AQUAMAN (a review)

Having looked forward to seeing this movie for a couple of years now, I was fortunate enough to watch it in IMAX 3D last night, in the company of our regular blockbuster-viewing nerd group and sitting next to my [absolutely probably within movie-viewing age restrictions]-year-old firstborn. As such, I was blessed to be able to watch this movie not just through my own rosy and low-standards lenses, but through the additional filter of an enthusiastic [absolutely probably within movie-viewing age restrictions]-year-old.


I was trying to come up with some witty caption about how the Little Mermaid got tired of living with a nutjob Jack Sparrow-type and then I realised this was Amber Heard and it all just got way too real way too fast. Caption ends.

So, on with the review. Let’s start with the minuses, because as far as I’m concerned there weren’t many but they did affect my overall enjoyment of the movie.

First, and mainly, there was the script – and the writing in general. This sounds particularly bad but I’m not going to sit here and say it was terrible and I could have done better (this isn’t Geostorm). I mean, any old jerk can make tweaks to a story. But I really feel like this was DC’s chance to Ragnarok that shit, and they settled for adding a whole bunch of those anticlimax-chuckles that they really sort of bomb at. You know, there’s a dramatic / triumphant / revelatory buildup in the music and the character is about to do something pivotal … and then they just say “huh”, or drop something, or – in this case, which was at least mildly amusing – get blown up by a missile. I call it the dramatic build and sudden deflate.

Here, it’s irritating. It’s like they’re trying to copy Marvel’s style and throw Star Lord wit in there, but they can’t because Aquaman is not Star Lord and – bless him – Jason Momoa is not Chris Pratt. And DC’s witty one-liners and exchanges only very, very rarely hit the mark. There were one or two in this movie, and they were good … but there were at least six or seven clear misses. You know, like Superman and Batman doing the “I thought she was with you” joke despite the fact that Batman absolutely invited Wonder Woman to join them so there’s no way he would think she was with Superman. It was like a selection of scenes were given to a special one-liner writer and he or she was told to “just pepper in a few quips like Iron Man does” but he or she was not given the full script. So the lines just didn’t make sense in context.

And that’s another pretty big thing – not a problem in my case but still, a problem: DC has bet everything on Batman grimdark black and let it ride, and now it’s too late to change because they’ve got their house and their kids’ college fund on there and the whole thing is just about as overloaded as this metaphor. Anyway, my point is they can’t do Ragnarok, and about their best bet for comedy is the sort of spooky crazy-fuck comedy of the Joker and Harley. And they did that not-awfully in Suicide Squad, in my opinion – they just need to lean into it harder.

Their options for flamboyant campity are limited, but they could absolutely have used the “two worlds” fallacy of surface and sea to do it – and do it fantastically. Everything above ground (and inside human submarines, for example): grimdark. Everything under the sea: singing cultural-appropriation crabs[1], phosphorescent war-jellyfish and whatever shade of red hair is apparently running in Dolph Lundgren‘s family.

[1] Or in this case, a giant drum-solo octopus.

And Jason Momoa is the perfect straight-man comedic actor to pull off the merging of those two worlds. It could have been glorious.


And when I say he’s capable of comedy, I don’t just mean “being a huge stoic badass flung into hilariously inappropriate situations”. I mean whatever this is, too. Like I said, glorious.

So yeah, the writing and the overall mood of the movie were a bit all over the place, and in the writing’s case mostly a pretty crappy place. But I honestly don’t care about any of that because I can forgive a lot for something that’s just plain fun to watch. And Aquaman was.

Oh, and there were a couple of middle-of-the-road things that were kind of funny and irritating, but didn’t really bother me one way or another. Mostly to do with King Orm. Like:

Did they go out of their way to make him a multiple-generation Oedipal megacuck? Aquaman’s dad boinked his mum, and then Aquaman you can be fairly certain boinked the caviar out of his wife-to-be within eight minutes of Orm being led away by the guards at the end.


Maybe five minutes.

Also, speaking of five to eight minutes, just once I would like to see a Very Important One-On-One Duel Scene which didn’t go on for an inordinate amount of time. I get it, they do swooshy things with their weapons of choice and they punch and kick each other into things and go “urrgh”. I absolutely do not give a fuck. I give aggressive negative fucks. At least in the bigger fight scenes there are more interesting variations. The duel trope is boring[2]. Just once, I’d like them to build up to the fight, exchange their insults and challenges, the fight starts – and then the hero immediately stabs or punches the villain’s head completely and literally off. Or kicks the villain in the crotch so hard the villain’s pelvis lodges in his or her brain. That would be one case where the dramatic build and sudden deflate would work nicely. Provided you didn’t do it as much elsewhere.


