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Feature Article

Aquaman (2018) Review: Under The Sea

Don't think too hard about it; just enjoy the spectacle.

Aquaman is here--the movie hit theaters just before Christmas, and chances are you've seen it by now. If you want to know what we thought about it, read our full review below, and for more check out our Aquaman review roundup.

It's hard to describe just how insane Aquaman is. This is a movie with underwater ocean battles whose scope rivals anything seen in Star Wars, where fish people charge into the fray riding giant sharks, seahorses, and even stranger creatures than that. There are living, breathing dinosaurs in Aquaman, and they're maybe the 15th or 20th craziest thing in the movie. The dinosaurs are mostly used as set dressing in background shots, and nobody--even Aquaman himself, who's spent most of his life on the surface--ever comments on their existence or acknowledges them at all. There's too much other stuff going on to devote even one second of dialogue to the fact that, hey, it turns out dinosaurs aren't extinct after all. Neat.

It's not that the plot doesn't make sense, or that it's hard to follow. Aquaman is creatively bonkers--the insanity in the movie is a choice that was made, over and over, in every aspect of the film's creation. Atlantean battle armor looks like something the invading Martians would wear in campy mid-century science fiction, while Jason Momoa's Arthur Curry and Patrick Wilson's King Orm battle to the death in an underwater stadium that seems to hold millions and millions of people. These are elements that would have probably been toned down and reduced to something less heightened in another superhero movie, but with Aquaman, director James Wan has declared the DCEU the place where comic books movies can just be comic book movies. Overall, that makes the film better, though it has plenty of problems as well.

Aquaman follows Arthur Curry, the titular hero, on his journey to claim his throne and save Atlantis, and maybe the whole world while he's at it. Aquaman was first properly introduced to the DCEU in last year's Justice League, and this is the same version of the character we got then: gruff, sarcastic, tough, self-effacing, and irreverent. To some, Momoa's character was the best part of Justice League, and he's equally great here. Early on, when Aquaman is saving the crew of a submarine during a scene in which one of the villains, Black Manta, is introduced, there's a single shot of completely random slow motion. Momoa walks briefly through a cloud of hissing steam while a snarling guitar lick announces his--not his arrival, because it's in the middle of a fight. It announces that he's awesome? Moments like that are a recurring thing--they don't make a lot of sense, but they get the blood pumping.

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Although we already met Aquaman in Justice League, this is definitely an origin story. It starts at the beginning: with lighthouse keeper Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison) finding Nicole Kidman's Queen Atlanna washed up on the rocks during a storm. They fall in love, have Arthur, and are separated over the course of a couple of voice-over'd minutes that set the breakneck pace for the rest of the movie: Aquaman has no time to dwell on anything besides its massive, complex action scenes. Everything else, from the many lore dumps that lay out Atlantean history to the slow motion shot of Arthur and Mera (Amber Heard) emerging from the ocean with a cover of Toto's Africa playing in the background, is just an inconvenience that the movie hurries past as it sweeps you along in its mighty current.

The whole thing is buoyed by a couple of extremely stellar performances. Kidman is good as Queen Atlanna, but she's in the movie only very briefly. Likewise with Morrison as Arthur's dad--he's fun, especially during cute scenes like him and Arthur chugging beers together with breakfast (less so when his uncanny digitally de-aged face is delivering cheesy lines like "Up here, we feel [our tears]," but that's hardly his fault). As Arthur's trainer and King Orm's vizier, the always wonderful Willem Dafoe's Vulko has an important role in the overall narrative, but not much to do in the movie's actual plot. And Heard is surprisingly flat as Mera--she looks the part, and that clown red wig isn't actually that bad once you get used to it, but she lacks the grandiosity and the gravitas to deliver the movie's unendingly cheesy dialogue.

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That's where Patrick Wilson has her beat in the role of King Orm, and it's him--along with Momoa--who make Aquaman's corny script sound good. Picture this scene: A CGI crab person asks King Orm if he expects to be called "king," and Wilson has to reply, "Not king. Call me"--dramatic pause--"Ocean Master." It's so, so silly, but the Conjuring and Watchmen actor delivers every line with a searing intensity matched only by all the underwater lava that somehow exists in this movie. Keep in mind, this is the kind of film where waves crash dramatically and orcas tend to leap gracefully from the water, loud orchestral score crescendoing, whenever characters say something important. Don't think too hard about it; just enjoy the spectacle.

