Aquaman Movie Review

In movies nowadays, the superhero genre has become so popular that a rule now applies to well-known thespians. You can play a hero or then you act long enough to see yourself become the villain. Or vice versa. Patrick Wilson was a good guy in Watchmen and now he’s a bad guy in Aquaman. Willem Dafoe was the key villain in SpiderMan, but he’s an ally to the title character here. As for Nicole Kidman, she was Bruce Wayne’s love interest in Batman Forever. Now she’s Aquamom.

This is all in a feature-length experience that HBO’s “Entourage” treated with humor. The thought back then… who would really buy this comic book creation in his own two-hour saga? Director James Wan’s weird but often endearing take ups the ante by padding nearly an extra half hour. It sorta works. It does by knowing that it’s silly most of the time despite occasional meanderings into thinking it belongs in Lord of the Rings territory. While it doesn’t, some of the battle scenes approach that grandeur.

We’ve seen Aquaman before in the DC Extended Universe. He was introduced briefly in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (which I still think is a little better than its reputation) and his role was expanded in the sub par Justice League. He gets the whole origin treatment here. In 1985, the Queen of Atlantis names Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) washes up on shore after a storm in Maine. She makes the acquaintance of the local lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and Splash style romantic sparks fly. Leaving her King hubby behind underwater, Atlanna and her new flame bear a son named Arthur and that little tyke eventually becomes the heavily tattooed punk rockish muscle man embodied by Jason Momoa.

As we witnessed in the previously mentioned pics, Momoa’s Aquaman becomes a mysterious superhero above water when not chugging beers with Dad. Atlanna, on the other hand, is long gone after being hunted down by her husband’s henchmen and returning below the surface so her new family isn’t harmed. She’s said to be dead.

Soon enough, Arthur is pressured to see Atlantis for the first time. His half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) is hell-bent on becoming the ruling Ocean Master. That means the destruction of Earth is on his to do list. Mera (Amber Heard) is the daughter of an Atlantean  King (Dolph Lundgren) allied with Orm. She disagrees with her father and along with Arthur’s old mentor (Willem Dafoe), they attempt to recruit our hero to become the King himself.

The family drama is a very familiar plot point in most movies in the genre – no matter which cinematic universe it takes place in. This is no exception. Orm is the Loki to Aquaman’s Thor, but he’s not near as memorable. Mera is the love interest and she has some humorous moments due to her unfamiliarity with our land. Those light moments reminded me of Gal Gadot’s acclamations to her fresh surroundings in Wonder Woman. And while we’re talking similar plot themes, this will remind you of Black Panther from time to time.

There’s only so much you can accomplish with this well-worn origin stuff, but James Wan conjures up a visually vibrant tale with an engaging lead. Momoa’s Aquaman is a bit of a Hulk like creation who seems impervious to harm. Frankly, the tension is a bit watered down because it seems like he could swat Orm off like a fly. Yet the action sequences are effective when they’re not too weighed down in confusing CG mayhem. The best one takes place in Italy when all the players remain dry. Aquaman is worth the watch, despite its flaws, as it builds plenty of worlds we’ll see again and with more details. This uses what seems like a record of title cards to tell us where we are as the plot moves along. Unlike other films where we might see “St. Louis” with The Arch in frame, they’re necessary here. Most of the places we visit come with acceptable levels of entertainment value.

*** (out of four)

Shazam! Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (04/04): On the eve of its premiere, my estimate has changed from $59.5 million to $52.5 million

The DC Extended Universe adds another cinematic hero to its stable with the release of Shazam! next weekend. The tale of a teenager who morphs into a superhero was first introduced in comic book pages nearly 80 years ago. David F. Sandberg directs with Zachary Levi as the title character and Asher Angel as his younger self. Costars include Mark Strong, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, and Grace Fulton.

Said to heartfelt and funny, Shazam! is already a winner with critics and sporting a 92% Rotten Tomatoes score. DC, while not quite up to MCU levels, has been hitting its stride lately with mega performers like Wonder Woman and Aquaman. There were previews of this that surprisingly managed to outdo what Jason Momoa’s creation did late last year. However, that was during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

The range expected is $40-$60 million. I have a hunch its good word of mouth will propel it to the upper reaches of those expectations. It’s feasible the range could be surpassed, but I’ll say high 50s.

