Movie Review: Aquaman (2018)
After many decades, Aquaman finally has his very own movie released in 2018. It’s now available on DVD and streaming. The following review is from the perspective of an old-school comic book fan and for better or worse, that’s how I’ll go about rating the film.
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Since Aquaman received such great reviews and seems like the post-comic book superhero movie to see, I had to check it out. I’m left feeling the way I do with these interpretations several decades after the tales were originally told in comic books – dissatisfied and feeling that the comics were better. These movies always seem rushed. I also understand this isn’t Jason Momoa’s first movie appearing as Aquaman. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen the earlier Justice League movies. On the other hand, I’ve read just about all the original comics.
Aquaman in the comics
Aquaman from DC comics was similar to Iron Man from Marvel Comics in that they were both considered boring characters compared to their peers such as Batman or the X-Men. I’m talking about the general consensus from the 1970s and early ’80s. Who knew Iron Man would go on to become one of the most successful comic book hero franchise movies of all time (also saving the career of Robert Downey Jr.).
Iron Man actually did have some interesting storylines such as him being a recovering alcoholic or facing random Hollywood horror monsters such as Frankenstein.
Aquaman received a major facelift in 1994. He then went from a clean-cut looking, safe (and boring) “good guy”, to a bearded, long-haired antihero who lost his hand which was menacingly replaced by a harpoon. Aquaman (from 1994), also lost his mental stability at the same time. That was good stuff that you should definitely check out if you haven’t already.
This is the direction I wanted to see the Aquaman movie go and while he was much rougher than the original Aquaman from decades earlier, he didn’t quite touch the essence of the 1994 resurrection of a once forgettable and unimpressive character. In a way, I think the 1994 remake of the Aquaman character is indeed the catalyst which eventually became what we have today. I’m just not especially impressed by the actor who portrayed him.
The origin of Aquaman
Most of the origin of Aquaman is ultimately told within the first ten minutes of the movie. Of course, stories in movie form, as opposed to comic books, lack some details while adding some superficial content. Aquaman 2018 gets the basic point across. The movie runs for a little over two and a half hours. In that time, a lot of ground is quickly covered and we end up dealing with two completely separate antagonists, namely the legendary Black Manta and Aquaman’s estranged brother, Orm Marius. This interpretation of Black Manta is pretty much spot on and his half-brother, although not particularly menacing in appearance, comes across as a regal yet less intimidating as the former. As one can probably guess, Aquaman and his brother come to some point of understanding by the end of the movie, although I feel he’ll still be somewhat of a thorn in Aquaman’s side in the sequel.
Oh yes, this movie definitely has plenty of room for a sequel. Black Manta is still very much alive by the end of the first movie and he’s looking for revenge. Aquaman finally gets to wear his recognizable outfit for the last twenty minutes of the movie. It looks pretty good on him and I’ll get more into his character in the next section of the review. There is also a pointless mild love affair between Aquaman and Mera which I can do without. It reminds me of the melodramatic elven love affair in Lord of the Rings, it’s just there because the director felt obligated to have a love interest for Aquaman. It’s pretty brief, actually. Aside from that, the movie moves along pretty quickly since Aquaman divides his time between facing his brother and Black Manta in several different spots.
The animation and scenery of Aquaman
Since a lot of scenes take place underwater, digital animation often comes into play. This is a weak point of the movie while the scenery surrounding the events that take place are often stunning. Take the underwater robot/cyborgs for example, they stick out like a sore thumb at the start of the film. Towards the end of the movie, they seem a bit more believable. That might be because I’m used to them by that point. Overall, I feel the digital animation from The Hobbit trilogy from 2012 was much better. I know many disagree with this statement due to some of the reviews on IMDB.
How the characters of Aquaman rate
The best character in Aquaman 2018 is definitely the Black Manta. It takes a while for him to get started (much like Aquaman for that matter), but once he finally gets into his recognizable attire, he smokes all of his peers. Aquaman’s mother is sparingly portrayed well by Nicole Kidman who is aging extremely well. She looked about the same age as Mera, played by Amber Heard. Mera was just there, I’m afraid. She isn’t especially important or effective. Ocean Master and Aquaman’s half brother Orm played a decent role as a regal and somewhat pretentious upstart. He’s not really a “bad guy” per se, but he definitely wanders through a gray area.
Finally, it’s time to mention our main protagonist’s portrayal, Aquaman. Admittedly, this is the first time I’ve seen him portray the role so I imagine Jason Momoa is comfortable with it by now. I felt him come off as superficial and trying hard for that classic “antihero” vibe but not being especially convincing while doing it. It could be because we’ve seen so many of these types of characters before where they’re made to come off as being “cool” and “in” with current pop culture. We’ve seen it with the first movies of Batman to Iron Man through all the X-Men movies and beyond. This particular interpretation of Aquaman came off more barbaric and simple, much differently than the complicated mental state from the time Aquaman was first portrayed as an antihero in 1994. Why didn’t they go for that? I felt like I was watching Conan the Barbarian and not Aquaman.
If you think that every Marvel and DC superhero from decades past all had their own movies by this point, think again. Shazam is about to make his solo movie debut. A DC comics hero who kind of played off the original Superman, but far less convincingly. I’ll probably miss that one, the movie trailer looked lame. Anyway, Aquaman has plenty of action and effects to keep most action fans enticed. If you’re looking for a deeper look into what makes a more complicated Aquaman tick, go back to the old comic book relaunch from 1994. That’s a much more interesting look inside the Aquaman character which truly separated him from his peers, making him a legitimate and memorable character.