Aquaman – King of the DCEU

Last night I was out with a couple friends enjoying a double feature for one of their birthdays. We took in the new addition to the Transformers Franchise Bumblebee and the newest addition to the floundering DCEU, Aquaman. While I immensely enjoyed Bumblebee, it’s by far the BEST Transformers movie, I had a few more reservations for Aquaman. After the disappointing Justice League and the terrible Batman V. Superman, Wonder Woman was the only thing keeping the DCEU afloat, until the king of the seven seas arrived.

Directed by James Wan (of Saw fame), this movie was the first salvo in the soft reboot currently underway from Warner Brothers and their DCEU. This review will be spoiler free but I will discuss several key aspects of the film and their relation to the source material.

STORY

The first thing I have to say and it can be taken a slight negative for the film, the story is all over the place. While they make it work for the film, they basically took the first five collected issues of Aquaman’s New 52 comic run and made it into the plot for the film. The main pull is the Throne of Atlantis story line which has already been made into an animated feature as part of the DCAU (DC Animated Universe). The story centers around King Orm (Aquaman’s half brother) a full blooded Atlantean and his bid for the throne of Atlantis. Wan’s film is a very ‘Shakespearean’ tale of family betrayal and political trickery with a healthy dose of comedic undertones. Arthur Curry (Aquaman) fresh off his defeat of Steppenwolf with the Justice League has decided to become the unofficial protector of the seas. This brings him into conflict with a particular group of pirates. These pirates have been operating with maximum casualties for quite some time and Aquaman has had enough. Those familiar with the storyline for the Throne of Atlantis arc will be able to see what will happen before it does; however, Wan and co. have worked enough subplots into the mix to provide some surprising turns wherever they can.

Left: Nereus and Xebel Forces; Right: Orm and Atlantean Forces

CAST

Jason Momoa returns as Arthur Curry (Aquaman) for his second foray into the DC comics world. He builds on his persona established in the Justice League and we are shown his origins with a great exposition at the opening of the film. As the film progresses we are also shown why he holds Atlantis in such low regard and refuses to help them in any capacity. It allows for a great heroic origin as Arthur goes from occasional vigilante to the full blown hero we’ve been waiting for.

Amber Heard straight up knocks it out of the park as Mera. There is a particular scene in the middle section of the movie where you really get to see why Mera is such a respected warrior and queen in the comics. She brings a very authoritative quality to the role which helps to balance out Momoa’s ‘bro take’ on the classic clean cut Atlantean king. Her arc through the film is one we’ve seen before in plenty of other works; however, Heard makes it her own and shows that Mera is worthy of her own movie.

The standout star for me is Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as David Kane/Black Manta. At the beginning of the film we are shown a ruthless Kane as he and his pirate crew work to hijack a submarine. Through a turn of events he is left alone and blames Aquaman for it. This sets him on a path of revenge that has him crafting his Black Manta persona through the entirety of the film. When he finally confronts Arthur and Mera in Italy, he has emerged fully as the supervillain that has plagued Aquaman since his first appearance in Aquaman #35 from 1967. Abdul-Mateen II delivers a dark and gritty performance in an otherwise fairly light-hearted film which helps to cement Manta as someone who will continue to appear in future DC films.

Black Manta

Patrick Wilson gives us our main villain by his portrayal of King Orm/Ocean Master. A conflicted ruler who just wants to do right by his people, Wilson brings a certain gravitas to the role that helps to establish Orm as a force to be reckoned with. Wanting to preserve his people and their way of life he has grown tired of the mistreatment of the oceans by the surface world and he is through playing nice. Wilson’s protrayal of Orm helps to provide some sympathy for the young ruler but ultimately helps to give a villain you can’t help to love.

Other notable members of the cast are Nicole Kidman as Queen Atlanna, Willem Dafoe as Vulko, Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus and Temuera Morrison as Tom Curry.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Despite 90% of the film taking place under water and in front of a green screen, Wan manages to deliver some stellar shots. One scene which appears to be a continuous shot (in the vein of the various Marvel Netflix series’), really showcases Wan’s keen eye. He created a living and breathing world at the bottom of the ocean that makes you believe in the might and magic of the fictional kingdom of Atlantis. As I said before in my review of Black Panther, I’m not a cinematographer and don’t pretend to be, but I can tell what shots look amazing and help to convey the emotion and feel of the scenes, and in that regard, Wan knocks it out of the park.

Amber Hear (Mera), James Wan (Director), Jason Momoa (Arthur Curry/Aquaman) and Willem Dafoe (Vulko)

COSTUMES

The costumes in this film were perfectly done. Each character has a costume that directly references back to their comic roots and helps to provide a great feel for the overall tone of the film. I was extremely giddy when Arthur finally dons his orange and green comic accurate costume at the climax of the film. Mera’s costume is a direct recreation of her comic source material and Orm/Ocean Master’s full purple and silver battle garb is a perfect counterbalance to Arthur’s orange and green. Black Manta and the Atlantean soldiers take the cake for costume design. Giving us a great armoured and vibrant colour scheme for the costumes of the Atlanteans, Kym Barrett, worked closely with Wan to bring his vision to life. Manta’s costume was heavily influenced by the source material while adding a very apparent Atlantean touch to it to provide a truly menacing character.

