Warning: For people yet to watch Aquaman, this is a ‘spoiler-review’ and although the spoilers won’t infect the movie experience make sure to read at your own risk!
Aquaman can qualify as one of the best recent visual spectacles in the fantasy genre, on par with the likes of Avatar, 300 and the Lord of the Rings franchise. I commend the fearless decision of the creative and executive team behind Aquaman, even as the big screen potential of Aquaman was famously mocked on HBO’s “Entourage”, to greenlight such an ambitious but risky project of an unseen extravagant visual scale. The director, James Wan, deserves lavish praise alone for incorporating a story with the revolutionary & innovative CGI (entitled to an Academy Award), to build a surreal, yet credible underwater world worthy of special notice non-choppy and almost fluidic (pun intended) action sequences in a spectacle that is Aquaman.
To put my subjective bias out on the table: It sure beats all of the dull and green-screen ‘Mustache Removal’ CGI scenes frequently finished to fit a film release deadline.
Along with the pitch-perfect technicalities (with claims that no shot was left untouched by VFX); the film carries depth in its heart with a lot of things to say, unlike the half-baked & stick-to-the-formula one-liners marking the sloppy seconds.
The renowned comic-book character, Aquaman in Super-friends has been the superhero laughingstock for the longest time but the decision of ‘Batman Vs Superman’ director, Zack Snyder, to change him from a white blonde male to a brown, mixed-race Pacific Islander (drawing inspirations from Jason Momoa being Polynesian), was a huge step in acknowledging the very aspect that Aquaman actually represents in essence.
Just as 2017 was, a breakthrough for female-centric superhero cinema with the arrival of the feminist icon: Wonder Woman, 2018 too, would be remembered for breaking the mould of white-lead superhero films and embracing the Superhero of Color with important representation of characters in superhero cinema like T’Challa (Black Panther), Miles Morales in Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse .
Arthur Curry, the protagonist of Aquaman (played furiously well by Jason Mamoa, is the child of love between Thomas (Temuera Morrison), a lighthouse keeper in Maine (US) and Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), the queen of the underwater kingdom considered to be a myth: Atlantis. Curry (Mamoa) having inherited his mother’s abilities harnesses his powers heroically and shirtless, when he is not kicking back a few at the bar during happy hours (literally), to save lives of normal fishermen from stormy oceans and navy submariners from underwater pirates.
This generic portrayal of a masculine hero could initially reiterate the idea of a damp male fetish; Only that it does not. Curry is a played-out, disoriented, loner but rightful heir to the throne who resents Atlantis because of their vengeful sacrifice of his mother to the Trench (An underwater territory, which contains the most terrifying horrors of the seas).
Curry meets a match in Mera (Amber Heard), warrior princess of the Xebel kingdom (one of the seven kingdoms of seas), who is not your usual damsel in distress. Mera, with her telekinetic powers, performs equally brave-hearted ass whoops (as Curry likes to call it) as any man-in-action could and saves Curry whenever he dimwittedly falls for traps. She approaches Curry to return to Atlantis, to unite the seas and to stop his half-brother, King Orm, from warmongering against the surface world.
Curry and Mera(Amber Heard) begin to develop a relationship that is a highlight in the buildup of the narrative. There is a portion where the narrative progress arrives at a beautiful pause. The pace real-time happening simultaneously with the reel time characterizes this pause or moment of narrative halt. Usually, the halt in a film is conclusive of a viewer’s psyche to keep up with the momentum of the film and to erase the boundary between the real and the reel world.
This occurs in Aquaman after Curry and Mera arrive in a Sicilian village to solve the riddle about Atlan’s Trident (which Curry needs to obtain to fulfill the prophecy to become the one true King of the seas). In this minor subplot, Mera learns to accept the surface world to be strange but magical and is lost in thought looking at the surroundings of the reel world. The subjective viewpoint of Mera becomes an objective viewpoint of the audience expanding on the surroundings as if it were the real world. The motion of the narrative is held on neutral for a few seconds until the next shot. Such choices are unusual for films of this particular genre but I am glad that it appeared on big screen blockbusters like Aquaman, Man of Steel (Clark Kent asking for lift) and BvS (Bruce Wayne’s gaze into nothingness after waking up in the Wayne Manor by the lake).
Returning to King Orm’s arc of declaration of war – it is based upon his family conflict against Curry, like a classical brother vs. brother (Orm calls Curry, a bastard or half-blood) – biblical Cain and Abel situation, while his approach as a leader is that of a nationalist (…) who wants to make the oceans great again.
He considers the Fisherman nation to be full of bloated philosophers and flaccid poets – a popular argument of the jingoist romantics. He seeks to summon the underwater kingdoms even if it means a seizure against his own kind (Fisherman & Brine kingdom) to hold the title of Ocean Master to wage a war against humans in retribution for their rampant contamination of the ocean – a problem, which is actually rooted deeply around the actual survival of earth’s ecology. It’s actually funny but meticulous to address that Curry doesn’t answer his call to an adventure of the conquest of Atlan’s trident until a humongous wave washes-off battleships and pollutants on the sea-shores across the world. Some parts of dialogues and creative inputs in the second act are cheesy and campy but the stakes never degrade in an attempt to render [what is commonly known as] cinematic freedom.
The most delightful part is the climax scene whence after the Ocean Master being defeated by in the final combat asks Aquaman to kill him, exclaiming, “Do it!…” (It transported me to the climax of Watchmen – Rorschach asks Dr. Manhattan to kill him, exclaiming, “Do it!” while The Nite Owl – II coincidentally played by Patrick Wilson watches from a distance) “… That’s how it’s done here” to which Aquaman responds by saying, “I’m not from around here” further explicating his acceptance of being cross-cultured. Before Atlantean Soldiers take Ocean Master into custody, Aquaman offers a negotiation in a harmonious manner, “Let’s talk whenever you’re ready”. Aquaman’s denial of the ‘violent’ Atlantean tradition explains the need to evolve traditions with time and his stability to offer a logical and solidary solution as simple as a ‘chat’ to his ruthless half-brother perfectly expands on the necessity of vindication of harmony. Aquaman’s mixed heritage perfectly aligns with the very definition of ‘biracial’ and James Wan dealt smartly with the subject without loose ends. As the world turns increasingly diversified and mixed it’s great that the modern world would have a character like Aquaman to identify with.