Besides all the Aquaman-quipping, underwater politics, family drama, and massive battles, there's a lot more going on in Aquaman. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II has a fleeting but effective turn as villain Black Manta, who you'll kind of root for even as he destroys half of Sicily trying to get to Arthur. Arthur and Mera also go on this big, Goonies-style side quest in the middle of the movie hunting down an ancient trident that has some kind of unspecified magic water powers that will supposedly help them in some way. It's here the movie's biggest plot breakdowns occur, such as when an artifact that supposedly dates back to when the Sahara desert was still an ocean--that's 7 million years, minimum--leads them directly to some statue in Italy that's at most, like, 2,000 years old.

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Or there's the time when Arthur makes an offhand comment about Pinocchio, which Mera has naturally never heard of, and then two scenes later a little girl in a market randomly hands Mera a copy of the book Pinocchio. It's the kind of gag a writer came up with because they thought it would be cute if Arthur could reference Pinocchio, and Mera could later make fun of him about it. And sure, it is cute--but why would a random little girl hand Mera a copy of the exact book Arthur casually made a reference to earlier that day? Why would that little girl in Sicily even have a copy of Pinocchio with her? Does it matter at all? (No.)

And then there are Aquaman's completely nutso musical cues. Wan likes to punctuate scene transitions with songs, and while some of these are funny, others are straight up baffling. That's doubly true when they only last a few seconds--you're liable to get whiplash from the way this movie jumps around from scene to scene, blasting your ears with different random-sounding songs, changing tones on a dime and never looking back. They aren't the only strange direction choice; the camera spends a ridiculous amount of time spinning dizzying circles around characters during complex flashbacks that blend seamlessly back into the present day, or zipping around them in impossible ways, because when your CGI budget is apparently infinite, why not? There's also this incredibly weird thing where four or five different scenes throughout the movie are interrupted out of nowhere by massive explosions, the action literally blowing up quieter scenes of dialogue or exposition, as if to shriek, "No one gives a s*** how long ago Atlantis was founded, go back to the sharks and lasers and battles now!!!!"

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Those shrieks are justified--this movie knows what it is. And you have to give credit where it's due--Aquaman's underwater universe is incredibly visually creative. The ocean aesthetic permeates every aspect of Atlantean culture, from Mera's ceremonial jellyfish dress to the warships shaped like squids, eels, whales, and more. Underwater fights like the duel between Arthur and Orm are choreographed in a way that would make no sense on land, taking full advantage of the unusual setting, the characters' superhuman abilities, and crazy weaponry like magical tridents and hyper-powerful plasma lasers. At one point, we get a brief flash of an octopus absolutely wailing on a giant drum set, and as soon as you have time to process what the hell you're seeing, it's gone and on to the next thing. If nothing else, stuff like that will make you eager to re-watch this utterly insane movie.

James Wan has stated that he wanted to make an "action adventure fantasy movie" rather than a superhero movie, and something with a lighter tone than past DCEU films like Batman v. Superman, Man of Steel, and Justice League. In that, he completely succeeded. Much of Aquaman--more than your average superhero movie, it seems--was taken straight off the pages of comic books, for better or worse. But Aquaman isn't simply a bunch of remixed comics elements thrown together. It's a movie with its own over the top, tongue in cheek, inconsistent, massive, irreverent, CGI-soaked tone, aesthetic, and world. And somehow, it works well enough that you'll be calling Arthur king by the end.

