What just happened? No, seriously, what did I just watch?
Ostensibly, Aquaman is a movie where Jason Momoa plays Arthur, the half-merperson king of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, who must go back to Atlantis to be its king and battle his half-brother Orm for control of the underwater kingdoms with the help of a magic trident. But this makes it sound like this movie in any way makes sense or has a reason for existing, which, as far as I could tell, it does not.
I’m going to divide this rant into sections because it’s going to get very long.
- Too Many Villains
For starters, let’s take the villains.
Orm is the king of Atlantis and he’s all mad at Earth People. But also there are seven underwater kingdoms that Orm is trying to unite to wage a war on humans in response to them polluting the oceans. But two have gone extinct, and he only needs four out of seven, so he needs to unite all but one extant kingdom, I guess?
But there’s a whole other villain in the mix–a pirate who blames Arthur for killing his pirate daddy in an earlier action scene before Arthur gets involved in the whole underground war.
But also, the pirate isn’t just a pirate–at some point Orm gives him a magic battle suit which, after a Sciencing in the Lab Montage that was by far the least offensive part of this movie, the apparently multi-talented pirate develops into a bug suit that shoots plasma out of its eyes. It also appears to give him x-ray vision since at one point we see him chasing Arthur around an Italian seaside village and following Arthur with his eyes even though Arthur is on the roof [I think you’re actually thinking of the other half of this scene where the mean sea man is chasing Amber Heard over the roof but ends up putting his head in the toilet… forgivable in my opinion — Keets]. But don’t worry too much about that–that’s just two frenetic minutes of a TWO AND A HALF HOUR LONG MOVIE. (I put “two hours and fifteen minutes” in the title because near the end my rage ceased to be strong enough to keep me awake and I spent fifteen blissful minutes sleeping through whatever deranged battle scene formed the climax. [That’s what she said. — Keets])
Then there’s this OTHER villain, which is… a big crab-like sea monster named Karathan voiced by Julie Andrews, who’s guarding the Very Special Trident (more on this later) that Arthur needs to defeat Orm. To get to the trident, Arthur must get past Karathan, who seems very menacing at first… except then all she says is that he must get the trident from the dead Atlan, who’s holding onto it. So basically in the end all Arthur has to do is pull the trident from the dead dude’s hands and then Karathan is like, “Oh, OK.” So Karathan isn’t actually very scary at all, and also, why bother being a giant sea villain guarding a trident if you’re just going to defer to whoever can actually pull the trident out? (Karathan does show up in the giant sea battle right at the end, but I can’t really comment on that because I fell asleep, and also, she could have solved a lot of her problems if she had just killed Arthur before he tugged on the trident.)
- The “Hero” Complex
Arthur is sort of your classic “torn between two worlds” hero, except that he’s not really very heroic (which he cheerfully admits to in a scene late in the movie, only to have his loyal female friend Mera brush it off and insist that in fact he’s great), and he evinces a reluctance to take the throne, that I think we’re supposed to think he’s born to, out of low self-esteem. You know, except for the fact that he’s otherwise a highly charismatic, confident, joke-tossing dude with shoulders like sea cliffs and shows no sign of having any self-esteem problem whatsoever [OK keep it in your pants — Keets].
There’s some kinda weird racial stuff where Aquaman is constantly referred to as a “half-breed,” but I feel more qualified to comment on the weird gender stuff, and it is WEIRD. Basically, in the prologue, Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) washes up on shore and falls in love with the down-to-earth lighthouse keeper, Thomas. Come to find out she ran away from Atlantis because they were going to sell her off in forced marriage. Similarly, Arthur is drawn into Atlantis for the first time because Mera (Amber Heard, who appears passably talented and therefore much too good for this movie), another Atlantis princess who’s being forced into another unwanted marriage, comes to find him. So Atlantis is basically constantly forcing women into marriage (and executing them when they don’t comply). But the movie just sort of glances at that and moves on to focusing on what’s really of interest: the vapid main dude’s quest to get the magic trident and reascend the throne.
And no, it’s not really addressed that, ok, humans are polluting everything with piles of garbage, but Atlantis is a scary gender-totalitarian country where women are sold into forced marriages. In fact, Mera spends a long time fighting with Arthur because she’s mad at earth people for throwing garbage into the ocean. Like, OK? Is that worse than institutionalized rape?
And also, no one is like, “Hey, maybe you should restore Atlanna to the throne, since she’s your mom and she was the princess of the kingdom first.” Instead the women have to spend all this time reassuring Aquaman that he should be on the throne, because… I’m not sure why, other than the fact that the movie is named after him.
