Aquaman Review

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“Fun” is an overused word in the area of film criticism. At the same time, it’s still a great term to use in describing certain kinds of movies. There are films that may not be good critically speaking, but have some entertainment value that boring stories with better production values do not have. However, there are many great pieces of cinema that are both “fun” and and well made. The Avengers is one such movie, having a fun tone throughout, while also having consistently strong writing, never sacrificing storytelling for comedy. A movie like Aquaman leans more toward the camp of being fun, but flawed. But, it’s still leagues above films like Thor: The Dark World and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, comic book movies that sacrifice storytelling for unfunny comedy.

There are areas of greatness in Aquaman – Aquaman’s character arc of becoming king is mostly engaging, the battles are excellent, and the visuals are some of the most unique yet. (It’d be tough to think of a better underwater film visual wise.) The movie does suffer from unfunny comedic scenes, and a decent, but generic antagonist. The DC film universe is an interesting case, as it was clearly designed at first to be the opposite of what Marvel was doing. Man of Steel and Batman v Superman were darker, and deeper films than many comic book films. But, many viewers criticized the gritty take on the characters. Going forward, the films began to take a different look. Aquaman is similar to Wonder Woman, in that it is still a serious movie, but negates the grittiness in favor of a standard tone. Wonder Woman is a fantastic film. Aquaman lacks the quality writing of that film, but is still an enjoyable undersea epic.

Aquaman takes place after Stepphenwolf’s attack on the world in Justice League. Here, we see Arthur Curry as a man who wants nothing to do with Atlantis. But when he sees that his half-brother, King Orm, means to war with the surface world, Arthur is convinced by Princess Mera to challenge Orm. What follows is a duel, followed by a quest to find the lost Trident of Atlantis…

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The problem with Aquaman’s inclusion in Justice League was that the character was not given enough time to flesh out. That film introduced Cyborg, Aquaman, and Flash, not a whole lot of time to give these characters backstories. Cyborg succeeded, but Aquaman was arguably the least compelling member of the team. He was portrayed as brash and hardcore, endearing traits perhaps, but not without knowing the character ahead of time. Aquaman the movie fixes this for the most part. He is clearly a character with a good heart, and a sense of humor. A good sequence was him saving the sailors early on and telling them, “Hurry up, I’m missing happy hour for this.” By the end of the movie, Arthur has emerged with the characteristics of a king, and looks to be a character who will be (almost) as compelling as Wonder Woman.

With all that said though, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman has some painfully unfunny moments. This is more due to the writing than the actor. Aquaman saying “screw you” to the Karathen came off as forced, and some of the comedy was just cringe worthy. (The scene with Mera and Arthur discussing the ship’s smell comes to mind.) It’s usually best when comedy flows naturally than when a film takes a scene to get the viewer laughing. While not an absolute deal breaker, there are cringe-worthy scenes (complete with the goofy music in the background to let the viewer know that this is supposed to be funny dialogue) that could have been removed.

Speaking of Mera, she was a strong character overall. Her passion for Atlantis is genuine. She and Aquaman make for a good team. The scenes in Sicily with Arthur showing her surface world life was nice. With that said, I think the romance between the two characters should have been saved for the sequel. What’s unintentionally funny is that in the climatic battle, Mera literally says they have to end the battle now. Instead of Arthur going right away to battle Ocean Master, they decide to share a rather long kiss. This is happening in the middle of an underwater war, so the timing of this scene was definitely poor.

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As Roger Ebert said in his review of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, “Each film is only as good as its villain.” If this is true, it’s a good thing that Aquaman has Black Manta. The film’s primary antagonist, King Orm/Ocean Master, is decent, but forgettable. Orm says almost everything a viewer would expect from a character in his position; there isn’t much in the way of unique or new. The problem is that Patrick Wilson doesn’t deliver much of his lines with passion. Michael Shannon’s Zod from Man of Steel was a clearly passionate character. Ares from Wonder Woman had a sense of grandeur, same with Stephhenwolf. Even Lex Luthor from Batman v Superman was more charismatic and interesting than Orm. Ocean Master isn’t as one-dimensional as Malekith from Thor: The Dark World, but he does not make any notable mark in the world of cinema.