[2] Except when the duel takes place in THE RING OF FIRE and it’s Willem Dafoe in the scene again and that shit was just goddamn hilarious and I think I was the only person in the cinema laughing and if DC had any sack – any sack at all – they would have referenced the fuck out of that. Heck, they could have then shouted back to it by Mera asking “you can speak whale?”
Also, that gif has a typo in its text.

Mrs. Hatboy suggested that the choreographers need something to do. I say, if the writers haven’t been given anything to do, why should the fucking choreographers? It even would have worked in terms of structure because Aquaman had two archenemies in this movie, so either Water Killmonger could have been one-shotted, or King Orm could have been, giving us a fun subverted expectation and clearing the decks for the main villain.

Oh well.

I liked a ton of stuff about the movie, though.

First and foremost, as an unabashed lover of BSTs and Hollywood schlock (and I freely acknowledge that this will be a drawback to many viewers), there was a lot to love here. The entire undersea kingdom was a feast for the eyes, if not quite on the level of Valerian then a solid Avatar. There were cool ships and cool creatures and a ton of both got blowed up.

The 3D was spectacular and very subtly done. Totally immersive (pun … okay, slightly intended). And Wump absolutely loved it, which was so fun to see. Lot of love for that.

I greatly enjoyed the lore and world-building, even if I’m having trouble seeing how it all makes sense with relation to what we’ve already seen of DC’s attempted expanded universe. I guess we just have to take it for granted that they haven’t thought this through very well and none of it will really match up. But it sure was fun to watch.

I loved the reveal when the not-by-any-means-a-kraken was talking to Aquaman / herself, and it turned out she didn’t realise he could understand her. That was really cool and clever.

Momoa, Heard, Dafoe and Morrison were great. Wilson and Abdul-Mateen had some really nice moments with their characters. Lundgren and Kidman didn’t seem to have much to play with, possibly because of their price tags but I really can’t see how that can be an issue anymore, they’ve definitely reached the point where they should be grateful to be cast, they ain’t neither of ’em Helen Mirren. I don’t mean that in an unkind way – they’re still great, but we ain’t none of us Helen Mirren. All I’m saying.

This was a fun night out for family and friends, and I would happily watch any additional Aquaman adventures, just as I will very happily watch further Wonder Woman adventures. Aquaman has taken (admittedly reasonably distant) second place to Wonder Woman at this point, in my lazy DC universe ranking system of “two movies that weren’t shit, and then all the rest which were kind of shit even though I didn’t actively hate them except all the Batman ones with goddamn ninjas in”.

I mean, let’s not kid ourselves, I’m probably also going to see any and every other big DC blockbuster that comes out, although hopefully I will still be able to ride relatively cheap into the IMAX cinema on Mr. Bloom’s coattails. It’s just that I’ll go and see Wonder Woman and Aquaman movies sober.


Obligatory closing “Jason Momoa in flood of girl juice” picture.

– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while waiting for the bus.

About Hatboy

I’m not often driven to introspection or reflection, but the question does come up sometimes. The big question. So big, there’s just no containing it within the puny boundaries of a single set of punctuationary bookends. Who are these mysterious and unsung heroes of obscurity and shadow? What is their origin story? Do they have a prequel trilogy? What are their secret identities? What are their public identities, for that matter? What are their powers? Their abilities? Their haunted pasts and troubled futures? Their modus operandi? Where do they live anyway, and when? What do they do for a living? Do they really have these fantastical adventures, or is it a dazzlingly intellectual and overwrought metaphor? Or is it perhaps a smug and post-modern sort of metaphor? Is it a plain stupid metaphor, hedged around with thick wads of plausible deniability, a soap bubble of illusory plot dependent upon readers who don’t dare question it for fear of looking foolish? A flight of fancy, having dozed off in front of the television during an episode of something suitably spaceship-oriented? Do they have a quest, a handler, a mission statement, a department-level development objective in five stages? I am Hatboy.
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8 Responses to AQUAMAN (a review)

  1. aaronthepatriot says:


    Nobbut thanks for this review, LOL. Seems like I might want to head out there over the break.

    You’re totally right about the dueling crap…I loves me a good Rincewind move. Ahh, Rincewind. Now THERE was a protagonist!

  2. JonathanBloom says:

    I liked:

    The trench scene. Holy balls would I watch that kind of a Call of Cthulhu film any day. That was one of the rare few moments in the film where it felt to me like they finally got that the ocean is BIG and really fucking scary. I got nothing out of Atlantis or any of the discount fantasy places they went, but that trench scene was superb, and almost worth the price of the ticket alone.

