DOOM DELUISE: Hello, and welcome to the latest installment of Doom & Doomer, where Jim Doom and I sit down for a back-and-forth conversation about the latest superhero movie releases of the day.
Today, we’re here to discuss the latest of the surprisingly successful Justice League spin-offs: Aquaman!
Overall, big picture, what did you think?
JIM DOOM: I loved it!
And I really only went to see it so we could review it. I thought it looked comically bad (no pun intended) since the very first trailer. I hated Aquaman in Justice League. I hate Roman Reigns. So I was going into this trying to have an open mind, but fully expecting to hate it.
And for a while, I felt pretty justified in thinking I was going to hate it.
But then it won me over, somewhere in the first act.
DOOM DELUISE: Do you remember the specific moment where you were won over? Or was it more gradual?
JIM DOOM: There was one pivotal moment in the movie that set me on a course of enjoying it.
DOOM DELUISE: Was it the octopus playing the drums?
Because that ALMOST got me on board.
JIM DOOM: Before I answer that, I want to tell you a theory I pulled together while watching the movie. Because I was like “Why am I enjoying this so much?”
In some ways, this movie reminded me of Bumblebee, because it seemed like a subversive redemption of characters from the terribly flawed mishandling of a less skilled director, but done carefully enough that you could almost imagine the less-skilled director nodding along and thinking it was true to his vision – never fully appreciating what had happened under his nose.
But I have put together what I see as three very superficially similar – but very fundamentally different – takes on Aquaman. The Aquaman spectrum, shall we say.
On one end of the spectrum, you have the Justice League Aquaman – the kind of guy a meathead thinks is cool. Just a cocky jerk, totally self-assured, and making sure everyone around him knows how cool he is. In my opinion, pretty irredeemable and unlikeable, and part of why I expected to hate this movie.
On the other end of the Aquaman spectrum, you have Roman Reigns – an insecure guy who is desperately trying to come off like a self-assured cocky jerk, but doesn’t really believe in himself, and instead he’s constantly seeking validation of his coolness from the people around him. Totally unlikeable, but you kind of pity him because of what a failure he is.
And this Aquaman resembles both of those versions of Aquaman, but he’s different in a key way. This Aquaman is self-assured, but he couldn’t have less of an interest in playing for other people. His jokes exist to crack himself up. I can relate to that. I bet you can relate to that!
And that moment where this turned a corner for me was in the bar, when he’s downing mugs with his dad, and the biker gang comes up to him at a moment when it appears they’re going to start something.
They call him Fish Boy, and he corrects them and says “Fish MAN.”
The delivery was so perfect, because he clearly delivered that line for his own amusement – not for their laughs, not even mugging for the audience. That was expertly delivered for Aquaman to crack himself up.
One thing I really feared with this movie was that they’d play it a little too ironically, a little too self-aware of the lameness of Aquaman, and try to have jokes at the expense of the character and at the expense of the idea. But instead, the attempts at humor – while not necessarily all successful – all felt in service to the world that the creative forces had committed themselves to.
So yeah, Fish MAN was the moment where I started to give this movie more credit, and from there, I had a blast.
DOOM DELUISE: I can actually see your point, and I think it’s a good one! I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it in those words, nor would I have been able to pinpoint an exact moment when it took place, but I also didn’t dislike Aquaman – the character – in this at all.
You’re right, he was much more likeable and relatable in this than he was in Justice League.
If the movie were two hours of Aquaman on the surface world, drinking beers with his dad and just generally screwing around and doing small little heroic things, I could even see myself liking the movie overall.
While I hated the movie – and I’ll get into why in a moment – it also left me with a lot of hope for future movies featuring the character, because the character of Aquaman is no longer as terribly obnoxious as he was in the Justice League movie.
My beef with the movie is centered around its scope.
I think it tries to do way too much with the (relatively) short amount of time that it has, and I think it doesn’t succeed in doing what it’s trying to do, overall.