Meanwhile, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s portrayal of Black Manta was a highlight. Early on, we see the reason why he grows to hate Arthur. It’s a compelling character arc, one that will hopefully take the center focus in the sequel. The scenes with Manta and Arthur are fantastic. As for other characters, Willem Defoe turns in a compelling performance as Vulko, servant to the throne, and a teacher for Arthur (shown through flashbacks). A particularly strong performance was Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus. The early discussion between Orm and Nereus was great, mainly because Lundgren gave Nereus a charismatic edge that Orm did not have. Hopefully Nereus will return with an even bigger role in the sequel.

There are some great action sequences in this movie. Easily the most exciting was Aquaman against Black Manta in Sicily. The scenery was unique, and the choreography was excellent. The two showdowns between Arthur and Ocean Master were also good. Visuals wise – Aquaman is unparalleled. There’s a scene with Aquaman and Mera travelling underwater, and the viewer is treated to an almost fairy tale-like Atlantis. The CGI is solid, with Karathen being a big highlight in the climax. As for the music, the film’s soundtrack overall is one of the stronger comic book movie soundtracks.

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Overall, Aquaman is a solid entry in the DC film lineup. Most of the characters are solid, the action is great, and the visuals are wonderful. However, it’s not in the same league as Wonder Woman, or Man of Steel. Aquaman lacks the all around great script those two films had. The humor can be mixed, and Ocean Master was a dull antagonist compared to Black Manta. The film is still very enjoyable, nicely setting up Arthur as the King of Atlantis, and for what comes next in the story.

8/10

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Justice League Review

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You can’t save the world alone.

DC Comics has some of the most iconic characters of all time. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman have been around since the early 20th century. Seeing the three together in a film was but a dream until last year with the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. With that film, the idea of the Justice League forming on the big screen started to become a reality. The DC film universe started with the fantastic Man of Steel, and then we got Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, and Wonder Woman. These films, aside from Wonder Woman, have proved controversial in reviews, especially BvS (the theatrical version isn’t terrible, but the Ultimate Edition propels it into being a stellar film). Justice League brings the light of Wonder Woman into the darker world of BvS. Zack Snyder’s style has proved decisive with many. I think his work is underrated, and honestly his films have delivered some of the best action scenes. Justice League lacks the deepness of BvS/Man of Steel, and doesn’t have the great writing of Wonder Woman. It is however an extremely enjoyable story of heroes coming together.

The core story of Justice League is Batman realizing there’s a grave threat on Earth, and only a combination of special people can stop it. Meanwhile, the death of Superman continues to be felt throughout Metropolis, and the rest of the world. I particularly liked the opening scene, which was a flashback of Superman talking to kids after a small disaster. It was brief, but it reminded viewers what kind of a hero Superman is. The tone, scenery, and music in the montage scene afterward show the effect of Superman’s death. There’s a genuine sadness as a great hero is no longer among the people.

Superman returns toward the latter half of the middle act. Since I just brought him up, let’s discuss the iconic hero. Henry Cavill’s portrayal of the character has been met with positive reception in previous films, though fault has been placed with the directing for making Superman a “brooding” character. This is mainly felt in Batman v Superman, where it’s hard to find him smiling at all. After watching the Ultimate Edition and thinking back on Man of Steel,  it’s easy to see what Zack Snyder was going for. He didn’t make Superman automatically the hero we’ve come to know and love from the comics. Rather, there’s a journey that takes place and eventually culminates in the hero’s death. Now in Justice League, Superman is a man reborn and the result is the hero we know.

