Tuesday, September 10, 2019
Based on the DC Comics series by Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger, Aquaman is the story of a half-human, half-Atlantean who reluctantly goes into the underwater world of Atlantis to stop his younger half-brother from uniting the seven kingdoms to wage war against the surface world. Directed by James Wan and screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall from a story by Wan, Beall, and Geoff Johns, the film is a part-origin story and an adventure story where Arthur Curry deals with his mother’s disappearance and the destiny he has to take on to save the world from destruction as he is played by Jason Momoa. Also starring Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren, Temeura Morrison, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Nicole Kidman as Atlanna. Aquaman is a grand and exhilarating film from James Wan.
Set several months after a confrontation with an evil force where he is part of the Justice League, the film is about Arthur Curry/Aquaman dealing with his past but also a new threat in the former of his younger half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) who wants to wage war on the surface world and become king of Atlantis. It’s a film that has a simple premise that is expected with films about superheroes but it’s more of a study of a man reluctant to take on what is rightfully is as he also deals with the fact that he’s half-human and it lead to the disappearance and death of his mother Queen Atlanna. The film’s screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall opens with how Atlanna met lighthouse keeper Thomas Curry (Temeura Morrison) in 1985 and fell in love that lead to the conception of Arthur as their tranquil life was disrupted by Atlantan forces who want Atlanna to return as she reluctantly leaves Thomas and Arthur to protect them.
The script would showcase some flashbacks of Arthur growing up to understand his powers to communicate with aquatic creatures but also be trained by Atlanna’s advisor Nuidis Vulko (Willem Dafoe) who would teach Arthur many things as he would later become Orm’s advisor only to get uneasy about Orm’s ambition as he chooses to help Arthur in secrecy. Also helping Curry with this growing conflict is Princess Mera of Xebel (Amber Heard) whose father King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren) had aligned himself with Orm after an attack from a Russian submarine. Yet, Orm has also made a secret alliance with a pirate in David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) to set-up the attack as he wants to find Arthur following a confrontation at a submarine that lead to the death of Kane’s father Jesse (Michael Beach) during an attempted hijack on that sub. Though the script does have a few clunky moments in the dialogue, it does succeed in establishing the characters and the stakes with the first act being about Orm’s desire to attack and Arthur reluctantly trying to stop him while its second act is about their first duel that nearly kills Arthur and his escape with Mera as they try to find an ancient artifact that relates to a trident that belonged to Atlantis’ true king in Atlan as the person who holds it is Atlantis’ true heir.
James Wan’s direction is definitely grand in terms of the visual scope he presents of the underwater world that is Atlantis but also ground it with some realism for some scenes on the surface. Shot largely in Australia and at Village Roadshow Studios on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia with additional locations shot in parts of Italy, Canada, and Morocco, Wan does create a world that is vast not just above the sea but also under the sea. Particularly on the latter as the world of Atlantis is enchanting as well as wondrous while it also feature an array of beings, creatures, and human-like figures known as Atlanteans who live and breathe underwater while they can converse underwater as they also have powers. Yet, Wan also showcases the sense of prejudice towards Arthur yet there are a few that are willing to give him a chance despite their issues with civilization at the surface. Wan’s usage of the wide shots in how he presents Atlantis as well as the film’s climatic battle scene definitely capture a lot of coverage and establishes it in what is going on.
Wan’s direction also knows when to break away from the action in favor of character development and interaction that include scenes of Arthur and Mera on Earth traveling through the Sahara and later going to Sicily to find clues of the trident’s whereabouts. Wan keeps things smooth and help bring some nuances to the story including Arthur and Mera’s growing relationship while they have to fight off Orm’s personal guards, sea creatures, and David Kane wearing a suit as he’s called Black Manta. Wan’s approach to action and suspense add to the stakes that occur including the sequence in the third act where Arthur and Mera face off against monsters in this wormhole known as the Trench that leads to a mysterious land where Atlan’s trident is located. Wan does allow shots to linger for a bit including a few fights including Atlanna’s fights against a royal guard early in the film as it is shot in one entire take with tracking shots and other camera effects. The film’s climatic battle sequence display an air of grandeur and importance where Wan does establish what is going on as well as what is at stake as it play into Arthur stepping into his role as King of Atlantis. Overall, Wan crafts an intoxicating yet exhilarating film about half-man, half-Atlantean who comes to term with who he is and his destiny.
Cinematographer Don Burgess does excellent work with the film’s cinematography with its colorful and vibrant look for many of the exterior scenes shot in the day in some of the film’s different locations along with the usage of low-key and blue-green colors for some of the scenes under the sea. Editor Kirk Morri does nice work with the editing as it does play into conventional fast-cutting with some of the action but does stray from chaotic editing to establish what is happening as it also include some stylish cuts for the humorous moments in the film. Production designer Bill Brezki, with set decorators Danielle Berman and Beverley Dunn plus supervising art director Richard Hobbs, does amazing work with the look of Atlantis as well as the home of Thomas Curry, the bar Arthur and Thomas go to, the palace in the Sahara, and other locations including some in Sicily. Costume designer Kym Barrett does fantastic work with the suit that Mera wears under the sea as well as the clothes that other Atlanteans wear along with the more casual look of Arthur and the eventual suit that he would wear in its third act.
