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Thursday
Dec202018

Review: Aquaman

by Chris Feil

There’s an element to Aquaman’s chutzpah that feels lost to contemporary cynicism, as if its as much an artifact as the trident our titular hero chases. Here is a superhero epic that skews closer to something like Stephen Sommers Mummy trilogy, enveloped in sincerity and willingness to dazzle without winks or too-cool posturing.

But cut that with an over-caffeinated, sugar rush aesthetic packed to (forgive me) the gills with technicolor extremity, and you get a superhero film that’s delightfully batshit. It’s both beyond absurd and the guiltiest of pleasures, like Lisa Frank for dudes or gay underwater Indiana Jones. For some it might be an acquired taste, but it succeeds by pairing simplistic narrative ambitions with an authentically wild visual experience.

Jason Momoa’s hero Arthur Curry returns to save both land and sea from his half-brother Orm, Patrick Wilson’s evil caped ruler of the underwater Atlantian kingdom. Smartly the film scatters the usual origin story benchmarks throughout its narrative, detailing Arthur’s training at the hands of Willem Dafoe’s Nuidis Vulko. When Amber Heard’s Mera reemerges to recruit Arthur to reclaim his birthright against Orm and his plans for destruction, Aquaman begins a quest to reckon with ancient history and his own feelings of abandonment.

Yes, Aquaman is a film for those resolving some mommy issues. Nicole Kidman stars as Arthur’s queen mother Atlanna, cursed to marry Orm’s father and later sacrificed for her romance with Arthur’s earthly father. If you’re wondering about one of our greatest actresses starring in a project that once was something of a punchline, you should know outright that no one is having as much fun as she is. You didn’t know that Kidman kicking ass in feverish video game fashion was something you needed, but Aquaman proves it to be so.

The film however represents an about face to the often deathly self-seriousness of the current DC era, opting for decadence instead of the franchise’s defining grimness. And it is unavoidable that this one is at times as lethargically bloated and lugubrious as its (much worse) predecessors. But like Patty Jenkins before him, director James Wan is able to mold something that repositions where this franchise should steer itself. While Aquaman doesn’t attempt the impact of Wonder Woman’s social significance, it delivers something vibrant and unpretentious while stealthily working in conscious themes around climate change.

Rather than something roided out in macho buffoonery, this is a superhero tale whose inclination for injectables is on the hallucinogenic variety. Wan creates a complete world and then some - and then some more. Yes, the CGI excess is occasionally garish but its mostly a relief to have a superhero film so buoyantly earnest. It’s (sea) monster movie, campy adventure epic, and commercial for pecs - but the whole of it is far more enjoying digestible than its parts.

What is largely lost is Jason Momoa’s charming wit, drowned out a bit by the spectacle surrounding him. He had been one of the bright notes to Justice League, but this is perhaps an acceptable compromise if this film is to upend the shitshow grimness of that already forgotten fiasco. But our hero is one of the least distinct or arresting pieces to this overloaded spectacle, and the lag is felt.

Aquaman is what I imagine taking mescaline is like. Heard battles baddies with a wine sword, Wilson has hilariously pointy hair, and Kidman wears a costume straight out of Fury Road. Wan throws everything but the kitchen sink at it, and that’s only spared because you don’t need a sink in the ocean. It’s a “too much”, overstimulating miasma, but uncommon for how its rampant kookiness comes from goodwill that aims to please. Immodest but modestly motivated.

Grade: B-

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Reader Comments (20)

"greatest actresses" ?????

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

Has anyone mentioned that "Aquaman" is going to be Nicole Kidman's top grossing career movie?

I guess it is better to play queen of the elves in a legendary trilogy.

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

This was absolute blast. As fun and breezy as these films should be. Nicole worked her magic, giving a more considered performance than was necessary, I hadn't watched other DC films but felt Momoa was fabulous.

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEoghan McQ

It makes sense that this will be her highest grossing movie ever--it's part of a huge superhero franchise. No surprise there.