When Superman tells Steppenwolf that he’s a fan of justice, the viewer knows things are about to get good. Henry Cavill delivers the definitive Man of Steel. His dialogue is reminiscent of the Superman from The Animated Series. Superman appears the least of all the heroes, but his presence is felt the greatest. It’s a little sad also because the viewer begins to think how much more exciting the film could have been from the start if Superman wasn’t saved for over halfway through.

The first half of the film centers on Batman and Wonder Woman, then together they get the team going. Ben Affleck delivers another great portrayal of the Dark Knight. It’s interesting because we see Bruce Wayne as a man changed because of his encounter with Superman in Dawn of Justice. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman continues to shine. One of the most fun scenes was her rescuing the hostages at a bank. (We get to see her reflect bullets in a scene straight out of a comic book.) Wonder Woman’s inspiring persona returns as well, as evidenced in her conversation with Cyborg. Batman and Wonder Woman work well together, and their dialogue is always fun to hear.

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The big three – Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman – all look great. It’s the other members that are a bit more mixed. The problem with a team movie like this is that there wasn’t other movies to develop the characters. The Avengers worked because audiences were already familiar with the members. Here, the story has to fully introduce Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg. There’s just not enough time, especially in Aquaman’s case. I’m not faulting Jason Momoa’s portrayal, but the writing doesn’t give viewers many reasons to care about Aquaman. There’s a scene later in the film with Steppenwolf attacking Atlantis and Mera. Aquaman arrives, and Mera gives some expository backstory. The scene came off as forced exposition to make up for a lack of Aquaman development.

Cyborg however was a surprise hit. His story is very interesting, and the scenes with his father are engaging. Ray Fisher perfectly portrays the conflicted, yet sternly heroic character. It was a little hard to buy into Cyborg being part of the Justice League in the comics when The New 52 launched. In this film, it works. Flash is probably the most mixed of the characters. Justice League separates itself from Batman v Superman in that it has a lighter tone. Barry is a contributing factor to that tone, as he serves as the group’s comic relief. Sometimes it worked, and his scenes with his incarcerated father were genuinely emotional. But sometimes Barry is a bit much – a lot of his dialogue just doesn’t seem like what a real person would say. Barry isn’t a bad character, he’s still fun to have around most of the time.

Steppenwolf is the antagonist, and a notable one. There’s something grand to his character and dialogue. He’s not a multilayered character like the Joker from The Dark Knight, but he hardly comes off as one-note. He works as an engaging, otherworldly threat. His objective in aligning the three Mother Boxes was exciting to watch. The battle scenes against him were excellent. As I said, Zack Snyder has delivered the best action scenes in comic book films, and that continues here. The early battle with Steppenwolf plowing through the Amazons as Hippolyta attempts to race away with the Mother Box was amazingly done. The middle act battle with Steppenwolf taking on the League was also a lot of fun. And of course, the climax is exciting. Justice League does not disappoint in the action department.

There’s fun character moments throughout the film. Wonder Woman saying, “I’m old fashioned that way” to Cyborg for a face to face meeting is one example. Another example is Aquaman’s honesty to the team on the plane (the reason for that happening is too good to spoil). So, the film is fun. But it’s not a superbly written film like The Dark Knight or Logan. It’s also not as consistently good as this year’s Thor: Ragnarok. The first half is fun because of the characters and action, but there’s a lack of stellar writing. The story could have used an additional half hour to develop the members. The soundtrack is exciting, featuring the iconic Wonder Woman theme among other engaging tunes.

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Overall, Justice League is an enjoyable film. It doesn’t have the substance of Zack Snyder’s previous DC films, but it’s a fun story. That’s not to say the film is devoid of meaning – the viewer sees that Superman is the missing element, and the world feels it too. Superman is excellent, and his appearance makes the viewer greatly anticipate the upcoming Man of Steel sequel. Batman and Wonder Woman are engaging as well. Aquaman suffers from lackluster development, but Cyborg was very good. Barry is funny, but sometimes borders on being over the top. Two other characters that deserve mention are James Gordon and Alfred, both of which add to the story. (This is the definitive version of Alfred.) Also, Amy Adams delivers a genuinely emotional performance as Lois Lane. It seems there was behind the scenes changes with Justice League, which is a shame. I believe if Zack Snyder did his full vision for the movie, we could have gotten something amazing. As it stands, Justice League is far from mediocre and does the iconic comic book team justice.

