“Aquaman” makes serious waves with visuals but is distinctly over-the-top!
An undersea adventure from the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) which plans to give an identity to one of its less celebrated heroes. For a film that assertively advertises in that fashion, it is natural to develop curiosity on whether the comic universe will deliver this holiday season after a string of debacles. That said, what intrigued me the most was on how the makers were going to push the envelope with their visual language. First up, there’s a story that is abundant with water and elements of the oceans. Besides there’s the cutting-edge CGI from recent cinema that the already dicey superhero film has to match up to. Well, Aquaman makes all the right waves in becoming a sensory extravaganza even though it unsurprisingly falters on several crucial fronts.
Narrated in a linear fashion, Aquaman opens with the protagonist Arthur (Jason Momoa) introducing his parents who seem to have taken all Hollywood rom-com mush for real. Arthur’s mother Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) is a queen from an underwater kingdom called Atlantis and is rescued by his lighthouse operator dad, Tom (Temuera Morrison). Two happy moments later, we spot the baby Arthur in their living room. Knock, knock: Mumma Curry got to return to her kingdom as her tyrant father sends a pack of bizarre-looking aquatic goons. Now almost like a storm and tad too early in the scheme of things, the fiercely beefed up and for-a-while aloof adult Arthur (Momoa) shows up and is seen rescuing a group from two evil pirates. An excuse of a diversion to have an option when the chief antagonist is away, the subplot is never as engaging as the central story.
Aquaman picks up significantly when Princess Mera (Amber Heard) lands him up at the resplendent aquatic kingdom of Atlantis which partly belongs to him. Arthur’s encounters with his step-sibling and rival for the throne King Orm (Patrick Wilson) happens in no time and we get to witness one dazzling spectacle after the other – something which none of us saw coming until then.
Decidedly high on kitsch, Aquaman strives hard to render its superhero lead with all characteristic traits. Come to think of it, Arthur Curry can quite easily be a laughing stock if not projected with care. With his interracial origins, somewhat loony existence and almost no distinct characteristic, the writers steer clear adding elements of humour in his immediate character design. Momoa’s towering persona is put to perfect use in creating a larger-than-life prototype that can easily be bracketed as a bona fide superhero albeit belonging to a different medium – the ocean. That said, Aquaman is also quite plot-heavy with an assemblage of characters appearing in quick succession with subplots losing relevance from time to time. Therefore, it does not come as a surprise when the film runs for over two hours and 20 minutes, making it severely lengthy for the story it wants to say.
And boy, the immediate storyline encompasses a sum total of zero surprises. There is the time-tested family unit that stands challenged, the ladylove who is nearly (underscore this word) as good as the man himself, a royal kingdom, a vizier and an antagonist who defines all things evil. Aquaman bears the most foreseeable arcs a la the most commonplace adventure video games or akin to the ’80s Indiana Jones romps. Arthur and Mena travel from one kingdom to other conquering creatures and upping levels like every game character ever. With the sole twist in the tale being the one involving the mother, Aquaman thrives solely on the magic of its scintillating amalgam of cinematography, editing and CGI.
The camera (DOP: Don Burgess) flows with such fluidity (no puns intended) that the viewers become participants rather than spectators in what looks like a life-like unfolding of events. The frame selection, as well as the pacing, is such that we seldom notice the transitions or how the terrain changes from land to water. The final act, in particular, is a no-holds-barred splendour as it announces from the rooftop that Aquaman knows no word as minimalism. The climactic sequence is filled with gazillion creatures and intricate sea elements and the DOP-CGI-editor trio ought to be applauded for getting each of them ample screen space along with the central characters. Aquaman will quite easily be an artist’s delight as it will be of great interest to young children given the thunderous hero’s journey that the film chronicles.
The romantic liaison between Arthur and Mera looks tawdry even by commercial cinema standards but somewhere we do know why the angle gets its share of emphasis. The film is also adamant on imparting closures as seen in its tame, conventional screenplay design. The mother’s character – despite being melodramatic in her own way – is quite a win and can also be credited to Kidman’s spontaneous ability to make anything work. Momoa fits the bill perfectly as Aquaman but one wishes if his face had the kind of imprint as his bulky frame. In the process, he fails to lend believability to Arthur, the person, as opposed to his superhero avatar which he performs with dexterity. Therefore, even though one observes the characterization bearing a slight resemblance to the King Arthur folklore, it is difficult – for a large part of the film’s runtime – to disassociate from Momoa’s physicality and delve deep into his feelings.
Aquaman, at best, ends up as one of the better DC fares even though it lacks the zing of 2017’s Wonder Woman. It is not the most refined action-adventures you would see in this day and age but one can’t deny the entertainment quotient that it packs along. The writing and the scale are undeniably over-the-top with every screen element screaming in the loudest of their voices for their share of claps and hoots. I believe, playing to the gallery is no crime. Or is it by the standards set by this genre of cinema already? Go figure!