I think if it had been more tightly focused, with a few less primary characters, and a scaled down (sorry) story, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. Instead, it feels rushed, like it’s condensing an entire Aquaman trilogy into one film.
JIM DOOM: I don’t disagree with that, but I think for me, the reason it worked was because of how big it was. So much of what made me love this was kind of like what I love about Disney World and Las Vegas – just the big freaking spectacle of all of it.
I think Aquaman is a pretty lame character. I give Patrick Wilson a ton of credit for pouring everything into his character, but I think a smaller-scaled movie that focused on any singular aspect here – the brothers’ rivalry, the treasure hunt, the battle with the primitive fish people, etc. – would’ve just risked exposing the inherent lameness of it all.
By packing it all into one, you got more of that amazing smack-you-over-the-head with underwater amazingness – more ruins, more secret worlds, an on-land interlude – that just kept you on a non-stop high.
DOOM DELUISE: So it hides its weaknesses by bombarding the audience with an audio/video sensory overload instead. I guess I can see why they’d do that.
JIM DOOM: Yeah, I think that’s fair. It hides its lack of depth – pardon the ocean pun – by going all in on its breadth.
I actually started laughing out loud with joy when I realized they were going to pack a treasure hunt into this movie about sibling rivalry for the throne.
And in fairness I think that both fit and productively accentuated Aquaman’s almost Bob-Newhart-like character who is the one sane person constantly asking “Now WHAT is happening again?”
And all of it led up to what I thought was a really great moment, when the sea monster was asking him why he thought he was worthy, and he was like “I don’t want any of this, it’s just what I have to do.”
I do think they cheapened the positives of that scene when he followed it up with something like “and if you don’t like that you can suck it!”
DOOM DELUISE: That makes sense, but I think that the Marvel movies do a pretty great job of delivering the same sorts of spectacle without sacrificing the character stuff that grounds them, whereas I think that Aquaman’s characters are all pretty equally bland (aside from Aquaman himself).
JIM DOOM: I didn’t feel like this sacrificed character for spectacle – it used spectacle to mask the weakness of the characters. Spectacle was the solution and not the problem.
I agree Aquaman’s characters are pretty bland; rather than trying to make them something they weren’t, I think the creative team looked at where the real opportunity for exploration was. Anybody can tell a deep family story, but not everyone has the opportunity for a wild underwater treasure hunt adventure!
DOOM DELUISE: Ok, but the characters are there! The actors and actresses are in the movie! Why not give them something to do other than deliver boring, paint-by-numbers dialogue and admire how cool Aquaman is?
I don’t like that they treated these concepts as if they’re mutually exclusive.
JIM DOOM: I don’t think they did – I just think they only tapped into the characters for as long as they needed to. They could have very easily dragged Patrick Wilson into a lot more scenes. They only kept Nicole Kidman in what they needed to, and thank goodness because her plastic surgery is frightening. I liked Mera, and that’s who they gave the most time to.
DOOM DELUISE: I didn’t think Mera and Aquaman had a lick of chemistry between them, but that’s an aside.
JIM DOOM: Rather than trying to force Black Manta to be more than he needed to, they used him efficiently as Patrick Wilson’s mercenary, rather than prolonging a contrived feud.
Any of those situations could have been fleshed out more, but they didn’t need to be.
DOOM DELUISE: Well then, I think one way they could have worked their way around this is if they had a better cast. I mean, sure, these are all big named actors and actresses, but Dr. Dolph Lundgren can’t act, Nicole Kidman can’t move her face, Willem Dafoe… well, I’m not sure what he was even doing in this, aside from being the victim of terrible anti-aging CGI.
JIM DOOM: The casting here was so weird that it almost felt inspired.
Why on earth cast Dolph Lundgren in ANYTHING in 2018? Unless you’re making some strange point that goes over everyone’s head.
DOOM DELUISE: Obviously you haven’t seen Creed II. He’s amazing in that.
JIM DOOM: You’re right, I haven’t.