I do want to see this, although I probably won't be rushing out to do so.

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJJM

@rdf

Yeah, I was baffled by "greatest actresses" as well.

That sort of implies there's another actress out there better than Kidman. Which there ain't.

Should have said "greatest actress".

Anyway, Kidman us actually getting great reviews for her performance in this Aquaman thing. I used to think Blanchett was gonna be Streep's natural successor (and they share more similarities as actors), but in reality, I think Kidman is taking the crown. In the span of two years, she's been in like 8 movies and TV shows since Lion, and been brilliant in everything. Maybe she's trying to prove a point, and if so, long may it continue.

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterkd

This is why I have loved- and been lurking in- The Film Experience for the past 15 or so years. The only thing I care about this movie is whether it provides a worthy 'Nicole Kidman experience' or not, and this review gives the best idea about that out of any I've read. Truly the only place on the web for actress stuff.

And you know Nicole is like no other.

I'll grow up. Someday.
Thank you.

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEngin

@kd You misunderstood what I meant... I do NOT think Kidman is a great or even a particularly good actress. She has done a few very good performances, but her overall scenario is pretty lame IMO.

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

For example... think of Streep's roles through the years ... Kidman could not come close to any of them. Blanchett is the one actress I think could pull off all types of roles. Not many are that versatile. Again IMO.

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

@rdf

Umm...'kay. Interesting take. Gonna have to disagree with you there buddy. The work Kidman is doing right now speaks for itself. Greatest actress working at the moment for me. Easily. She's actually put out a body of work/performances in the space of 2 years, that would qualify as a great semi-full career for many actresses. Big Little Lies, Lion, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, The Beguiled, Boy Erased, Top Of The Lake: China Girl, How To Talk To Girls At Parties, Destroyer, Aquaman. 2 years!?! The quality and range is insane. And this isn't even considering the rest of her 30 year career.

Just gonna leave it there, so we don't get another edition of "actress wars". All those other actresses are great, but if there is a title, I feel like Kidman has earned it now.

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterkd

Thanks. I am not one to argue. I find this site is giving excellent info

But so many are rigid in their beliefs. This is only film

not really important issues. I would love to speak with you as to my reasons

for whatever the topic is.

PS. I am a girl. But I like to be called buddy. LOL

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRdf

I imagine people saying this film is trippy have never actually been ON a trip. And I say that as somebody who doesn't do drugs. Is it weird that I just thought the film looked pretty normal. It's fluero colour palate is reminiscent of Avatar, really.

December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

I've had this Kidman discussion with people on this website before.

Being part of a critically acclaimed film does not mean your role/acting in the film are extraordinary or even noteworthy.

I can't tell you how excited I was about her 2017 The Beguiled-How to Talk to Girls at Parties-The Killing of a Sacred Deer trio. All three performances underwhelmed, didn't they? Any fan who claims she should've been Oscar-nominated for one of these three movies is clearly delusional.

She barely does anything for me (or out of the ordinary for that matter) in The Beguiled or Sacred Deer. Many people say the same things about her role in Boy Erased (haven't seen that yet).

I really want to love her in Destroyer. Excited about watching this film.

December 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

@Yavor

What are you even taking about? You genuinely sound like a hater. She won the Anniversary Prize in Cannes for those three "underwhelming" performances (and Top Of The Lake). The New York Times named her one of the 10 Best actors of 2017 specifically for her performances in The Beguiled and The Killing Of A Sacred Deer. Kidman must have been crying herself to sleep over getting these plaudits and accolades for such underwhelming performances (that's sarcasm in case you missed it).

She's already won at least one critics prize for Boy Erased and been nominated for several more. Same for Destroyer.

Your are massively overthinking this. You aren't a big fan of Kidman (claim if being excited notwithstanding) and you don't really rate her performances to the degree of many others, or get the same enjoyment others may get out of it. That ain't a crime. I think Daniel Day-Lewis is an overrated ham, but I am fully aware most of the world disagrees with me.