“The Trench” which are an ancient race of Atlanteans since mutated into a cross of humans and Angler Fish, were truly horrifying and provided some very terrifying scenes.

Trench Drone
Trench Swarm

MUSIC

The score for the film worked extremely well to create and translate the mood and feel from the shots to the viewers. There were a couple of misfires with some of the music, in particular a horrible cover of ‘Africa’. In a movie of fantastical underwater civilizations and wondrous technology, it felt out of place and a cheap way to bring a small laugh from the audience. With the exception of that small misstep the music fit the film really well and even the inclusion of a Greta Van Fleet chart topper worked to immerse the audience in the world of Aquaman.

ACTION

It’s hard for me to accurately describe the action in the film. It’s not that it wasn’t apparent or well done, it’s just that the majority of it was done using CGI. For obvious reasons they needed to use CGI to convey the 360 degree combat that the Atlanteans and the other kingdoms of the sea are fluent in, not to mention their amazing powers, it just left me a little wanting. The up close and personal action scenes with Arthur,Mera, Manta, the Atlanteans and Orm were very well done and choreographed, but they were few and far between. There is a big CGI slugfest of a fight at the climax of the film that delivers on the building tensions throughout the run time and showcases the various kingdoms of the sea beautifully. I’m not sure if Patrick Wilson and Jason Momoa went to trident combat training, or if there even is such a thing, but their work with those tridents is nothing short of mesmerizing.

Arthur and Orm before ‘Ring of Fire’

OVERALL

As someone who has seen every comic book movie to come out since the release of the Dark Knight in 2008, I can say that this is (in my opinion) the best DC movie since Nolan’s trilogy. While I did thoroughly enjoy Wonder Woman, the villain just didn’t capture me like Orm and Manta do. I love Gal Gadot and think she’s perfect for the role of Diana, but Momoa knocks this one out of the park. I would rate it as the top DCEU movie and overall I would give it a solid 9.0/10. Shazam and Wonder Woman 84 are going to have to really step their game up to even come close to this gem that Wan delivered. I highly recommend that if you’re a fan of the character or any of the cast listed that you go and see the film. If this is the first salvo in a new and improved DCEU, then the MCU could be getting a run for their money.

Aquaman movie poster

See you next time!

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Deadpool 2 – The Merc With the Mouth on a Bigger Budget *SPOILER FREE*

Just yesterday I went and saw the highly anticipated Deadpool 2 in theaters, it was awesome! While not as good as the first one (sequels rarely are) it definitely captured the magic of the original and put its own twist on things to make it it’s own. The marketing team for this movie should be given awards themselves. For months the marketing has been amped up to 11 and taken no prisoners. A genius TV spot with David Beckham, a brilliant original single by the Canadian great Celine Dion, and a hilarious ad featuring Manchester United in a soccer match are just some of the brilliant ideas to come out of their marketing department. Originally I was going to do a post about Infinity War, but I felt that it would get lost among the many many theories circulating the internet as to what will happen in Avengers IV (Disassembled), so I opted for one of my favourite comic characters’ second film instead.

THE STORY SO FAR

Wade and Vanessa have reconciled their differences and Wade has been taking some freelance assassination work around the world. Colossus is still trying to get Wade to consider joining the X-Men full time to learn to be the hero he thinks he is.  Dopinder is still driving his cab but he feels he wants to do more with his life than just drive DP around to his assassinations.

Wade and Vanessa

PLOT

So it’s no secret that this movie revolves around the formation of the X-Force, though it may not be the team you think it is. Wade takes it upon himself to protect a young mutant named Russell from the time travelling supersoldier/mutant Cable who thinks that Russell turns evil. Wade forms the X-Force from LinkedIn auditions to save the kid and stop Cable in the process.  Blind Al, Dopinder, and Weasel make some great returns with notable new faces of Domino and Cable. Josh Brolin (of current Thanos fame) nails the gruff, angry, and vengeful Cable but also brings in a certain humanity as to why he is doing what he does.

The standout star for me in this film is a tough call. Between Ryan Reynolds BEING Deadpool/ Wade Wilson and Josh Brolin nailing his interpretation of Cable… Zazie Beets still takes the cake with her interpretation of Domino. While she doesn’t look 100% comic accurate, due to Zazie’s ethnicity, she definitely delivers a stellar performance as the luck based mercenary. Zazie delivers some of the best lines in the film and really steals the show every scene she’s in.

I don’t want to say anymore about the plot for fear of revealing something so let’s move onto the costumes.