- Too Many Tridents
There are… a lot of tridents. First there’s Mera’s magic trident, which Arthur learns to wield with the help of Vulko, an Atlantis resident who’s consulting for the rebels as a side gig. Only, it has FIVE DENTS [Maybe it’s just a trident in parentheses. Think outside the box bro — Keets], you guys. WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING. But also, it’s not the main trident, which comes up later–there’s some OTHER trident that Arthur spends a good third of the movie trying to retrieve from aforementioned Julie Andrews-voiced crab monster. This trident is much more important than the other trident. Tough to tell if it’s because it is a man’s trident instead of a woman’s trident (that would be in keeping with the rest of the movie, after all) or if it’s because “magic quintdent” just doesn’t have the same ring as “magic trident.”
- The dialogue
Ohhhhh, the dialogue. It was so bad, you guys. Some words that are ACTUALLY SPOKEN in this movie:
In response to Atlanna remarking that the ocean usually washes away her tears, Thomas remarks poetically, “On land, we feel them.”
Or here is Atlanna’s perceptive and brilliant take on various ways for men to be in charge of shit:
Verbatim: “What is greater than a king? A hero.” Thanks Atlanna. What are queens, anyway? Chopped liver?
Given that the world was super complex, there was a certain need to throw in exposition. I understand and respect this. But the way the show did it was to try to throw in the exposition during moments of high drama, which led to ludicrous effects where new phrases were introduced as if we were supposed to already have a lot of Feelings about what they Meant. To wit:
When Aquaman says in regular words that he wants to fight his brother, this is his brother’s response: “Are you invoking the Combat of Kings?!?!” Um… I think he was “invoking” his desire to fight you so you wouldn’t keep him prisoner, but sure? This phrase, while it seems to have some kind of concrete meaning in the world of the movie, is never fully explained. The “kings” pretty much just have their fight (I mean, “combat”) and move on.
Similarly, I laughed–and not in the good way–when Patrick Wilson growled at random, “Call me Ocean Master.” Like, OK, sure? I think I’m going to respond to everything with, “Call me High Priestess of Microsleeps.”
- The Random Trip To Italy
So, at one point maybe an hour and a half in, Mera and Arthur go to a small village in Tuscany. Who cares why? The point is, we are suddenly in the middle of a cheesy vacation montage where the two of them prance around an Italian village with a fountain in the middle of it and a bunch of statues of ancient Romans in a garden somewhere above the town’s main square. They act VERY VERY excited about all the European things they see there, like bikes on the street (you know how Europeans love to bike!) and bunches of grapes that are hanging near the fountain (you know how there are grapes hanging all over the place in Italy, so they can make wine!). By far the most offensive part of this is when Arthur humblebrags about how he knows that Romulus was a king of Rome. Good job, dude. You’re a genius. You know as much about Roman history as I knew after one month of Latin class in sixth grade. (Mera, on the other hand, seems pretty impressed. I don’t know if you guys know this, but women love when men explain basic shit to them. Really. Huge turn-on. [Well actually, Nerdy Spice, as a man I can tell you that women don’t actually like that. — Keets])
Willem Defoe plays Vulko, an adviser to Orm who’s secretly on Atlanna’s side. (Only it turns out at the end that Orm knew all along and let it keep going because… reasons? It’s not really explained.) Anyway, at one point we see Vulko and Arthur on the beach with Vulko trying to teach Arthur to fight with his mom’s five-dent. Keets leaned over excitedly to me: “Training montage!” It was the one thing I thought I could expect from any superhero movie… but I was sorely disappointed. It was just a single training scene. SUCH a ripoff. In the grand scheme of sins committed by this movie it is minor, but… come on, dudes! I’m sitting through your whole stupid-ass movie, at least give me a training montage!
Amber Heard, as Mera, wears a long red wig that looks like it was pulled out of the clearance bin at a Disney Store. Sometimes the hair and makeup people appear to have brushed it before she began filming that day. Sometimes, not so much. She also seemed to be slurring her words a lot, which I interpreted as her being kind of embarrassed at having to be in this movie at all.
At one point, Mera and Arthur are walking through the desert when they fall into a sinkhole that gives them a Rube Goldberg map to the real trident. Then they get sucked into some kind of vortex at the center of the sea that is inhabited entirely by dinosaurs and Arthur’s long-lost mom. [There were actually 30 minutes of movie in between these two things, including the aforementioned trip to the Italian village. — Keets], This is the kind of shit this movie does for no reason. [You’re skipping the best worst part of the desert scene – for some reason James Wan decides to play “WOMPWOMP” sitcom banter music for NINETY SECONDS over their strained banter, AFTER introducing the desert airstrip with 20 seconds of a PITBULL song built over a sample from TOTO’S AFRICA? Like WHAT CHOICES IS ANYONE MAKING HERE? Carry on. — Keets] “Oh, here’s a sea vortex with pterodactyls in it! We know you’re not going to object because at this point it’s been an hour and fifty minutes and we haven’t explained any of the other ninety-five ludicrous things that have happened because WHO CARES?” [That, I agree with. WHO CARES?????? — Keets]
Thus endeth my rant.