes in search of Arthur, to convince him to return to his rightful place and blah de blah de blah.

Searching for something. An understanding of the plot, probably.

Yeah, the plotting is mostly sub-Game of Thrones fantasy gobbledegook, attached to an Indiana Jones-inspired quest plot that sends this sea-based superhero to the Saharan desert (in which he arrives to a rap-based cover of Toto’s Africa. I shit you not). That’s just one reason the film stretches out to a mind-boggling 143 minutes (aka almost two-and-a-half hours). It does feel like several movies stitched together; like someone couldn’t quite decide whether they wanted to do “medieval fantasy but under the sea” or “a globetrotting Indiana Jones adventure”, so just did both at the same time.

Along the way, some of it is thoroughly cheesy — the dialogue, the outright fantasy-ness, the vibrant colour palette, the music choices (see above). It’s hard to know if it’s being deliberately cheesy, or if someone felt this stuff was a good idea in seriousness. Whether or not it works is a matter of personal taste, but at least it’s noticeably different from its po-faced label brethren or the slick factory-produced adventure-comedy tone of the Mouse House competition.

There’s an odd vein of ’80s-ness, too: some of the plot directions, Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score, that aforementioned song choice again (whether you despise that song or find it kinda tackily amusing is perhaps a bellwether for your opinion of the film.) This feels like the kind of undersea adventure movie someone would’ve made in the wake of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Conan the Barbarian, if only they’d had the effects tech back then. Except, of course, by using all the CGI that current tech allows, it’s also very much a modern graphics-laden blockbuster. Those two eras, the 1980s and the 2010s, kind of butt up against each other — it’s not being outright an ’80s emulation like, say, Stranger Things; it’s more this weird influence that sometimes rears its head.

Imagine this in IMAX 3D. Just imagine.

That includes in some of the action scenes, which were shot on real sets with real actors (gasp!) Not all of them, naturally (there’s a mindbogglingly massive undersea battle involving thousands of soldiers and sea creatures), but those that were done for real are incredibly staged and shot — a running rooftop fight in Italy is beautifully done. The general imagery is often fantastic, too. Not always (sometimes it’s just fine; sometimes it’s too much), but there are incredible, impressive, comic-book-panel-on-screen shots here. So it’s a real shame that Warner have forced a choice between 3D or a shifting IMAX aspect ratio on Blu-ray. As regular readers know, I enjoy 3D and I love a shifting aspect ratio, so being forced to pick is upsetting. Marvel normally tick both those boxes by including the IMAX ratio only on their 3D releases — annoying for 2D-only IMAX fans, I know, but I’m well set. Warner have done the opposite, however, with the 2D releases including the IMAX ratio and the 3D remaining locked to 2.40:1. To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement, because the 3D adds so much to the big sequences, but I can imagine the IMAX ratio shift would too — together, they’d be perfect, but Warner won’t let us have that. So, I did enjoy the film’s 3D a lot, but at some point I’m going to make time to watch it again in 2D for the ratio shifts. I’ll plump for it in 4K too because, considering that the film’s colours are already pretty vibrant in SDR, I bet they’d pop delightfully with HDR.

Setting format complaints aside, I had a lot of fun with Aquaman. The spectacle is so genuinely spectacular, and the humour and/or cheesiness is so don’t-know-whether-to-laugh-or-groan fun, and the overlong running time stuffed so full with so many different ideas, that I couldn’t help but find the whole heady mix downright entertaining.

4 out of 5

Aquaman is available on Sky Cinema from today.

3 thoughts on “Aquaman (2018)

  1. Watched it on Sky Cinema last night, can’t decide if I liked or hated it. Sky showed it in ‘straight’ widescreen, without a shifting aspect ratio, and I can imagine that the action scenes lost some impact without the Imax scenes filling the frame. As you note, HDR would likely make some impact too. Maybe when the 4K disc gets in a sale I might be tempted, but it’s a sign of the times that whenever you watch a film you aren’t necessarily seeing it at its best or in its best version.

    On a related note to that, I also discovered that Aquaman was cut over here for the BBFC- some blood was digitally removed in a few scenes, so hardly affected the film, but how weird is that?

    Liked by 1 person

    • At least the IMAX version is available somewhere, unlike some other films that were shot for IMAX (M:I-4, Avengers 3 and 4; I’d like to see BR2049 in IMAX too, though I know Deakins has said it’s not the preferred version).

      I wrote a whole paragraph about the BBFC ‘cuts’, but it came to the conclusion that I didn’t really care, so I just deleted it! But yeah, they’re really minor changes (you can see them here), very much in the spirit of tick-box classification — “I see blood, that must make it a 15.” But they didn’t make them cut the actual action, just remove the sight of blood, so what’s changed really? Seems especially absurd when applied to those undersea creatures — they’re not even real!

      Some people still get all worked up about this stuff, like it’s the old days of BBFC censorship and they simply have to import so they can get the film unaltered, but I just can’t care about it anymore — it usually makes so little actual difference, especially in cases like this or, say, Bumblebee.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Re: the cuts, I actually think the way they do it is more disturbing. Showing a knife attack without blood etc is making knife crime more palatable, surely, when the message should be the opposite? Its much the same with how I found the violence of Venom quite disturbing, as it showed the violence of the fights without the results of that violence (i.e. the broken/dead bodies, the beheaded corpses etc). In Aquaman, it doesn’t damage the film having the hero hardly grimace when impaled by a knife as he’s a ‘superpowered hero’ so you can argue the blood isn’t required but if a film is showing knife crime as a ‘clean’ attack, what’s that message telling the kids? The BBFC isn’t cutting the violence, they are cutting the logical/real effects of that violence, and that’s possibly more dangerous/disturbing than leaving it in.

        Re: Aspect ratio, yeah, it’ll never happen but I too would love to see a ‘Imax Edition’ of BR2049. Its such a beautiful-looking movie, and it would only look lovelier filling the frame, even if it didn’t fully match Deakin’s vision.

        Liked by 1 person

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