Hair/makeup designer Lesley Vanderwalt and special makeup effects/creature designer Justin Raleigh do brilliant work with the look of some of the characters as well as how hair moves underwater as it’s a highlight of the film. Special effects supervisors Mark R. Byers and Brian Cox, plus visual effects supervisors Tim Alexander, Jay Barton, Bryan Hirota, Sebastian Moreau, David Nelson, Craig Wentworth, and Jeff White, do incredible work with the visual effects as it is a major highlight of the film with the design of Atlantis, the creatures of Atlantis, and some of the underwater effects as they’re top notch and they have this air of grandeur that the film needed. Sound designers Harry Cohen, Eliot Connors, Joe Dzuban, and Stephen P. Robinson, along with sound editor Peter Brown, do superb work with the sound as it help play into the atmosphere of the locations as well the sound effects of some of the Atlantean weapons that are used.
The film’s music by Rupert Gregson-Williams is wonderful for its mixture of bombastic orchestral score with some electronic flourishes as it help play into the massive scope of the film as well as some soaring pieces with lush string arrangements while music supervisor Michelle Silverman creates a fun soundtrack that features an original piece by Skylar Grey as well as some inspired usage of music from Roy Orbison and Depeche Mode though the track from Pitbull with Rhea is just dumb.
The casting by Anne McCarthy and Kellie Roy is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Andrew Crawford providing the motion capture performances of the Brine King and King Richou of the Fisherman with John Rhys-Davies and Djimon Hounsou respectively providing the voices, Leigh Whannell as a cargo pilot, Julie Andrews as the voice of a mysterious creature guarding King Atlan’s trident, Ludi Lin as Atlantis’ front-line army commander Captain Murk, Graham McTavish as King Atlan via flashbacks, and Randall Park in a small performance as the marine biologist Dr. Stephen Shin who is trying to prove to everyone that Atlantis is real. In the roles of the young Arthur, Tainu and Tamor Kirkwood as the three-year old Arthur, Kaan Guldur as the nine-year old Arthur, Otis Dhanji as the 13-year old Arthur, and Kekoa Kekumano as the 16-year old Arthur are terrific in displaying the character’s growth and understanding of his powers through Vulko’s guidance. Michael Beach is superb as David’s father Jesse Kane as a leader of pirates who would confront Arthur only to be bested and urge his son to avenge him.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is fantastic as David Kane/Black Manta as a pirate who seeks to find and kill Arthur in an act of revenge while conspiring with Orm to help start a war with the surface people in exchange for weapons to hunt Arthur. Dolph Lundgren is excellent as King Nereus of the Xebel tribe who is Mera’s father as he also helps Orm with an upcoming war unaware of the truth of Orm’s intentions. Temeura Morrison is brilliant as Thomas Curry as a lighthouse keeper who meets and fall for Atlanna as he is also someone who is aware of his son’s gifts and powers but also knows about the danger that his son will face. Nicole Kidman is amazing in her small role as Queen Atlanna as a descendant of King Atlan who meets and falls for Thomas Curry as she reluctantly leaves Thomas and Arthur only to be punished for her actions leading to her possible execution. Willem Dafoe is remarkable as Nuidis Vulko as Atlanna’s former advisor who would teach Arthur about his powers while also being a reluctant advisor to Orm as he becomes suspicious of Orm’s intentions leading him to help Arthur.
Amber Heard is incredible as Mera as King Nereus’ daughter with telepathic and hydrokinetic powers that helps Arthur in his journey as she is also someone who knows a lot about the underwater world but not much about the surface as she does provide some funny moments. Patrick Wilson is great as Orm as Arthur’s younger half-brother who is the king of Atlantis who hopes to unite the seven kingdoms but also wants to start a war on the surface world as he’s not really an antagonist but someone who despises Arthur for what happened to their mother. Finally, there’s Jason Momoa in a phenomenal performance as Arthur Curry/Aquaman as a half-man, half-Atlantean who possesses some incredible powers to converse with sea creatures as well as being strong but he’s also someone that isn’t sure about ruling Atlantis knowing about its prejudices where Momoa displays some humor and charm but also a weariness as someone who is grounded and knows how to do the right thing as it’s a true breakout performance for Momoa.
Aquaman is a spectacular film from James Wan that features an incredible performance from Jason Momoa in the titular role. Along with its ensemble cast, dazzling visual effects, bombastic music score, and story of identity and family, it’s a blockbuster superhero film manages to be so much more as well as be adventurous and fun. Even as it explores a man coming to terms with who he is but also the role he chooses for an entire world. In the end, Aquaman is a sensational film from James Wan.
James Wan Films: (Saw) – (Dead Silence) – (Death Sentence) – (Insidious) – (The Conjuring) – (Insidious: Chapter 2) – (Furious 7) – (The Conjuring 2)
DC Extended Universe: Man of Steel - Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - Suicide Squad - Wonder Woman - Justice League - Shazam! – (Birds of Prey) – (Wonder Woman 1984)
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