Shazam! opening weekend prediction: $52.5 million

For my Pet Sematary prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/03/28/pet-sematary-box-office-prediction/

For my The Best of Enemies prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/03/30/the-best-of-enemies-box-office-prediction/

The Lego Movie Collapse

This was a weekend where The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part was expected to easily nab the #1 spot at the box office. That mission was accomplished, but it did so with much less money than any prognosticator figured. The sequel to the 2014 original took in $34 million and that was about $20 million less than expected. I had a feeling it would under perform and forecasted a $48 million debut. However, I never figured a mid 30s premiere.

For some context, the first Lego experience five years ago made $69 million out of the gate and eventually earned $257 million domestically. In 2017, first franchise spin-off The Lego Batman Movie debuted to $53 million ($175 million total). The first sign of trouble came a few months later when The Lego Ninjago Movie came in far under estimates with $20 million in its opening weekend and a lowly $59 million stateside. Yet some attributed the poor Ninjago performance to its limited niche audience.

The Second Part marked a hopeful return to form for Warner Bros considering it was a direct sequel to a picture that made over $250 million. There is no doubt that the number produced this weekend could block future plans for the series. Its best hope ahead could be the President’s Day weekend as the studio hopes it will have a small decline. Any way you cut it, though, part two will seriously come in under its predecessor. We now have two Lego Movie collapses in a row and it will be interesting to see how Warner handles it.

Oscar Watch – The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

The Lego franchise has made nearly half a billion dollars at the domestic box office for Warner Bros since 2014 and The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part will add to those coffers next weekend. It’s money hauls, however, have not translated to success with Oscar voters.

The Lego Movie was critically acclaimed and seemed assured an Academy nod in Animated Feature four years ago. It was one of the most surprising snubs when it didn’t make the cut. There were two Lego pics in 2017 (The Lego Batman Movie, The Lego Ninjago Movie). Neither of them managed to make the race that year.

While reviews for The Second Part are strong, several critics have said it doesn’t quite match the first part. Competition from animated sequels alone in 2019 (How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Frozen 2, Toy Story 4) is serious. Therefore it appears highly unlikely that this will be the year where Lego builds any standing with the awards crowd.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part Box Office Prediction

The Warner Animation Group hopes to build back up its near half billion dollar domestic franchise next weekend with the release of The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part. This direct sequel arrives five years after its hit predecessor, though there’s been two spin-offs in the meantime. Mike Mitchell, who made Shrek Forever After and Trolls, takes over directing duties from Christopher Miller and Phil Lord (they wrote the screenplay). Returning voices include Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett (he’s Batman), Charlie Day, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, and Will Ferrell. Familiar faces joining the voiceover party are aplenty. They include Tiffany Haddish, Maya Rudolph, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Brooklyn Prince, and thespians from the DC Cinematic Universe (Gal Gadot, Margot Robbie, Jason Momoa).

In February of 2014, The Lego Movie earned $69 million out of the gate with an eventual stateside take of $257 million. Our first spin-off, 2017’s The Lego Batman Movie, achieved $53 million for its start and $175 million total. A few months later, The Lego Ninjago Movie was a legitimate disappointment. It premiered with only $20 million and didn’t leg out well ($59 million).

As they were with the first part, reviews are positive as this stands at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. Several critics, however, have noted it doesn’t quite match up to the original. While this should easily debut at #1, I’ll project that it falls short of the 2014 earnings. Topping $50 million is certainly possible, but I’ll go just shy of that number.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part opening weekend prediction: $48.6 million

For my What Men Want prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/01/30/what-men-want-box-office-prediction/

For my Cold Pursuit prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/01/30/cold-pursuit-box-office-prediction/

For my The Prodigy prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/01/31/the-prodigy-box-office-prediction/

Aquaman Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (12/18/18): Update here as I’m increasing my $74.3 million estimate up to $77.3 million.

