Oh, is Warner Brothers still trying to do this?
Aquaman is the latest…attempt…at establishing a cinematic universe, and it is the first one since the “eventful” Justice League.
Tired of being dark and serious, the DC cinematic universe has been attempting to lighten the mood of late by jacking with the lighting effects of Justice League in post, and by making the tone of Aquaman more lighthearted. Instead, the lighter moments end up being more embarrassing than amusing in a film that has all the subtlety of a Star Wars prequel and all the intensity of Home Alone.
Though we saw him a year ago screaming and being thrown at space bugs, Aquaman is the first solo outing for the title character and serves as his origin story of sorts. One lightly interesting aspects this places on his role in Justice League, is that he was not really Aquaman yet. He was a dude who was half Atlantean, but he had not yet really embraced any sort of role and was still bouncing around the world being little more than a super-drifter. As a result, we instead cut into a character that we already know, but that has not yet figure out who he really is, or decided what he really wants to be. This isn’t played up enough, as too much time has to be spent to establish an entire underwater civilization, its hierarchy, and an additional villain who was so poorly written that he doesn’t even have a name beyond his villain moniker.
Speaking of underwater civilizations, that is where much of the strength of the film is concentrated. The visual design of the film is truly a spectacle. Bright, bioluminescent colors and creatures pop off the screen while visiting the vast aquatic cities, and ancient Roman or Greek inspired architecture worn down over the centuries within their marine prison. Accompanying the visual design is a surprisingly interesting and kinetic camera. Throughout the film, there are slick transitions coupled with fluid camera movement to push otherwise ordinary or standard scenes into a territory which is far more interesting and compelling.
These factors reach their peak in the trench sequence where out protagonists much delve deep into the ocean in search of a secret while having to fend off a plague of murderous and feral creatures with nothing but the light of a flare. The single red light surrounded by a smog of destructive hunger framed as a two dimensional cutout is by far the best visual sequence of the film, and as a result, the best moment of the film as a whole.
The visual flair of this scene is actually one of of the finest moments in the entire DC universe up to this point.
Much of the rest of the film flies too close to the sun of The Phantom Menace, and ends up crashing back down to earth as the audience snickers at an octopus playing the drums (yes, that was actually in the film). In heavy contrast to many of the stunning visuals in the film, there is an occasional shot that is so on-the-nose, that they feel like they came straight from a low quality rom-com from the Hallmark channel. In case these shockingly out of place visuals weren’t enough, they are joined by dialogue that makes you feel embarrassed for the actors. These poor people had to stand on a sound stage, or a closed set, with potentially dozens of crew members listening to them say these lines without the benefit of a score to kick up the emotion and say these ridiculously stupid and cringy lines, and honestly, I have never felt so badly for actors in my entire life. I know there are worse lines out there, but seeing someone say these while dressed up as and pretending to be a person who lives in the ocean completely broke my suspension of disbelief.
As poor as that is at times, it is not the worst aspect of the film. That title goes to the music. To be very frank and unprofessional, it sucked really hard. It got to the point where started to feel like a parody, or like a time portal had opened up inside the theater and transported us to the 1980’s- the height of the montage. There were songs selected to be placed over scenes which sounded as if they were taken from a royalty free library on the internet. The quality was poor, they lacked any sort of subtlety, and they were often complete tonal mismatches for this kind of film. They’re bad, and whoever put them in needs to take some time to consider the decisions they have made in their lives which led to them thinking, “yeah, this sounds good.”
The sixth film in the DCEU is…ehh…its fine. It is most definitely not the worst film of the bunch, but it doesn’t have the high points or consistency of Wonder Woman. Worst of all though, is that it gives the impression that the folks in charge of this thing don’t know what they want these films to be. They initially tried to go dark to capitalize on the previous Batman trilogy, then abandoned that when the films didn’t meet expectations. Now they are coming off as copycats who are desperately trying to find what is successful and apply it to their films. Aquaman is full of neat visuals, and a handful of interesting elements, but overall continues to showcase why Warner Brothers and DC are having a difficult time getting this cinematic universe off the ground: it has no real identity.