The GoodThe Bad
Incredibly creative visualsSome really uncanny CGI
Massive, impressive action scenesStrange tonal leaps from scene to scene
Generally funny, tongue-in-cheek toneBaffling, jarring musical cues
Stellar performances from Patrick Wilson and Jason MomoaCheesy dialogue
Underwater scenes look surprisingly goodA couple of huge plot holes
A generally insane movie (in a fun way)
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mrougeau

Michael Rougeau

Mike Rougeau is GameSpot's Senior Entertainment Editor. He loves Game of Thrones and dogs.
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Avatar image for ballashotcaller
ballaShotCaller

Damn been waiting all year

Avatar image for sakaixx
sakaiXx

Just got back from the movie and damn its a really great dumb fun movie. The cinematography on the fight scene is 10/10. Italy scene is a highlight.

Black manta is very underused though, hope we get a sequel black manta vs aquaman.

Avatar image for pongman75
Pongman75

I hope Spongebob Squarepants is in this movie.

And I would really like to ride one of those Battlesharks.

Avatar image for jsprunk
JSprunk

They should've made Ben Affleck Aquaman.

Avatar image for ballashotcaller
ballaShotCaller

@jsprunk: no, but aqua mans brother in the movie would be a perfect aqua man if they didn't go the Hawaiin prankster route

Avatar image for TrueLink
TrueLink

@jsprunk: But keep him as Batman as well.

Avatar image for niv0070
niv0070

@TrueLink: Let him direct it too.

Avatar image for mistervulpes
MisterVulpes

Sorry, can’t support this until they check his twitter backlog from the last 15 years.

When they’ve concluded that he hasn’t slightly offended anyone in that time, I shall consider buying a movie ticket.

Jokes...it’s DC, of course I won’t...

Avatar image for mezzanine58
Mezzanine58

@mistervulpes: Almost certain the alt-right inbreds have already done it. And clearly found nothing.

Avatar image for devilmaycryyyy
devilmaycryyyy

There's something fishy about this movie lol.

Avatar image for genji_shimada
Genji_Shimada

DC Negatives: Strange tone shift, Cheesy dialogue, and Plotholes

Marvel Positives: Funny tone shift to break from anything too serious, Funny dialogue for laughs every 10 minuets, and Great plotholes leave the movie open for potential sequels or connections in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

I don't trust reviewers that can't even listen to the stupidity uttered from their mouths. This is a shameful display and brings great dishonor to your family name.

Avatar image for MigGui
MigGui

@genji_shimada: hope you’re aware you sound way more biased than the reviewer. Both “funny tone” and “stellar acting” are on the good, and the plothole is explained through the review (and can’t be fixed by a sequel, because it’s not a hook for another movie, it’s a *plot hole*)

Avatar image for genji_shimada
Genji_Shimada

@MigGui:

I hope you realize that I'm unbiased in this as I am neither a DC nor Marvel fanboy with blinders on. I just hate when I look at these review for movies and biased 'reviews' nitpick points and problems that are ignored, given a pass, or praised in other movies.

There are serious plotholes in EVERY SINGLE MARVEL movie to date. There is absolutely no integrity in current reviews and reviewers. Rotten Tomatoes is proof of this. You'll constantly see movies that are given low scores by 'critics' and the same movie will get a much higher score from the actual moviegoers that see it There should be no disparity if it were a true unpaid and unbiased review.

Did I forget to mention "Cheesy Dialogue"? The same cheesey dialogue that's in every Marvel movie?

Avatar image for MigGui
MigGui

@genji_shimada: There are tons of reasons why critics would give different ratings than the "actual moviegoers" that have nothing to do with bias towards either DC or Marvel.

Even if the critics were supposed to be a sample of the general public, a sample is generally not representative of the whole. But they are not a sample, they usually have a completely different experience in the theaters than regular john doe, because they care about photography, color palette, quality/quantity of CGI, soundtrack fitting bla bla bla while john doe just wanna laugh and see some explosions.

And even considering all of this, it still doesn't mean two movies that do the same gimmick do it the same way, and therefore to the same effect. Just because both movies try some funny lines in dialog, doesn't mean both come across as funny - one can come across as cheesy.

