By Joe Viglione
According to Wikipedia, as of Jan 1, 2019, 751.8 million has come in worldwide for Aquaman on a budget estimated to be between 160 and 200 million, without promotional costs.
So how did Warner Brothers/DC Comics turn it around after a set of genuinely dreadful films based on iconic comic book characters? Copy the competition!
With Norse god Thor emerging from Germanic mythology it is intriguing that the 2017 motion picture Thor Ragnarok could ring up $854 million (#66 on the Top 100 worldwide according to Box Office Mojo as of 12/20/18) when the character is in the public domain, which brings us to a unique situation. Aquaman, from D.C. Comics, the corporation affectionately called “Brand Ecch” by its nemesis, Marvel, is a 1941 fictional personality that arrived two years after Marvel’s (Timely Comics) 1939 debut of an absolute doppelganger, the Sub-Mariner.
Fast forward to 2018 and the film, Aquaman, takes liberally from – of all things – Disney/Marvel’s interpretation of the Norse god Thor and his mega-movie antics. Aquaman is a fast-paced two hour and twenty-three-minute visual delight from 41-year-old director James Wan (Furious 7, Saw, The Conjuring) who takes the viewer on a magic carpet ride to Italy, Australia’s Gold Coast of Queensland, Tunisia, and Newfoundland. The Boston, Massachusetts Aquarium is also referenced as are the wondrous worlds of the seven seas, most notably Atlantis. That Wan and crew failed to secure the Donovan song classic, Atlantis, for this soundtrack makes no sense – another opportunity for Marvel but that’s a quibble as the Aquaman film – as of the original writing of this piece (12/20/18, 7:26 pm) – according to Wikipedia – budgeted at 200 million – has raked in 266.4 million overseas (released November 26.) See above for the update 12 days later.
Actor Jason Momoa plays Aquaman and you may have experienced his work as Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones and/or Ronon Gates from Stargate: Atlantis. He does a suitable job in this origin story after introducing the dual water/land being in 2016’s awful Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as well as the almost as bad Justice League (2017) … but don’t hold that against him. A rugged dude whose good looks get erased by the make-up (Chris Hemsworth’s features are not as drained by Thor’s regalia,) Momoa channels Hemsworth as Thor in his creation of Aquaman’s motion picture identity – DC / Warner Bros. Films so obviously lifting the Thor success for this particular film and the result is spot on success, quite compelling actually.
The two minute and twenty-five second trailer #1 gives a good “Cliff Notes” look into the film, from the first rain-soaked opening drama and historical character development that one doesn’t usually see in such previews, to an inviting search for the Raiders of the Lost Ark …errr Trident adventure that unfolds.
The pacing is efficient as Atlantean “aliens” blast into the quiet lighthouse home of Tom Curry (New Zealander Temuera Morrison – who was Abin Sur in 2011’s Green Lantern from D.C. as well as Jango Fett in 2002’s “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones.”) and (Queen) Atlanna – Nicole Kidman, who is absolutely superb in the role as Aquaman’s mother. The underwater aliens and Atlanna cause the expected havoc, and the tale begins.
Young Arthur/Aquaman’s fade-to-sparkling-gold eyes perhaps make him a bit of a freak to his fellow students (reminiscent of X-Men’s Mystique from Marvel Comics,) as the sea creatures come to his rescue from the schoolboy bullies visiting the New England Aquarium at 1 Central Wharf, Boston, and it is a unique moment in the story, but it is this reliance on fun Marvel moments that actually gives this Aquaman film a sort of Marvel sheen and its charm. Nothing succeeds like success Consider that William Dafoe, who played one of Marvel’s greatest villains – the Green Goblin in Sony/Marvel’s Spiderman debut – is here as “Vulko” teaching young Arthur the ways of The Force. Vulko, as in Vulcan and Star Trek’s half-breed Mr. Spock teaching the half-breed Arthur Curry. Yes, you will find film references to Star Wars, Star Trek, the Matrix and Avatar throughout the journey, but that’s been a Hollywood formula for decades now, so it is not unexpected.
There’s lots of gun violence, knife violence, violence for violence’s sake, and perhaps the young audiences still want that- the director has worked on (Fast and)Furious 7, but for this critic it is the exploration of the underwater worlds that are the most captivating, Avatar submerged, if you will. If not part of a comic book series, as a standalone, with some different tweaks, Aquaman could have touched on territory owned by The Wizard of Oz, the first three Star Wars films and other Hollywood classics. But the money today is in superheroes, and before I even put hands to keyboard, this film was well on its way to breaking even and pulling in a boatload of cash.
If my review is too cerebral as well as steeped in comic book lore, the first portion of the WB press release could be helpful and give you a perspective:
“From Warner Bros. Pictures and director, James Wan comes an action-packed adventure that spans the vast, visually breathtaking underwater world of the seven seas, “Aquaman,” starring Jason Momoa in the title role. The film reveals the origin story of half-human, half Atlantean Arthur Curry and takes him on the journey of his lifetime—“
The superb result puts this Aquaman in second or third place in the D.C. Universe either above or below Wonder Woman with The Dark Knight*, of course, still perched at #1. (*Keep in mind the DCEU (DC Comics Extended Universe) started AFTER the Batman/Chris Nolan trilogy, with 2013’s Man Of Steel. However, since the powers that be have been idiotic about their “extended universe” venture – Suicide Squad and aforementioned Batman v Superman, Justice League Exhibits 1, 2, and 3 – let us identify the top 3 DC films of this century as Dark Knight Wonder Woman/Aquaman.