AQUAMAN: The Ultimate Superhero Swashbuckler [4K Blu Review]

James Wan swung for the stratosphere

Aquaman kind of rules.

At this point in the game it has won a massive fanbase and dominated the box office, proven itself to be “cool” when this character was the butt of jokes just a few short years ago, and even proven that DC’s superhero universe isn’t as far gone as perhaps everyone thought it was. So not only does Aquaman rule, it really has nothing else to prove either.

But I’m here to tell you why I personally think it rules.

Seeing Aquaman in a theater was as close to a revelation as superhero cinema can be. It was an interpretation of a character that I knew very little about. It wasn’t particularly interconnected to 18 other films, much less even to the films it actually is connected to. It was grand, endlessly fun, self-aware, and entertaining. Part of what made it great was that it was NOT a part of the Marvel machine (as great as many of those films truly are). Aquaman was its own thing. The work of a genre auteur (James Wan) being given the keys to the candy shop and making sure he got a taste of every single confectionary delight he could get his hands on. A quick bite of Lord Of The Rings here, a nibble of The Da Vinci Code there, a swig of Pirates Of The Caribbean, and a snorted line of Tron: Legacy. It isn’t that one can’t feel the intentionality of this kitchen sink approach. You can feel it. And it can be jarring at times. Recipes like this don’t always work out for the best. In the case of Aquaman, however, the effect was delight upon delight, a never-ceasing barrage of spectacle and movie magic that put me in a state of escalating shock and joy.

But it’s not just the influences, the references, and the varying genres. It’s a pretty strong story. Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry is clearly an inspired choice. He’s a strikingly handsome bro complete with chain wallet worn in the sea, but he’s also a person of mixed ethnic heritage who is then able to play a character born of both the land and the sea, struggling to determine his identity and fully come into his own. Sure, it’s the grand, fairy tale version of that story, but it’s hugely relatable to a massive swath of Aquaman’s worldwide audience as well. And it works as a character motivation. Curry was raised on land but has roots in the kingdom of Atlantis. Curry is both our proxy, introducing us as the audience to this intricate and fully realized underwater world that he himself is being introduced to, AND he’s a compelling actor in these events, making the story proactive and dynamic.

Curry’s father is a humble lighthouse keeper of Maori descent (the always great Temuera Morrison) who stumbles across an unconscious Atlantean princess (Nicole Kidman having the time of her life) and the two fall in love. It’s staged like the cover of a dime store romance novel and that makes its tone somehow perfect. Kidman’s Atlanna is soon fighting off soldiers of the sea with a trident in a truly fantastic action scene (the first of many) and realizes she must return to Atlantis to face her fate or risk her son’s life; she never returns. So Arthur is raised human, but sent a Mr. Miyagi-like trainer in Visier Vuko (Willem Dafoe) who teaches him of his powers, of Atlantean lore, and passes down ancient combat techniques. Soon the surface world and Atlantis will clash, and only Arthur will be poised to save the planet.

It’s with that effective set up that we then delve into the complex world-building that truly makes Aquaman what it is. There are complicated Star Wars-like politics with big bad King Orm (Patrick Wilson) positioning himself as the Oceanmaster and planning to stage a war against the surface world. Orm is Arthur’s younger brother, however, so there are power plays in store when they meet. There’s a love interest for Arthur in the super-powered Mera (Amber Heard) who acts as his guide in this journey and is perhaps a somewhat de-spiriting second fiddle character except that Heard really gives it all she’s got and the chemistry with Momoa is there in spades. As Mera ushers us into the Kingdom Of Atlantis, the film goes Tron with neon lighting, badass future tech, and fantastic electronica from composer Rupert Gregson-Williams. But Atlantis isn’t just one society. There’s a whole complex system of cultures all descended from the former kingdom of Atlantis that fell into the sea but spawned whole new races of underwater species. One gets the sense that there are Tolkien-levels of detail making each society something unique and filled with stories of their own. And as Arthur and Mera must quest for a mythical trident that will usher Arthur onto the thrown of Atlantis and stop Orm’s war against mankind, they’ll globetrot from Italy to the Sahara to lost kingdoms of Atlantis where dinosaurs and sea creatures live. It’s truly a murderers row of fantastic locations and set pieces designed for maximum spectacle that delivers on a scale many of its own inspirations never could.

By the end we’ve seen massive undersea battles complete with Dolph Lundgren riding on a battle-armored sea horse, hordes of crab-men decimated by a Kraken-like creature voiced by Julie Andrews, and even a Pitbull cover of Toto’s Africa, and we just accept it. All of it. The audacity, the spectacle, the genuine purity of heart… it bowls us over. Aquaman is just an infectious swashbuckling adventure bursting with aural and ocular wonder at every turn. It’s determined to entertain you and will work its ass off to give you your money’s worth. And I, for one, applaud it for that effort.

The Package

I rarely jump at the chance to own big superhero movies on home video anymore. There are so many. And they just keep coming. I love that, and I tend to go see every single one. But my need to revisit them is almost non-existent. There will be half a dozen new superhero films every year to scratch that itch, and many of them are telling one giant longform story, so it feels like I’ve already read the early chapters and don’t need to re-read them. But I jumped at the chance to own Aquaman in 4K UHD. This film is an audio-visual smorgasbord that I simply had to experience on home video. I will admit that revisiting Aquaman with all of its mysteries already revealed to me allowed me to nitpick a little more and find some faults with the occasionally silly visual effects and green screen work. Aquaman probably has digital effects in about 85% of its shots, so some sloppy moments can be forgiven. Sometimes the green screen work, or the wigs and de-aging technology, are distractingly bad.

But Aquaman is the kind of film that really gives 4K UHD a chance to shine. It’s just so big, and it never stops moving. It’s loaded with GCI grandeur, every color on the spectrum, deserts and ocean-side vistas, and it’s got a nuts sound design and fantastic score from Rupert Gregson-Williams that cannot be overlooked as key factors in the overall success of the film. Aquaman varies in the success of its effects work, but it’s a fun experience for the Ultra High Def format.

There are a bunch of special features that are swell and enjoyable and feel just like every major release from a big studio. They aren’t inspired, per se, but they capture the childlike joy of James Wan and Jason Momoa endearingly.

And I’m Out.

Aquaman is now available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and DC.

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