But to act like she hasn't been getting brilliant reviews in practically everything for the last two years, and that she hasn't recieved serious plaudits in one for or another for almost all her recent work (whether you personally dig it or not) just makes you seem like a outright hater.

That fact that you are using the "many people say she weren't all that in Boy Erased" card (which you haven' t seen), despite her numerous award season citations, kind of shows how eager you are to give her performance a "meh" review well in advance.

She's clearly one if those accclaimed actors you dont quite get. Lots of people have them. As I said, I usually find DDL grating, where others find him to be a genius. But I'm not arrogant enough to invalidate how others feel about Day-Lewis work. I think you should just kind of own the fact that Kidman isn't quite your cup of tea, instead of trying to invalidate the quality of her performances or the fact that many pretty intelligent people find the majority of those perfromances to be first-rate.

December 22, 2018 | Unregistered Commentersilant

Just to restate, I don't think there is anything wrong with you not liking those performances or being underwhelmed. You more got that right, because art and acting is ultimately subjective.

But to try and gaslight people and act like she didn't recieve great reviews or genuine accolades for almost all those perfromances (which means people out there legit thought those perfromances were great) is just pure hateration. The type that oozes. It's gaslighting and trying to take credit away from someone. Adding how "excited" you were does not disguise the hating, for future reference.

December 22, 2018 | Unregistered Commentersilant

@ silant

I urge you to revisit what you just wrote:

"She won the Anniversary Prize in Cannes for those three "underwhelming" performances (and Top Of The Lake). The New York Times named her one of the 10 Best actors of 2017 specifically for her performances in The Beguiled and The Killing Of A Sacred Deer."

Nothing about your two separate inputs proves popular Kidman critical acclaim / praise in the three movies I've mentioned.

I neither see Critics awards having been handed out to her for that work, nor Globes, SAG, Oscar nods.

The funny part is you're confirming what I mentioned in my post. She was part of a number of well-reviewed movies, hence, an anniversary prize and "top 10 actor something prize" <- these are not really competitive awards, are they? they are in the lines of the "you are a great actress, who took part in films we enjoyed, here's some recognition", and she is a great actress.

Nicole Kidman is my top favourite actress along with Blanchett, Swinton, Streep, and Smith.

Unlike the fanboys, I'm brave enough to point out when I'm underwhelmed by her work. And I'm also honest enough to point out that a sense of risk and an urge for experimentation with directors and material does not necessarily lead to a great movie / performance.

December 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

@yavor

Somehow I don't believe you about Kidman being one of your "top favorite" actresses. I've read this site long enough to know that you are basically a Blanchett Stan that's threatened by the "Kidmanissance" or whatever this amazing run of hers is being called.

Even your first post on this thread was non-stop subtle dig at Kidman being in Aquaman, while Blanchett was in the LOTR trilogy.

People aren't stupid, and haters like you are easy to spot from a telescope on Mars. You recognise that many people consider Kidman great. Possibly greater than homegirl Blanchett, and it nags at you.

So you do your little concern trolls act about being "excited", but ultimately disappointed about all those Kidman performances that are getting praised and great reviews. But of course, you are just keeping it "real" as a "fan". Lol!

Blanchett's still a great actress dude. Stop being so insecure.

December 22, 2018 | Unregistered Commentersilant

And I think you are insulting people's intelligence if you think people cant spot a Concern Troll. It'd help if you were less obvious.

Looking forward to the next Kidman performance you are "excited" by (that probably isn't that great). You are always "excited" by Kidman perfromances, and always let down. The tragedy!

Long live Cate The Great!

December 22, 2018 | Unregistered Commentersilant

I love how we gays even take a superhero article to talk about NICOLE KIDMAN.

December 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterFR

Yavor. I totally agree with you.

In one sentence. Kidman in her two years
Of movies has NEVER carried the movie. In
Boy Erased she is in it maybe 15 minutes and does
Nothing special.

December 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRdf

How many times does Mamoa take his clothes off? Because if it's less then twice, I'm not impressed.

December 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterChris

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