COSTUMES

The costumes in this movie are perfect for each character. While Wade sports his typical red suit and Colossus and Negasonic sport their regular X-Men outfits, Cable and Domino’s costumes look like they were taken right out of the comic book.

Being part human/mutant and part cybernetic virus infected supersoldier, Cable’s costume looks pretty awesome. I was pleased that they streamlined Cable’s complicated origin story to just making him  a sort of dangerous mutant hunter from the future and getting rid of the whole techno virus angle. In comic continuity he is the son of Cyclops (Scott Summers) and Madelyn Prior ( Jean Grey clone) who gets infected with a technovirus made by Apocalypse and is taken to the future where the technology could save him. As I said, it gets unnecessary complicated and I was happy that they got rid of this angle. That being said Cable’s costume definitely reflects this origin without directly stating it. His metal arm and cybernetic eye both dictate that he is from the future and has had some sort of body modifications done, whether voluntary or not. My favourite part of Cable’s entire ensemble though has to be his gun. He takes some state of the art tech and incorporates some awesome future tech into it to make a rifle that can fire bullets, lasers, concussive blasts, and grenades. When you see the gun you’ll know what I mean and probably want one yourself.

Cable

I will admit that I’m not that well versed in Domino’s comic history. Most of what I know I gleaned from her appearing in other works or from Variant Comics’ Youtube channel. That being said, while I might not know who she is I do know what she looks like and I can honestly say the costume department for this movie nailed it. While Domino’s trade mark outfit is skin tight leather with tactical gear attached, they definitely leaned more into the tactical aspect than the skin tight leather. Zazie Beets sports a very modern tactical looking ensemble while still maintaining one of Domino’s trademark properties, her silenced SMGs. Domino is known for using dual silenced SMGs with bayonets attached to them, which the prop and costume department perfectly replicated. Another trademark of Domino is of course the white patch around her left eye. Like I said I’m not 100% sure what this is from (historically speaking) but it is definitely an important aspect for her character.

Domino

CHARACTERS

The character list for this movie can be quite extensive, so I will highlight the most important characters and who plays them.

  • Wade Wilson/ Deadpool – Ryan Reynolds
  • Vanessa – Morena Baccarin
  • Cable – Josh Brolin
  • Domino – Zazie Beetz
  • Russell Collins/ Firefist – Julian Dennison
  • Weasel – T.J. Miller

Terry Crews, Bill Skarsgard, Lewis Tan, and Rob Delaney are all part of Deadpool’s X-Force team with a surprise cameo by Brad Pitt.

X-Force

As I previously said Josh Brolin and Zazie Beetz were the standout stars in this movie for me. They perfectly captured the essence of their characters while still putting their own spin on them.

ACTION

This movie’s budget was doubled from the last movie and it’s very apparent in the opening scenes of the film. The choreography for the fight sequences were top notch and properly incorporated Deadpool’s improvisational fighting style into the choreography. While most movies will just focus on one type of choreography, this film very much made use of the environment and the tools therein to make some truly memorable fight sequences.

Again, there is a huge fight at the end that is truly spectacular, but I won’t say anything for fear of navigating too close to spoiler territory. Just know it involves Colossus in all his glory.

VILLAIN

So the marketing of the film has made Cable out to be the villain for the film and while that’s partially correct, it’s not entirely correct. While he is definitely the antagonist, I would hesitate to call him an actual villain. His motivations are pretty pure and most people would do the same thing he does if they were placed in his shoes. He slides back in time to stop a mutant from becoming evil and killing a lot of people. While he slides back far enough that the particular mutant is just a kid, his mission is not changed. This creates a very interesting dynamic between him and Wade. While Wade has no problems killing men and women he firmly draws a line at killing kids. Which is a huge point in an X-Force run that I’ve mentioned in previous posts. Just because someone is evil in the future doesn’t mean you can’t help them now as a kid to keep them from going evil. It really helps to establish Wade’s humanity as a person underneath all the sarcasm and dark humour. He does have a code, which is rare for someone in his line of work, but it is a code he sticks to.

Deadpool 2 title

All in all I think the movie was a really fun adventure into Deadpool’s story. I will be the first to admit that I think the first one is a better film, just for its sake of originality, but this was a solid follow up. It made it’s own path while still paying homage to the original one before it. I will say that I felt they added too many modern box office references for my liking. A few are hilarious, but about mid way through the movie they just feel forced. I would’ve like some more organic chemistry between the cast members because of how well they worked with each other.

Overall, I would rate this movie to be a solid 7.8/10. Like I said, it’s a solid film and a lot of fun to watch even with all their modern references and 4th wall breaking. If you were a fan of the first one I would highly recommend that you go see this one!

Wade

This spoiler free review was made with Barb Cottle in mind. May I never spoil anything for her ever again after the X-Men III: The Last Stand fiasco…