And hey, if general public is the true reflection of quality in movies, shouldn't gross income be the moderator? That would put Avengers 3, Avengers 1, Avengers 2, Black Panther, Iron Men 3 and Captain America: Civil War above all DC movies (being the two final Batman movies of the Nolan/Bale trilogy the only representatives of DC in the 50 highest grossing movies of all time).

edit: btw, please consider me as a nonbiased counterpart, since I actually don't like either Marvel or DC superhero movies, and the only one of either franchises I've watched in the cinema was aforementioned Batman trilogy

Avatar image for genji_shimada
Genji_Shimada

@MigGui: My problem is not whether Marvel or DC is better. It's the borderline insulting undeniable and unbidden bias in preference of Marvel films in which they deface and downplay DC movies due them being seen as a 'competitor' or the fact they are fans of Marvel over DC.

If I didn't know that reviewers are required by law to notify their viewers when they are paid to advertise/review a movie I would have conjectured many of them are in Disney's pocket.

I don't want to even rant on the 'critic' vs normal person debate. I could literally write an entire book on why critics are bad, pointless, wrong, and useless relics of the past.

Avatar image for MigGui
MigGui

@genji_shimada: or, maybe, DC movies are worse, and the fact that they take less people to the theaters when that is basically the only target they have kinda proves that

Avatar image for genji_shimada
Genji_Shimada

@MigGui: I'm not saying some of them aren't worse, you're not seeing the point. This isn't a Marvel vs DC debate. This is one movie being hypocriticaly knocked harder than another because it competes with a brand that someone feels attached to.

Avatar image for skektek
skektek

Is Barnacle Boy in this one?

Avatar image for fishnpeas1
fishnpeas1

That doesn't sound good.

It sounds like a big flashy mess.

Avatar image for clefdefa
Clefdefa

I'm kinda done with those super heavy CGI movie ... we are at a point that it is so obvious when they used a green screen to make a scene ... meh

Avatar image for skittymiao
Skittymiao

@clefdefa: Watch TV series instead.

Avatar image for thelostscribe
Thelostscribe

Movie trailer impressed me personally. I don't really even enjoy super hero movies these days due to all the same-ish CGI. This movie's CGI is very colorful and bright, different from what I usually see in other super hero movies. Looks like a comic book movie and a fun one. Might have to go see it myself.

Avatar image for Jendeh
Jendeh

I'm more of a Marvel fan than DC, but I love that their movies are starting to come around. WW was great, and this looks like a lot of fun.

Avatar image for deactivated-5c9cbf62c19be

His movie Braven was good to.

Let's see if Justice League can up for challeng Avengers :[)

Avatar image for jamesbr27
JamesBR27

Why games have a score and movies dont? Inconsistency is fine sometimes, but movies are media like games which we cannot control like the latter.

Avatar image for MigGui
MigGui

@jamesbr27: people were complaining that *game*spot now review movies, I reckon they don’t want to move to full-fledged movie reviewers

Avatar image for KahnArtizt
KahnArtizt

@jamesbr27: It’s much easier to give a number to a game because game quality is more objective than movies. Just my 2 cents.

Avatar image for bdrtfm
BDRTFM

All I need to know is at what point does Amber Heard come on the screen so I can go refresh my popcorn and maybe take a washroom break until her part is over.

Avatar image for KahnArtizt
KahnArtizt

@bdrtfm: She’s pretty hot. What’s the problem?

Avatar image for bdrtfm
BDRTFM

@KahnArtizt: She's a snake, hot or not. And she couldn't act her way out of a paper bag as they say. She's the only actress who can make Kristen Stewart look less wooden. I want good acting, not good looking when I watch a movie.

Avatar image for SamStone22
SamStone22

I'm guessing that the dinosaurs mentioned in the review are not actually dinosaurs but marine reptiles that lived at the same time as actual non- bird dinosaurs.

Avatar image for tattorack
Tattorack

@SamStone22:

No.... the dinosaurs this movie review references are actual dinosaurs. The whole scene is basically Jules Verne's center of the Earth with pterosaurs flying in the air and raptors on the ground.

Avatar image for mrougeau
mrougeau

@SamStone22: you shouldn't jump to conclusions

Staff
Avatar image for spectrexr1
spectreXr1

@SamStone22: ikr people that don't know comics shouldn't review them lol. His bads not really that bad