Director: James Wan
Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe
Synopsis: Arthur Curry learns that he is the heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, and must step forward to lead his people and be a hero to the world.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and for some language)
Release Date: December 21, 2018
I've always said that movies shouldn't be a medium that we watch, but a medium we experience. They should draw you in, immerse you in their world, and take you on a ride--a journey (emotionally or physically or both) that couldn't otherwise be experienced in your own world. There are few films that have accomplished this feat to the fullest extent in recent years, especially when it comes to superhero films. It's not as simple as throwing up some amazing visual effects, either--it requires careful direction and cinematography, and a score that plays to the audiences' emotions by further drawing them into this new world.
D.C.'s Aquaman is surprisingly one of those films that one experiences and not merely watches. It's a film that transports the viewer to a wondrous world, from the vibrant underwater lighting of Atlantis to the glistening shores and beautiful sunsets of the surface world. It's one we can't help but want to stay in, and one we'll want to go back to repeatedly.
The director, James Wan, has had quite the turn in his career, going from low-budget horror flicks like Saw (2004), Insidious (2010), and The Conjuring (2013) to large-budget action fares like Furious 7 (2015) and now Aquaman. The director is unquestionably one of the best horror filmmakers working today, effectively moving the camera to create supremely eerie atmospheres and genuinely terrifying scares. But he showed off his versatility in Furious 7, demonstrating that he was also able to handle large-scale action sequences, and with Aquaman the director not only repeats that feat, but also manages to create atmosphere, a quality he's so memorably known for in his horror films.
Wan accomplishes this through Aquaman's greatest asset--its setting. We've never seen anything quite like this before--an underwater city filled with numerous beings and creatures, lavish architecture, and vibrant lighting. Even the transport vehicles are eye-catching, and the characters' use of air pockets (which are separated by a literal wall of water at times) for meetings inside the buildings only adds to the intricacy and uniqueness of the world.
As a superhero film (and a D.C. superhero film at that), there are many action sequences--some which frustratingly run too long. It's a common plague for D.C. movies, but with Wan at the helm at this time, we are greeted with sequences that, for the most part, are thoroughly entertaining and not eye rolling to look at. The best sequence isn't even one that takes place in Atlantis, but rather at the lighthouse on the surface world. Wan uses long shots for the scene, carefully moving along with the characters as they face off against each other, a technique that delivers a far more engaging and exciting experience that the traditional fast cutting approach. Though this the only scene where he utilizes the long shot, the Atlantis action sequences are also exciting--mostly due to the fact that they take place underwater. Wan takes advantage of this by making sure to incorporate the water into the action, as currents and rushes of water come into play visually.
Though the visuals are a strong selling point for the film, Aquaman succeeds because it does something very few D.C. movies have managed to do--produce emotionally-driven scenes and characters that viewers can actually latch on to and empathize with. While the film is action-heavy, it has plenty of restrained, character-driven moments, mostly coming from Aquaman's decision of whether to cast aside his half-breed identity and ascend to his rightful place on the throne. Mera (Amber Heard) has an instrumental role in this decision, and, while their interactions are cheesy at times and the writing below par, the ideas and motivations of the characters remain true and valid, something that is also aided from the film delivering background information and fleshing out its title character. The film's score, composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams (Hacksaw Ridge, Wonder Woman), also greatly helps these moments, as it successfully conveys the emotion needed for these smaller scenes while also delivering soaring notes for the vast kingdom of Atlantis.
Though its writing suffers at times, Aquaman succeeds in being a film experience--a highly enjoyable one at that, and not just a movie--something I haven't felt from a single D.C. film yet, not even Wonder Woman (2017). James Wan deserves due credit for delivering some truly entertaining action sequences as well as an immersive atmosphere and world. Hopefully those who saw it took advantage of the IMAX screenings, as it was probably the best film I've seen in the format since Dunkirk (2017). One thing is for sure, I'll be in that same spot when the sequel arrives.
Written by Anthony Watkins, January 19, 2019