DOOM DELUISE: Let me say, though, that one of the things that Marvel does really well is they cast genuinely cool people who seem to fit the roles they’re cast in. Look at Thor: Ragnarok or Black Panther, for instance.
There are a lot of characters in those movies that aren’t going to set the world on fire, but the actors and actresses in those movies, for the most part, have some swagger, and you can tell they’re having fun.
That’s one thing I loved about Jason Momoa. He genuinely seemed to be having a good time filming this.
JIM DOOM: I think you’ve hit on an important point, though, and that’s that Aquaman was never going to be Black Panther, nor should it have tried.
Aquaman’s foundation is undersea adventure.
Making a complex Aquaman movie would be like making a Superman movie that’s all dark and moody and includes Superman killing someone.
DOOM DELUISE: That would never work.
But I don’t think it should have been complex. What I’m saying is that I wish the characters had a bit more time to interact with each other, with a bit more substance to work with, that’s all. Instead, they all felt like afterthoughts, save for Aquaman and… sigh… the Ocean Master.
JIM DOOM: Oh man, Ocean Master.
Did you notice that the music even went BUM BUM BUUUMMMMMM right after he said it the first time?
It was AMAZING.
DOOM DELUISE: Why did his mask emote?
JIM DOOM: Want to know two things that really bugged me?
DOOM DELUISE: Yes, please.
JIM DOOM: 1. Aquaman apparently has invincible skin (with the exception of its vulnerability to Atlantean blades). How does he get tattoos?
2. Aquaman’s mom’s spear thing has five prongs, but people kept calling it his mother’s trident.
DOOM DELUISE: Can I tell you a few things that bothered me?
JIM DOOM: Of course!
DOOM DELUISE: 1. Four different conversations were interrupted by explosions.
2. Nicole Kidman should have taken the throne over when they found out she was alive (this is easily explained away with a single line of dialogue, but they didn’t include it).
3. The entire final battle sequence was colored orange and blue, a practice that was done to death about five years ago, at which point most self-respecting filmmakers stopped doing it.
4. CGI floating hair in every underwater scene (especially Ocean Master’s short hair that just made it look like he was wearing a Guy Fieri visor).
5. Pitbull’s cover of Toto’s Africa.
6. Nicole Kidman absolutely WRECKED Jango Fett’s house at the start of the movie, his truck was ruined later in the first act, and he never once was like, “Oh, come on!”
I would have loved that Nicole Kidman fight sequence if he had just been running around in the background, like, catching a vase as it falls off an end table or something.
JIM DOOM: Hahaha that would’ve been awesome.
But regarding #3, it’s done for contrast. I don’t mind at all that they use it in a scene where you have thousands of people fighting. I’d much rather have an orange-and-blue battle than one where I can’t tell who is what.
Also, floating hair doesn’t bother me, because the hair should be floating!
I guess my point is that it’s strategic and not just a lazy style decision.
I just felt bad for Nicole Kidman period.
Promise me that you’ll never get plastic surgery.
DOOM DELUISE: hahaha
JIM DOOM: If someone with Nicole Kidman’s money can’t afford to get good plastic surgery, what hope do any of us have?
DOOM DELUISE: Maybe she’ll have a late-career resurgence when she plays Michael Jackson in the inevitable biopic.
JIM DOOM: Oh you know what this movie did that makes me so mad, and I get mad a lot because every movie with this opportunity does this?
DOOM DELUISE: What’s that?
JIM DOOM: The rule seems to be that if we have centuries or maybe even millennia-old ruins in our movie, they must get destroyed at some point. Like in every Indiana Jones movie.
Why can’t we just let the ruins stay in one piece?
Or if they’ve already fallen apart, stay in the same number of pieces?
DOOM DELUISE: haha
There’s one part of this movie that really confuses me, even now. Wanna know what it is?
JIM DOOM: Sure!
DOOM DELUISE: This wrapped up principle filming in October of 2017 (I read that on IMDB earlier today). So HOW does it have a scene in it that’s basically a copycat scene from Black Panther? How does it steal imagery and story beats from Thor: Ragnarok?
