Unlike the trend these days, I’m not a DC franchise hater. In fact, I love its characters and the underlying theme of its stories. There is brooding darkness in DC movies that arises from the bleeding and painful past of its superheroes. Something that doesn’t so spontaneously comes out in the rival superhero franchise, Marvel.
Bruce Wayne was hurled into the life of Batman after seeing his parents shot dead right in front of him. Clark Kent was destined to become a Superman after being the sole survivor of an entire planet. The same theme runs in most of the other DC storylines. These are grave men (women), and they mean business.
This provides DC a strong premise for its stories to be turned into motion pictures. For superhero movies to have mass appeal, they need to be more than just visual effects and action sequences. The Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy showed just that.(And also the Avenger Infinity War movie) Not only this series was a box office hit, but it also won wide critical acclaim along with an Oscar for Heath Ledger’s performance as Joker. A superhero villain with an Oscar win! That’s how good superheroes movies can be.
So you can imagine the kind of expectations I had from the latest superhero flick, Aquaman. Touted as DC’s major effort to revive their justice league series to compete with Marvel’s Avengers, I had big hopes from this movie. With a unique underwater superhero and a rich undersea environment, the potential to disrupt the superhero genre was huge.
But what we got instead?
A hurriedly put together mishmash of patchy action sequences and over the top visual effects. All this mindlessly patched together in a plot that is cliched and uninspiring throughout the two and half hour of its running time. Watching it, I felt as if I was watching an action movie made in the nineties!
The first and major problem I have with this movie is with the casting of Jason Momoa for the role of Aquaman.
Jason Momoa shot into fame with his portrayal of Dothraki leader in the hit HBO series Game of Thrones. As the leader of a warring tribe, Khal Drogo (his character) is savage, brutal, who cut his opponents into the half with his knife and pours molten gold on the ones who troubled his wife. Momoa was a perfect fit for that role. More than the acting skills, it was the inspiring presence that mattered. And Jason Momoa, with a towering height of six feet four inches and his intense looks, provided just that.
But the role of a superhero (Aquaman) seemed too much for Momoa abilities. Aquaman has a torn childhood split between the world in which he lives (Maine, USA) and the mythical undersea city of Atlantis where he truly belongs. He got estranged from his mother in his childhood. With this background, the character required to portray a hardened exterior that comes from years of sorrow and grief. Momoa failed to bring out any of that. He comes out lame in all the scenes. Be it the tense scene of facing his stepbrother in Atlantis for the first time, or seeing her mother whom he thought was murdered. Or even when he was flirting with Mera, his beloved in the movie – he comes out lame.
Even a weak casting can be overcome (to some extent) if the story is well-knit and the script is tight. But that’s where the Aquaman fails even more miserably.
The scenes are cliched, uninspiring, and comes out as copied from other movies without much thought. Not one sequence is gripping enough to keep you at the edge of your seat. You just sit there, easily guessing each scene in advance. The sub-plot of a pirate taking revenge with Aquaman is laughable at best. There are no real motivations, no real character building. The pirate is just there to fill the gaps in the movie.
In one of the scenes, the pirate is seen designing his suit in a lab (just like Ironman) where a misguided laser shots out from his suit, almost killing him. From the reaction of the characters in that scene, I am guessing it was supposed to be funny. Because the pirate makes a funny face. But it didn’t feel funny at all. I didn’t hear a single laugh in the theatre.
There are many scenes in the movie like the one mentioned above. Many times in the movie, the camera would zoom into the face of Jason Momoa and other characters as they make faces in supposedly funny scenes. Or express sorrow at some or the other thing. But as an audience, you never feel a thing. It’s like the movie is begging you to laugh or cry with its character. But no, my facial expression remained as blunt as Momoa himself.
If not all this, I was at least hoping to see some imaginative take on the world of Atlantis and its habitats.
But the first look at them left with utter disbelief. The Atlantian soldiers were dressed in armors akin to those last seen in the TV superhero series of the nineties – Power Rangers! Forget about the illogicality of such armors in underwater, they also looked utterly comic. It was like I was watching a childhood superhero series on the big screen.
Superheroes movies have become big not only in the budget but also in terms of casting, storylines, directors role, and imagination. Marvels series Avengers have shown that. Marvel has created interconnected plots that are sewn together to form a larger universe. The characters, however outlandish, seem real because they are treated as real. With real problems, real challenges, flaws that mar them, and hope that guide them. None of that seems to be coming out in the DC movies. With Marvel doing so well, and last few decent attempts by DC itself, I had hoped DC would do much better than this halfhearted attempt. But Aquaman is just not there in the big league.
If DC needs to survive this superhero war, it has a lot of work to do. It needs to create depth in its characters. Tighten its scripts. Create plots that don’t appear to be made out of a template. But most importantly, they need to stop treating its movies as well as its audiences as children.