8/10

Wonder Woman Review

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Since her inception in 1941, Wonder Woman has remained not just the most famous female superhero – but also one of the biggest icons of pop culture. That’s why it’s shocking it’s taken this long for a movie about her to be made. Lesser known comic book characters like Electra and Steel have gotten feature films, but never Wonder Woman. Finally, that changed this year. Wonder Woman appeared in last year’s Batman V Superman, and while people were divisive on that film, many agreed that Gal Gadot’s brief portrayal of the character was solid. Now we get to see this version of Wonder Woman in a starring role. Director Patty Jenkins delivers a film full of heroism and inspiration. It’s a film worthy of the iconic character.

Wonder Woman as a character stands for justice, and the film does a fantastic job showing that. When Steve Trevor is forced to tell the truth on Themyscira, Diana’s reaction to it looks incredibly genuine. He says how the war has taken the lives of women and children, and the viewer knows at that moment, Diana is going to do something about it. From here, Diana continually showcases what being a hero is about. Two of the most notable scenes in the film are when she talks back to the government and when she decides to jump into battle to stop the oppression of the village of Veld. It’s inspiring, and the major reason why it’s so well done is Gal Gadot’s fantastic portrayal.

Diana has lived on an island away from mankind all her life, so it’s interesting how she reacts to things in the outside world. Her reaction to seeing a baby and ice cream for example are nice scenes. Her respect and love for people are evident, as seen in the aftermath of the Veld’s battle sequence. She stands on a rooftop as people clap and look above at her. What does she do then? She comes down to their level. She shakes hands and smiles – a truly touching scene showcasing the kind of character she is. This feels like the first time in a comic book film where we see such a powerful character on the same level with the people he/she protects.

The other main character is Steve Trevor. He’s had a long history with Wonder Woman in the comics, so it would be interesting to see how he would be used in the film. Chris Pine provides just the right amount of charisma without going overboard. Like Diana, Steve is portrayed as heroic, and becomes even more so because of her. The romance between him and Diana isn’t bad. Romance has a reputation in comic book films for being forced or poorly done, so it’s good to see a romance subplot actually passable.

Near the middle act of the film, the story introduces viewers to three characters that form Steve’s team to raid German High Command. There’s a problem with introducing a bunch of characters in the middle of a film. Not enough character or backstory is given here. We have Charlie, whom is supposed to be a sharpshooter. But what did he actually contribute? Then there’s Chief, but he also did nothing of importance. Only Sameer is given something to do. He mentions to Diana that it is his dream to be an actor, and later we get to see that acting ability in one of the film’s most hilarious scenes.

Steve’s secretary Etta Candy borders on being funny and over the top. Thankfully the film doesn’t go overboard with her. There are a few antagonists. Danny Huston as Ludendorff is a bit on the generic side, but he’s not terrible. He does his job at being a sinister army general. However, Dr. Isabel Maru (known as Dr. Poison) is far more interesting. There’s an unhinged nature to Elena Anaya’s portrayal of the doctor. The real villain however is Ares, and how his character comes together in the climax is brilliant. Though he only does big things in the last act, Ares cements himself as one of the better comic book movie antagonists.

Wonder Woman doesn’t disappoint in the action department. The early battle on Themyscira was well done. It takes a bit before the next big action sequence, but when it happens, it’s worth the wait. Diana’s stand against the German army at the village of Veld was awesome and well choreographed. It’s a nice balance between the street level Batman type of fighting and the grand Superman battles. The climax is divided into two major fight scenes, both of which are great. The showdown against Ares was a satisfying final action piece.