I don’t get it. When those movies came out, were the guys who made this watching them, thinking to themselves, “Oh crap! Now everybody’s going to think we ripped those off!”
JIM DOOM: Sunk costs?
I can’t seem to avoid the accidental ocean jokes.
I didn’t make the Black Panther and Ragnarok connections. What scenes are you referring to?
DOOM DELUISE: When Aquaman and Orm have their duel for the throne, that felt like a mashup between the fights for the throne in Black Panther as well as the gladiator fight from Thor (though gladiator fights hardly originated in Thor; it’s just a superhero movie that used the same concept very recently).
JIM DOOM: Ahh.
Yeah I think I just took that as such a long-standing thing that I didn’t really make connections to anything in particular.
Speaking of Thor, this movie felt like a combination of all the things I loved about Thor plus the first Pirates of the Caribbean plus a dash of Indiana Jones.
DOOM DELUISE: There was also a little bit of Lord of the Rings 2 in there, I think.
JIM DOOM: Is that the one where they spend about 2 hours talking to the slow trees?
DOOM DELUISE: hahaha, yes, but it’s also the one with the giant climactic fight at the end at Helm’s Deep.
JIM DOOM: All I remember about that one is how much I hated the eternal tree conversation.
DOOM DELUISE: Uh, excuse me, those weren’t trees, they were technically called ents.
JIM DOOM: I was getting really entsy during those scenes.
DOOM DELUISE: So, bottom line for me:
I like Aquaman the character after this movie way more than I did after watching Justice League, but I think this movie suffers from a bit of bloat, and it would’ve been much better had they left out a few of the action scenes, dropped a couple of characters, and made a tighter movie, putting more of a focus on a smaller cast of characters.
If you were to remove Jango Fett and Nicole Kidman entirely, for example, would it really make that much of a difference?
And Black Manta’s cool and all, but he probably could have been left out of this, too, after his first couple of scenes. Maybe just leave him as set-up for a sequel rather than bringing him back for the scene where they destroy a small Italian town.
If they’re intentionally keeping those roles limited so as to mask the limitations of the characters, maybe they shouldn’t have included the characters in the first place.
Your argument – that it needs to pack everything into this one movie because focusing on any single aspect would expose it for its inherent lameness – is a little difficult to sympathize with when you consider Marvel regularly makes these giant spectacle movies while still giving each and every character a purpose and a chance to shine.
I never got that feeling with any of the main characters in this – aside from Aquaman – and I think that the problem circles back to it being packed to the gills with too much unnecessary stuff. If they’d stripped it down and focused more on the fewer characters left, I think it would have worked a lot better.
All in all, though, it’s better than Man of Steel, BvS, Justice League, and Suicide Squad, so at least it has that going for it. And it’s made tons and tons of money, so hopefully the sequel is able to keep the same level of insanity while grounding it with some decent character work.
But that’s just me. I’ll let you have the last word.
JIM DOOM: For me, Aquaman is an inherently dull character who was aggressively damaged by Justice League, and this was a path at redemption by making the character more likeable, going all in on the limited areas of creative opportunity the character presents – in this case, undersea adventure – and flipping the bird at the Snyder era by seeking to be unashamedly fun.
At their core, the Snyder genre movies are inherently embarrassed of what they are, whereas Marvel’s are so successful because of how they embrace the essence of their characters. This was the first DC movie that felt truly proud of what it was, warts and octopus-drummers and all. I enjoyed Wonder Woman, but even that carried some of the Snyder stink on it. I am truly surprised that this was the case, but Aquaman gives me hope for future DC movies.
As long as they cast someone else to play The Flash.
That guy is so annoying.
DOOM DELUISE: They should cast a Dean Ambrose lookalike.
JIM DOOM: Lol the auto-suggestions right now say “Yes they should.” “That would be interesting.” “I’d watch.”
DOOM DELUISE: Sufferin’ succotash!