16 Dec 2018

Screen Time: AQUAMAN

Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison
Director: James Wan
Runtime: 143 minutes
Certificate: 12A
Release Date: 12th December 2018 (UK)/ 21st December 2018 (USA)

Matt C: Whilst the Marvel Cinematic Universe is operating like a finely tuned machine - cohesive and coherent - DC's attempt at a shared cinematic universe (dubbed the DCEU) has continued to flounder, lacking any clear direction or ethos. This was evidenced most dramatically with last year's Justice League; it struggled to pass $200 million domestically and was followed a few months later by Black Panther - which on paper shouldn't have been able to hold its own against the combined might of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman et al -  a supremely confident movie that edged over that financial milestone within its opening weekend. Rumours now suggest we won't see Henry Cavill as Superman again and Ben Affleck has possibly already hung up the cape and cowl; Wonder Woman was a high point for the franchise but it's still unclear where the DCEU is headed. Aquaman was already in production when Justice League performed well below expectations, so can the aquatic superhero who's been the butt of many a joke in recent years help get things back on track?

Aquaman embraces its comic book roots with such unrestrained vigour it's initially disconcerting. You start to wonder if it's meant to be a spoof until the realisation hits that it really is going for that overblown, melodramatic vibe that harks back to some of the more treasured entries in the genre canon from the 1980s (Flash Gordon immediately springs to mind) where the most ludicrous of ideas were treated with utmost seriousness. And there's something rather fantastic about that approach, especially when it involves extreme world-building that warrants unbridled creativity, featuring undersea warriors riding great whites and wonderfully ornate kingdoms hidden on the seabed. It's a film that's unafraid of going deep into comic book mythology, without concerning itself too much with the concept of grounding itself in something resembling the real world. It's worth applauding, and it results in gloriously OTT sequences that bristle with the DNA of decades of four-colour creativity; the source material is well an truly honoured in that respect.
This bombastic, unsubtle rendering has its downsides though. The characterisation is slender at best, and although Jason Momoa has charisma to burn he's not given the opportunity to convince he's on a believable journey towards unifying kingship. The rest of the cast struggle to find their groove with only Partick Wilson really hitting the right balance between the operatic and the emotional. James Wan choreographs some impressive sequences - the 'Trench' is the standout - but some of the action scenes, particularly those with pirate-turned-supervillain Black Manta, veer a little too closely to Power Rangers territory, with choppy editing and strange musical cues disrupting the flow.

Tonally it's the most unashamedly fun entry into into the DCEU so far, worlds away - thankfully - from the grimness of Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, but ironically, given its milieu, it lacks any substantial depth. It's a film that you can both laugh at as much as you can laugh with; it wears its love of the genre on its sleeve, but there's an overreliance on hackneyed tropes that ultimately means it doesn't linger longer in the memory once the credits roll, thoughts of it washing away with the evening tide. 6/10

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