Though the film contains great action scenes, it’s something else that ultimately shines: the theme of love. It’s the genuine love of people that can conquer darkness and hate, as Diana displays. It’s a great message for a culture that promotes self-interest. The film’s soundtrack is strong, featuring the now iconic theme from Batman V Superman along with other quality themes. As for Themyscira, it’s a beautiful, unique setting. Though Diana’s mother, Hippolyta, doesn’t appear after the first act, she leaves a lasting impression along with Atiope.

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Overall, Wonder Woman is a great film. It’s full of genuine heroism and emotion. Gal Gadot’s portrayal of the character is perfect. She displays everything Wonder Woman is meant to be. Steve Trevor is very good as well. (Sadly, most of the other characters don’t actually do much.) The war backdrop is interesting, and provides a great sense of victory when Diana rises to combat the army in the fantastic Veld sequence. The actions scenes are well done and Ares is an excellent final boss. To love others, to do the right thing, and to be a hero is what Wonder Woman is all about.

9/10

Suicide Squad Review

Ten years ago the thought of a Suicide Squad movie would have been almost unheard of. Today we live in a cinematic world where almost anything is possible. If Marvel can turn Guardians of the Galaxy into a triple a property, there’s no reason why DC couldn’t do the same with another lesser known team. This group of of villains have been around since the late 80’s, but it wasn’t until recent years that they started to become more mainstream. How did that happen? It’s tough to say. Somethings in comic world just happen gradually for no real reason in particular. The Squad film has been garnering a large amount of hype. In fact, many people I’ve talked to in the past seemed to have been looking forward more to it than Batman V Superman. The reasons for that could be an article for another day. For now, the big question is whether or not Squad is the big jump-start for the DCEU and a quality film in its own right. What we have is something that is never boring but often lacks in writing.

There was an animated film that came out two years ago called Batman: Assault on Arkham. Even though it was titled ‘Batman,’ it was really a Suicide Squad film. It is very similar to the live action one in many ways, and better. I don’t think Squad should be a copy of Arkham, but should have definitely taken more cues. For one thing, the Enchantress is an incredibly generic villain and seems out of place for the tone the film was striving for. Just about all her dialogue is pretty standard. Meanwhile the Joker is on the flip side, completely unique and commands a presence every time he’s on screen. The entire Enchantress angle wasn’t particularly engaging while the Joker in his low screen time was very good.

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It’s always a tricky endeavor when a film stars a bunch of characters. Squad manages to semi-avoid feeling overloaded. It introduces the characters one-by-one via flashbacks said by Amanda Waller. The style works for this type of film. Of course, it really depends on the quality of said flashbacks. First up is Deadshot’s. Seeing Batman was definitely a great moment and it’s very cool how the films can have things like that as one connected world. Now, the problem with the flashback here is the writing. It’s established that all Deadshot truly cares about is his daughter. The dialogue between them is extremely mechanical. It seemed like his daughter was just reading lines off a script. There was zero emotion invoked, which is a problem when the film wants the viewer to sympathize with a serial killer.

The rest of the flashbacks are simple and to the point. Harley Quinn’s of course is the best, giving the viewer insight into how she became the deranged person she is. Jared Leto’s incarnation of the Joker is the best character here, giving us a familiar yet different version of the Clown Prince of Crime. It’s a good tease when we see the Batmobile go after him and Quinn. It makes the viewer really want to see this Joker go up against Batman in a future film. Harley’s entire flashback would make for an excellent movie in its own right, and not to mention there’s some awesome references to the 90’s Animated Series and this famous picture. Since we’re on the subject of these two, first Margot Robbie as Harley was definitely a lot of fun. I look forward to seeing her again in a future installment.

Jared Leto as the Joker was one of the most hyped aspects of the film. As stated earlier, he is a presence stealer and should have been written as the main antagonist over the painfully generic Enchantress. This version doesn’t seem to be the anarchist from The Dark Knight nor the comedian from Batman 89. What we have is a unique take on the character, whom is criminally underused in the film. Sadly it’s hard to write too much about this incarnation because he simply isn’t given much to do. It remains to be seen what kind of mark this version of Batman’s greatest nemesis will leave on the cinematic world.

