Jan 14, 2019

Roundtable: Aquaman

Hey! We saw Aquaman! And now we're gonna talk about it!


Aquaman was released on December 21, 2019, and made $68 million on its opening weekend. As of this writing, it has earned $288 million domestic and over $1 billion worldwide.

KIMBERLY: It was awesome. Best DC movie so far and not because Momoa is in it. I mean sure that helps but I like how it follows the Hero’s Journey really well. It wasn’t as dark as most DC movies. Plus, the underwater world gives it a new movie scene feel and not just another random city being attacked.

DUY: I really, really liked Momoa in it. Very charismatic. Unfortunately I can't say the same for Amber Heard as Mera and Patrick Wilson as Orm, who if you told me they had cue cards off camera and were reading off it, I'd have believed you. Also the last movie I watched in the theaters was Creed 2, and I still didn't recognize Dolph Lundgren in this.

KIMBERLY: I wasn’t sold on Amber Heard as Mera, but she actually was OK. Still not my ideal Mera though. I liked Willem Defoe and Nicole Kidman.

DUY: I agree with you; I think it's the best DCEU movie so far and a big part of that is that they got the basic structure done right. There's a clear throughline from beginning to end that the other movies just didn't have because they were plagued with holes. Is it a bad sign that I think that "back to basics" is a positive for a DCEU movie? I guess it would depend on how you look at it. Everyone knows how I feel about Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, but even Wonder Woman I feel was plagued with a lot of structural and character-specific problems. I think Aquaman is a major step in the right direction. But again I don't know how much of that I'd feel if I didn't really like Momoa in the role. 

PAUL C:  I agree with you both about Momoa, he was fantastic and just really fun to watch. I enjoyed Patrick Wilson's performance though. I liked that it would have been very easy for him to chew the scenery in that role but he more or less played it straight. I think this was the right call as unlike Momoa he spent almost all of the film underwater and so him taking it completely seriously helped sell the artificial environment. Also he contrasted nicely with Momoa's performance.

DUY: I think it's partly because I've never liked Patrick Wilson in anything, to be honest, so I was a little predisposed.

KATHERINE: I really enjoyed it! Momoa is a delight and I think the force of his natural personality probably added a lot to the more fun and light tone. And finally a DCEU movie with an unabashed bright color palette!! It was beautiful! I liked Patrick Wilson just fine, he was good and felt menacing and credible enough, though the casting choice didn’t seem particularly inspired. I realized after that he was in a possible Loki role in this story (baby brother fighting for the throne cutting some underhanded deals, soft spot for mommy and possibility of redemption), but I don’t think he popped and garnered the same kind of audience love that Loki did. Made me wonder how things could have been different in either case if they had cast different actors.

DUY: But that's also another thing. This is the third major superhero movie with an "Overthrow the King" angle, and the villains for the other two are Loki and Killmonger. Don't blame me if the bar is high.

KATHERINE: I don’t even want to say that it’s Patrick Wilson’s fault — they also didn’t give him any of the fun juicy lines of dialogue that helped make Loki and Killmonger memorable. I thought the general structure and fundamentals were such a huge improvement compared to the other films, but I do wish they had taken one more dialogue pass.

DUY:  it absolutely felt to me like Momoa was ad libbing all over the place and the others had their cue cards just off camera.

TANYA: I liked that we didn't spend 45 minutes on an origin story for Aquaman from birth to adulthood. I like that his training as a child/teenager was in flashbacks. We got to jump to an action sequence with Aquaman and the future black manta. Found love story with Atlanta and the father to be heart warming and touching. Kidman really sold me on it, and I'm glad she got to kick ass. Mera had a lot of agency and wasn't the pretty thing in the background. She took a lot of initiative. Jason Mamoa made for a perfect Aquaman!

PAUL C: It was such a relief to me that this film was devoting all its energy to telling the story it was telling. Yeah, sure there were plot threads that can be picked up in other films, but for the most part it was a complete film in its own right. Like you both said, it was mainly telling the Hero's Journey, and that story came to a satisfying conclusion. At no point was the plot derailed to advertise films that DC might make someday in the future, like in Batman v Superman. Yeah, there's more to be said about Orm and Black Manta, but if they never made another Aquaman film again (which hopefully they will) this film feels satisfying enough to stand on its own. 

JEFF: It's a lot better then all the other DCEU movies so far. Glad to see the darker tones being given a rest. I think it was a bit too long, it would have been better if it was 20 minutes or so shorter and while it looks really nice visually the plot felt pretty predictable. I think it would have been better if the Black Manta revenge scenes had been cut and his story left for a sequel.

DUY: I thought the movie was too long, but I had just also gotten back in town after a three-hour ride, so I guess I was also just exhausted. But when I realized they were going to go to all Seven Seas, I was like "Oh my God, they're going to go to all.... seven.... I don't know if I can make it through." I did, because giant drum-playing octopus for the win.

KIMBERLY: I like how long it was. Even my youngest son made it all the way through. I don’t like when movies are rushed.

PAUL C: I agree with Kimberly about the film's length. it was just right. Another thing I reckon raised it above the other DCEU films is that as well as a stunning CGI world the film also did a lot of really beautiful location work. Compare this to Man of Steel, where every Earth based location, from North Pole to farmland to Metropolis, looks and feels the same in terms of lighting and colour and atmosphere. Or to Batman V Superman which mostly all happens in a city. Or to Justice League, which happens mostly in a city and a CGI wasteland (even Themyscira is just a big field). These films feel like they're happening in a superhero bubble. The beautiful location work in Aquaman on the other hand (like Wonder Woman before it) makes it feel like it's happening in a world populated by other people, not just the characters in the film.

KIMBERLY: I loved the seahorse ride. Sooooo Aquaman.

DUY: The location work was beautiful. I thought it was one of the prettiest location movies I've seen all year. Maybe second only to Black Panther. But because of the prettiness and the color, there's talk about this movie borrowing from Marvel's playbook and I don't really see it. At most the plot is the reverse of Black Panther's, but that's virtually every story about royalty.

PAUL C: If anything this film, of all the DCEU films, borrowed the least from Marvel's playbook. All the other DC films were trying to crowbar in bits that built a shared universe to rival Marvels, whereas Aquaman just concentrated on the story it was telling.

TANYA: I liked this article. Aquaman and Ant-Man and The Wasp Both Do This Exact Same Thing.

DUY: I didn't even notice the Ant-Man parallel, because I'd forgotten so much about Ant-Man, but they involve Michelle Pfeiffer and Nicole Kidman. We just need Kim Basinger now.

KATHERINE: It’s funny that you guys are talking about whether or not it borrows from Marvel’s playbook. I could see it either way, but my older sister who’s not a comic fan at all said immediately after that it reminded her of a Marvel movie. Possibly primarily because it was fun and colorful. She said it felt like a mix of Thor and Black Panther underwater.

DUY: I just think it's "fun and colorful" is such a shallow thing to be taking out of a Marvel playbook. DC was so far into the grim and gritty that "fun and colorful" basically comes out of any playbook. They even seemed like they consciously tried not to make it really funny.

KATHERINE: I think for most casual fans that just want to have a good time and don’t think about these movies beyond the time they spend watching them, fun and colorful is what they notice and associate with Marvel movies rather than DC movies.

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