It’s disheartening for movie fans to read bad reviews of films they love or are planning to see. Consider these words written by pretentious so-called critics:
“A chunk of elegant claptrap… a practically impossible film to sit through… It establishes a new low for special effects…”
“The… story… is horribly wooden, and clichés everywhere lower the tension.”
It has music… color, freak characters… It can’t be expected to have a sense of humor as well, and as for the light touch of fantasy, it weighs like a pound of fruitcake soaking wet.”
“It’s a Frankenstein monster stitched together from leftover parts. It talks. It moves in fits and starts but it has no mind of its own… Looking very expensive but spiritually desperate, [it] has the air of a very long, very elaborate revue sketch.”
“It’s an assemblage of spare parts—it has no emotional grip… an epic without a dream.”
If you’re thinking these are the latest reviews of Aquaman, you’re wrong. They’re examples of critics piling on The Exorcist, Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, Godfather II, and Star Wars. In a time before the internet, before aggregate sites like Rotten Tomatoes played such an influential role in what movie tickets we buy, critics took collective shits on our most beloved movies, the classic films that define Americana. We just rarely saw any beyond our local newspaper.
The fact is, we’ve become a society that lets people we don’t know, in faraway cities writing for high-brow publications, decide what’s good or bad for us. We’ve also bought into the notion that film critics, many who are kids writing for college newspapers just a year ago, have some kind of special insight or metahuman ability to save us from bad films. Newsflash: The know-it-all millenial and the rich boomer with a summer home in the Hamptons are no more qualified to define “quality” than you are.
To paraphrase Anton Ego, Ratatouille – “The life of a critic is easy. They risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and themselves to their judgment. They thrive on negative criticism which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than their criticism designating it so.”
Which, finally, brings me to the latest offering from Warner Brothers/DC Comics, Aquaman, a film getting good reviews from some critics as if they didn’t get the memo that they’re not supposed to like DC movies. And I’m really only half-joking there. Like any collective, film critics take cues from each other. They look for guidance and examples to base their reviews off of and they actually let other, more established reviewers set the tone. I’m reminded of what HitFlix’s Drew McWeeny said in his review of the Three Stooges movie released a few years back: “I’m not supposed to say anything nice about this film. That’s the message that has been sent loud and clear ever since the first trailer for the movie arrived online.”
So as a bona-fide film critic, someone who used to eek out a living writing (though I was never very good at it,) I’ll say it loud and proud: Aquaman is an amazing movie. And all that’s really needed to confirm that is witnessing the smiles on kids’ faces as they exit the theater. They’ve not read the reviews. They’ve watched the movie without any pre-judgement. Aquaman is big (that’s what SHE said!) It’s loud. It’s colorful. It’s funny without feeling forced (a’la Marvel) and it’s sexy. Oh, yes it is. Jason Momoa and Amber Heard exude sexual tension to the point you’re practically begging for a gratuitous roll in the seaweed just so they can get it out of their system and finish defeating the bad guys. DC movies have a knack for pairing up couples who are believable together and Aquaman is no exception. Marry that girl, Arthur!
Intermingling elements of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, Jules Verne, National Treasure, and Arthurian legend, Aquaman moves at a fast pace, being one of those 2 hour+ movies that seem much shorter. The CGI is spot on as it takes us to Lucas-inspired fantastical kingdoms inhabited by the types of beings not seen since Star Wars movies were in their heyday.
Jason Momoa’s casting as the titular hero was an inspired choice. Throughout the storied history of comic book films, never has an actor been so UNLIKE his comic book counterpart. He more resembles Marvel’s Aquaman doppelganger The Submariner in appearance, but the benefit of taking on a B-list character is there is no precedent to follow and all but the most hardcore fans are pretty unfamiliar with the character’s history. So making the character cool by writing him as, essentially, your beer swigging uncle who happens to look like a Harlequin Romance Novel cover model was a stroke of genius. My wife was, um, impressed.
Amber Heard’s Mera is a confident, fearless badass. One of the things that separates DC movies from Marvel is DC’s consistent treatment of women as equals or, in some cases, the superior to the male hero. I understand this frustrates some male fans of the genre who believe the injection of feminism in the superhero genre detracts from the traditional testosterone-fueled nature of these films. But if you have daughters, you know how important it is for them to see themselves represented. Mera is who you want you daughters to grow up to be.
Aquaman, again as DC movies are known to do, injects a healthy dose of social-politcal thought into the mix without getting overly preachy about it. You may not even notice it but It points out the dangerous consequences of polluting our oceans – from the tons of garbage that washes up on beaches to the random plastic six-pack rings. And that’s all I’ll say about that. Any more would venture to far in spoiler territory.
All movies have flaws but I’m not going to be one of those Rotten Tomato critics who delights in pointing them out. I will say the character of Black Manta’s main purpose is to set up the sequel.
Aquaman more than buoys the DC cinematic brand. See it. Now.