We don’t have Vincent Chase from TV’s “Entourage” starring in it as portrayed on that show years ago with James Cameron directing. Yet DC Comics hero Aquaman finally gets his stand-alone experience next weekend. Instead it’s Jason Momoa reprising his role as the waterlogged warrior after first seeing him in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League. James Wan, who made the Conjuring entries and Furious 7, directs. The supporting cast includes Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, and Nicole Kidman. In a bit of irony, Julie Andrews has a voice-over while Mary Poppins Returns serves as competition over the pre-Christmas frame.

Aquaman marks the sixth DC Extended Universe feature that began in 2013 with Man of Steel. The lowest grossing opener of the series was Justice League in November of last year with $93 million. All others (Steel, BvS, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman) took in over $100 million. Forecasts and expectations aren’t as high here, but Warner Bros is certainly hoping for a sizable hit. The film opened in China last weekend to robust results. Reviews are fairly solid with a current Tomato rating of 78%.

No previous DC Universe production has premiered in the crowded holiday month of December. Direct competition comes from both Poppins (family crowd) and Bumblebee (action crowd). With Disney’s famous nanny getting a two-day jump on Wednesday, Aquaman appears in good position to grab the #1 spot.

My feeling is that it will do so with a gross in the mid 70s.

Aquaman opening weekend prediction: $77.3 million

For my Mary Poppins Returns prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/10/mary-poppins-returns-box-office-prediction/

For my Bumblebee prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/11/bumblebee-box-office-prediction/

For my Second Act prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/14/second-act-box-office-prediction/

For my Welcome to Marwen prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/15/welcome-to-marwen-box-office-prediction/

Justice League Movie Review

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a bit of a mess and it earned its reputation as such in many ways. However, I found myself seemingly in the minority of those who sort of dug it. Where it failed – it failed significantly. That includes the casting of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor with his manic and bizarre take on the iconic villain. There were some narrative choices that were questionable. Yet when BvS worked, I felt it worked well and that included Ben Affleck succeeding as Batman.

Justice League is less cluttered. Zack Snyder, directing this DC Universe for the third time, captains a tighter ship with a shorter running time than what’s preceded it… and nearly all recent comic book adaptations for that matter. It is, of course, Warner Bros venture into Avengers territory. There’s a somewhat lighter tone that we first saw in the summer’s Wonder Woman stand-alone feature. The inclusion of The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) contribute to that. So does the fact that the unusually somber Superman (Henry Cavill) who brooded through much of Man of Steel and BvS is absent much of the time.

As you’ll recall, Superman was dead and buried at the BvS conclusion. Justice League opens with the world missing him and crime on the rise. Batman is doing his level best, but he needs a squad. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is still dealing with the loss she experienced in her own movie, but she’s game to help. They recruit the newbies only glimpsed upon in BvS: The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). It is their mission to thwart the Earth dominating plans of Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), a motion capture evil alien. The League incorporates their powers to do so, but they know they must resurrect the Big S to complete the task.

The Avengers had the advantage of having introduced several of its core characters in separate entries. That doesn’t hold true here for half of the Justice League. Miller provides some decent comic relief, Momoa has a memorable moment or two and Fisher’s backstory is a bit blah. Their inclusion feels a little rushed and a little watered down.

Curiously the villain issue of BvS, while highly disappointing, was at least fascinating to witness in a rather bad way. Here the character of Steppenwolf isn’t really interesting at all. Many of these comic book adaptations have suffered the most from bland baddies and this is another.

League finds time to bring back Alfred (Jeremy Irons), Lois Lane (Amy Adams), and Clark’s mama (Diane Lane) in limited fashion. J.K. Simmons turns up briefly as the previously MIA Commissioner Gordon. It is Gadot who shines brightest, which is no surprise considering her rock solid solo spotlight just months prior.

In essence, Justice League feels ordinary too often. It’s got the same flaws as others in the genre. It has the same bright spots with certain performances. There’s action sequences that impress and others with dodgier CG. Call me crazy, but I admired BvS often for its occasional audacity and untidiness. With Justice, it joins a league of plenty others like it.

**1/2 (out of four)