    Momoa is good fun. He sometimes dips a little too close to the Vin Diesel line of “look at how cool I am” imbecile behavior, where it doesn’t feel like he’s in on the joke, but almost always he seems to bounce right back by making an ass of himself. I enjoy that. Discount Scarlet Johansson, with her two expressions (wet or dry), I could have done without.

    Temuera Morrison rocked his small part. Been a huge fan for years, and I’m glad he’s getting roles, even if he’s kinda slumming it.

    Crab people! Why didn’t we get more of them? Especially since Gimli voiced their king.

    I didn’t like:

    How lazy it was. You already mentioned the writing, and I’m wholly on board with that. They had so many chances to do interesting stuff with the material, either going all Thor Ragnarok, LotR, hell, I’d have even settled for a Krull the Conqueror vibe, but they couldn’t decide *what* they wanted to be. So it was just all over the place. That entire Mantis subplot? You take that out of the story, and nothing worthwhile is lost. I was also irked that they had a perfectly good opportunity to have Poseidon or any other seaworthy king be the statue that led them to the clue, but no, they went with Romulus – without even attempting to draw the parallel to one of the brothers being Remus!

    What a waste of Julie Christie. If you’re going to cast her as Not-Kraken, then at least give her something to do.

    Same goes for most of the supporting cast. Willem Dafoe was basically there to keep score, Kidman to look forlorn, and Rutger Hauer to… uh… what *did* he do in this?

    This movie was two and a half hours long. I’m usually not one to complain about the lengths of things. More of a good thing is only a good thing, as we’ve discussed. But for an origin story, they spent really way too little on world building.

    The action was better than any of the other DC movies to date, but I’m still not a fan of that videogamey spin-the-camera-360-degrees-around-the-room-so-nobody-notices-we’re-using-stunt-doubles thing. To me it looks like what happens when I accidentally drop my controller while playing a third person game.

    After a few days from seeing it, it doesn’t feel like as big of a waste of time as it did upon leaving the theater. It’s still a DC thing, and I’m just apparently not a fan of any of them. Whatever is going on, they’re not tapping into that same place that Marvel is, and I’m not feeling it.

    But having said that, if going to see a DC movie in IMAX means that I also get to hang out with friends, see your kid experience all this wonderful stuff for the first time, and then get to nerd out about it later with everyone? Totally worth the ticket and time.

    • stchucky says:

      Agreed on all counts, the Trench and all the deep-down stuff could have been 60% of the movie instead of 20% (at best). Heh, and I didn’t realise the not-a-kraken was Julie Christie. I wondered why her voice was familiar! Nice.

      Maybe they could have found some way of revealing that the pirates had been false-flag Atlanteans (as the sub attack was revealed to be anyway), and that way Manta could have been de-helmed Skywalker-in-the-cave-style to reveal he was Orm. I don’t know, but the way it was:

      1) The opening fight scene was fucking wild and amazing, so by no means cut or even touch that.

      2) At the end of that scene it seemed like the sub was going down and both crew and pirates were routed, so presumably that’s when Orm and his guys grabbed it … but it’s not particularly clear and not really a cool reveal.

      3) Nobody cares about Manta, his dad, or his knife. Maybe comic book purists do. But about all I learned from that fight was that Manta could somehow take a beating from Aquaman even though he’s apparently just human, and Aquaman is immune to non-Atlantean steel.

      Maybe our opening scene could have been a bunch of masked “pirates” that Aquaman hammers[1], then allows to go down with the sinking sub because Mercy of the Sea. We assume the pirates die but then hello, the sub turns up. How? Well, obviously, they were Atlanteans so they didn’t drown. And it wasn’t a pirate and his dad, it was Orm and the king. So Aquaman forces Orm’s ascent to the throne, and it folds all those weird feuds into one. Plus a false-flag op against the summit meeting with the gingers to force their allegiance.

      [1] Except maybe he takes a very minor wound from Manta’s knife, and wonders about it later because only special metal can hurt him? A clue for us? Or he assumes Manta stole it from an undersea burial mound or something, and takes it back, further deepening the vendetta between them. Yeah. That.

      Kind of holds together, and allows us to put Orm into the Manta costume. Maybe we can have another ignorant character talking to Orm about his “surface contacts” and giving him the suit to give to Manta. And then we find out he’s just kept it. Whatever.

      And obviously I wouldn’t object to having Abdul-Mateen be Orm instead of the replacement going vice versa, although it may be harder to explain how Kidman was his mother? I dunno, that’s getting a bit murky for me but I’m sure it’s easy enough to explain it all. Of course, at that point we basically have a 1:1 retelling of Black Panther so I dunno.

  3. stchucky says:

    Half in the Bag didn’t like it, although their criticism was all fair enough in my opinion. It’s not for everyone – just us children or mentally deficient adults, apparently.

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