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)

Top 25 Best Movie Trailers (1990-2015): Nos. 10-6

This evening we arrive at part four of my personal top 25 best movie trailers of the last 25 years and that means we’ve reached the top ten! We’ve got numbers 10-6 tonight with the top five coming tomorrow. Here we go:

10. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

This simple yet very effective teaser for Jim Cameron’s follow-up to his 1984 sci-fi hit shows Arnold’s famous Terminator being assembled with the money line at the end, “I’ll be back.” As good as teasers get.

9. Watchmen (2009)

With its Smashing Pumpkins track being used to great effect, Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the famed graphic novel is an expertly edited and visually beautiful trailer that rightly got fan boys into a tizzy a few years back.

8. Independence Day (1996)

So Roland Emmerich’s smash hit was a bit underwhelming and too silly in my view, but this teaser showing the impending alien invasion was all kinds of awesome with its White House money shot to top it off.

7. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

Expectations were sky high for the sequel to 1999’s watershed science fiction pic and the trailer for Reloaded delivered on every front with its eye popping visuals, even if the film itself was seen as a letdown by many.

6. Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menance (1999)

Yes, I could have listed the trailer for the upcoming Force Awakens here. Yet for those old enough to remember, whether the picture itself turned out well (and it really didn’t), this teaser for Episode 1 was and is probably the most breathlessly awaited teaser ever. It succeeded at stoking the anticipation for the world’s most famous franchise to return.

Tune in tomorrow to check out my top 5, ladies and gents!

Oscar History: 2009

It’s been a little while, but this evening on the blog – we continue with my ongoing series of Oscar History posts and we’ve arrived at 2009. That year’s Academy Awards are notable for a couple of reasons. First, this was the year where the decision was made to expand the list of Best Picture nominees from five to ten. It’s likely not an accident that this occurred just one year after 2008’s commercial and critical smash The Dark Knight failed to make the five pic cut. This was the Academy’s way of including more commercially successful ventures. After all, there’s a direct correlation between hit pictures being nominated and the ratings of the telecast itself. Secondly, the real battle of nominated entries came down between the efforts of a couple that was married and divorced – James Cameron for his smash hit Avatar (which demolished all box office records) and ex wife Kathryn Bigelow for her war drama The Hurt Locker.

It would be Bigelow who would come out on top as The Hurt Locker would take Best Picture over her ex-husband’s blockbuster. The other eight nominated features: The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, and Up in the Air. The success of Hurt Locker would relegate Avatar to winning only the tech categories.

Up would mark the first animated flick nomination (and first and only Pixar one) since 1991’s Beauty and the Beast and it hasn’t happened since. Basterds would mark Quentin Tarantino’s second pic nod after Pulp Fiction fifteen years prior.

As for movies that might have made my personal cut, I advocate for Steven Soderbergh’s underrated and hilarious The Informant! And if the Academy wanted to include high profile pictures, why not consider the acclaimed Star Trek reboot or comedy smash of the year The Hangover? I’m also a big fan of Zack Snyder’s graphic novel adaptation of Watchmen.

Bigelow would go onto make history by becoming the first female Best Director winner in Oscar history over Cameron, Lee Daniels (Precious), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), and Tarantino. I may have found room for Neill Blomkamp’s impressive work in District 9.

Beloved actor Jeff Bridges would score his first Best Actor win for Crazy Heart, beating out George Clooney (Up in the Air), Colin Firth (A Single Man), Morgan Freeman (Invictus), and Jeremy Renner (Hurt Locker). Firth would go onto win the prize the following year for The King’s Speech. Once again, my Informant! love would have meant an inclusion for Matt Damon’s terrific work in it.

Sandra Bullock would receive her first ever nomination and a win for her hit football drama The Blind Side. Other nominees: Helen Mirren (The Last Station), Carey Mulligan (An Education), Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), and Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia). Two names I would’ve considered: Alison Lohman’s great scared crapless work in Sam Raimi’s horror tale Drag Me to Hell and Zooey Deschanel in the rom com (500) Days of Summer.

Quentin Tarantino’s knack of finding the perfect actor in the perfect role landed an at the time unknown Christoph Waltz a win in Supporting Actor for Inglourious Basterds. Other nominees were Matt Damon for Invictus, Woody Harrelson for The Messenger, Christopher Plummer in The Last Station, and Stanley Tucci for The Lovely Bones. As I’ve mentioned in these posts before, the Academy usually ignores comedies and this race would have given them an excellent opportunity to nominate Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover. Also, I may have included Jackie Earle Haley for his work in Watchmen.

Mo’Nique would win Supporting Actress in Precious over previous year’s winner Penelope Cruz (Nine), Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick (both nominated for Up in the Air), and Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart). I would have given consideration to either Melanie Laurent or Diane Kruger for their roles in Basterds.

And that’s 2009 for you, my friends! I’ll get to 2010 at same point in the future…