Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison, Ludi Lin, Michael Beach, Randall Park, Graham McTavish, Leigh Whannell
Written by: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick & Will Beall, based on a story by Geoff Johns, James Wan, and Will Beall
Directed by: James Wan
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language
Running Time: 143
Date: 12/20/2018

Aquaman (2018)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

A Fine Kettle of Fish

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The sixth in the DC Extended Universe movie franchise, Aquaman is fun, but it's also a bit much. All in all, it ranks well below Wonder Woman, well above Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman, and somewhere in the middle with Suicide Squad and Justice League.

Opening Friday in theaters everywhere, Aquaman takes a cue from Marvel movies like Iron Man and Ant-Man, starting with a "B"-level hero. Less is at stake here, and therefore more fun can be had.

Star Jason Momoa — who also played the character in Justice League — looks nothing like the clean-cut, blonde hero featured in the old Super Friends Saturday morning cartoon, and he gets to break all the rules.

At one point, he rescues some sailors from a hijacked submarine and asks them to hurry up; he's missing happy hour.

Momoa was once a glowering, monosyllabic lump, playing serious roles like in the dreadful Conan the Barbarian, until he was recently allowed to be funny (in films like The Bad Batch and Once Upon a Time in Venice), and suddenly became likable. His humor pops out here.

Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring) is another helpful factor. He's an exceptional genre filmmaker, one of the few alive that truly understands the concept of movement through three-dimensional space within a two-dimensional image.

Unfortunately, Wan picked up a taste for length when he forayed into the Fast and the Furious franchise, and since then, his films have rambled on for well over two hours. But while Furious 7 and The Conjuring 2 never felt too long, Aquaman does.

Aquaman tells the usual superhero origin story. Aquaman, actually known as "Arthur," is born to an Atlantean queen (Nicole Kidman) and a human lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison), making him a half-breed. Realizing that her child is in danger, the queen returns to Atlantis, where she is presumably executed.

Meanwhile, her other son, Orn (Patrick Wilson), wants to unite all the undersea kingdoms and declare war upon the surface dwellers. If Arthur can challenge him to the throne and take over, he can stop the war. But first he must solve a series of ancient puzzles and secure a powerful trident, said to be only a legend.

An Atlantean princess, Mera (Amber Heard), commits an unforgivable act in order to help Arthur achieve this. But a new villain, Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), is bent on destroying our hero.

The scenes between Arthur and Mera are often quite lovely, but they are frequently interrupted by sudden explosions. The screenplay must have had the line "suddenly, they are interrupted by an explosion" copied and pasted randomly several times throughout.

The crushing number of explosions, fights, crashes, and smashes, often with a screenful of combatants, ends up dragging down the film more than pepping it up. It's wearying. A long fight in Sicily is less thrilling than it is concerning over the damage done to a sweet little seaside down.

The final stretch is a very busy underwater melee, with so much information darting around the corners of the screen that viewers may want to close their eyes against it.

This penchant for overt destruction is a leftover signature style of Zack Synder, who directed the first — and worst — of the DCEU films, and remains on board as a producer here.

Another of his annoying touches — characters dropping from great heights and landing in a "cool" pose, like a super runway model — is on display here, too, repeatedly.

A cameo from another Justice League member, say Ezra Miller's goofy Flash, would have been a helpful touch, but there's no such luck.

A bonus end-credits scene promises more Aquaman, but if that's the case, then let's hope there's fewer explosions, fewer battles, and fewer attempts at coolness, and more Jason Momoa and James Wan, who are actually cool.

Released in March of 2019, Warner Home Video's Blu-ray release includes a DVD and a digital copy. The digital image looks, of course, excellent. It features a spectacular Dolby Atmos audio track, as well as DTS and descriptive audio (plus French, Spanish, and Portuguese). Subtitles are available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. Bonuses include about a dozen short featurettes, running between 3 and 19 minutes (plus a Shazam! sneak peak), and trailers at startup.

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