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As for the other members of the team, Captain Boomerang doesn’t really add anything to the story. In fact, he could be cut out entirely and it wouldn’t have mattered. Killer Croc isn’t bad, but is only memorable for having a monstrous appearance. Just about all of Croc’s lines were, as a viewer next to me called them, “Corny.” He talked little and was given a very small amount of backstory. He was pretty much just the “grunt” of the team, and nothing more. A surprise highlight was El Diablo. Jay Hernandez portrayed a man whom regrets his past and doesn’t want to use his power anymore. His mini-character arc was one of the best. Katana was fun to have around, but appeared out of nowhere and never got adequate backstory. How is the viewer supposed to accept that her sword can apparently hold souls, in just one sentence without further clarifying?

The team forms kind of suddenly by the middle act. This isn’t the problem however. The problem is some of the dialogue in the middle to last act. Just about all these characters are hardened criminals, yet later they open up like old friends. The dialogue here just wasn’t organic. The biggest culprit is the bar scene. First, the scene is very poorly placed. As the world is about to be taken over we see the characters hop into the bar to reflect. This scene just didn’t make sense at that point and felt thrown in out of nowhere. What’s worst is Flag, the army official in charge of enforcing the team, joins them. He has been their enemy all this time, and just like that he’s their buddy as well? He even says, “I need your help Deadshot” as if the latter would sympathize with him. (After all, Flag just a day ago was threatening the latter.)

Even though the writing could have been better, the team is still fun to watch together. There’s solid chemistry, it’s there, but sometimes the film tries too hard to establish a friendship between them. Harley Quinn stating “You hurt my friends” before attacking the Enchantress was supposed to be a hardcore moment, but the viewer just can’t take it seriously because the friendship just wasn’t established properly. (Not only that, but it’s apparent that she would leave them to be with Joker.)

Obviously going into a film like Suicide Squad you know there’s going to be a lot of grit and comedy to go along with it. The film takes it a bit overboard at some points. For one thing, Slipknot when he first appears punches out an officer followed by some supposedly “funny” dialogue. This was a distasteful scene, and it seemed like the film had a very negative outlook on the corrections system since almost all the guards whom appeared were very abusive to the inmates. Next is an Amanda Waller scene. When she first appears the viewer gets a sense that she’s a bit of a shady government individual. But with the dialogue on hypothetically stopping another Superman, you get a sense that she’s bending morality out of a warped sense of keeping the country safe. This a viewer can get behind, but there’s a scene later in the film where she puts bullets in all her officials because they know too much about the operation, or as her dialogue put it, “It’s above their pay grade.” This scene was done to make her even more hardcore, but ended up making her unlikable in a negative way. It was just meaningless deaths and felt empty.

Even though there’s problems with the writing, the film is on some technical aspects better than Batman V Superman. Unlike the latter, the first half is nicely paced with good, stylized action scenes and character interaction. Aside from the abrupt bar scene, the film moves at an excellent pace. The climax unfortunately isn’t particularly that memorable. It’s only slightly better than Fantastic Four’s (2015) final battle, which is mainly due to the characters being fun to watch. The soundtrack is pretty much what one expects from this kind of film. In any other film it would be out of place, but it works here. (Though the lyrics are sometimes too questionable.) The final battle theme, though some might call it standard in comparison to the rest of the film’s music, truly increased the intensity and ended up being one of the best fight themes of the year.

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Overall, there’s definitely quite a few negative things to list about Suicide Squad. This is mainly due to the writing and often choosing style over substance. However, despite these things the film is still very entertaining and the characters are diverse. Even though the dialogue isn’t quite on par with that of say The Dark Knight, one never grows tired of the proceedings. David Ayer directs perhaps the most unique comic book film yet. With better writing, we could have had a truly great film.

6.5/10