AQUAMAN (2018)

By Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: James Wan
Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren
My Rating: 8/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 63%

PLOT: Arthur Curry learns that he is the heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, and must step forward to lead his people and be a hero to the world.

Take the best parts of Tron: Legacy, Tomb Raider, and Disney’s animated Atlantis, and you’ll get an idea of how much fun Aquaman is.  For some people, saying it’s one of the best of the films set in the DC Universe isn’t saying much (peep that mediocre Tomatometer score), but speaking as someone who thoroughly enjoyed Justice League and Man of Steel and Wonder Woman, I had LOADS of fun watching an aquatic Dr. Doolittle kick some serious ass.

Admittedly, some of the underwater scenes are a little tricky.  It’s hard to take some of the weighty dialogue seriously when the people doing the talking are floating instead of standing, with their hair moving around like seaweed.  It’s the kind of thing that works great in animated movies or comic books, but to see it onscreen…it takes a little getting used to.

Once you get past that initial hurdle, though, this movie really cooks.  Jason Momoa was the best possible choice to make the much-maligned Aquaman character relatable to mass audiences.  He may not have the cocky delivery of a Robert Downey Jr. or a Chris Pratt, but he throws a mean glare, and, bro, dude is CHISELED.  When THIS guy emits sonar waves to talk to whales, it’s not a joke.  Hell, I wouldn’t laugh at a guy who looks like that.  “You talkin’ to fish?  Ping away, Muscles!”

The story is as ancient as Atlantis itself.  Arthur Curry returns to the land of his lineage to reclaim his birthright, but first he must overcome several trials before he can emerge triumphant.  Ho hum, been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.  But this movie really dresses it up and dazzles us with phenomenal sights.  Atlantis itself looks like someone mashed up Pandora from Avatar with the digital cityscapes in Tron: Legacy.  The various fight and battle scenes are handled extremely well, balancing clarity with incredibly elaborate CG fireworks.

(It was also nice to see one of Aquaman’s nemeses, Black Manta, rendered in a way that was EXTREMELY faithful to the source material, big head and big eyes included.  Of the actor portraying him, let it be said he was extremely adequate to the task, without really transcending the role he was given.)

Whatever gripes people may have, I would imagine it’s with being tired of overblown superhero movies, or the relatively few story gaps in the movie. (How did they get out of the desert?  How did Black Manta contact the Atlanteans in the first place?  If this is a sequel to Justice League, why are there no appearances or mention of the other members whatsoever?)  I can understand those gripes, but for me, the spectacle and the fun cancelled them out.

It’s not a perfect superhero movie; I wouldn’t quite rank it with the best Marvel films. But I gotta be honest: I had a blast.


By Marc S. Sanders

The next installment in the DC Cinematic Universe takes place in the ocean. Too bad the ocean is just too murky. James Wan’s Aquaman is muddied in long, boring, unsurrendering exposition and CGI. It is a film based on the most famous of all the undersea super heroes who is destined to be King of Atlantis. HE’S HALF MAN! HE’S HALF FISH! HE’S AQUAMAN, AND HE MUST BE KING!!!! That’s about all we should have to know to appreciate the storytelling of this film. However, Wan left me guessing just what the hell everyone was talking about for most of the film. King Orm (boring Patrick Wilson) declares takeover of this kingdom and take over of that kingdom and I’m like what, who, how, why???? Who the hell is he talking about? Why is this a threat? What will this mean for everyone? Shut up! Stop talking! Show me something! In the immortal words of Syndrome (from a better super hero film), “Stop Monolouging!!!!”

The first problem is when we are brought from one ocean floor to another and another and another and they all have location names like Kingdom of the Starfish Curtain or Dwelling of the Stingray Horse or some such thing. So what? These locales are literally shown for no more seven seconds before it moves to another location. This isn’t Krypton or the Batcave. We get to go to “Somewhere In The Atlantic Ocean” or “Somewhere In The Indian Ocean,” but so???? And????? Wan seems too proud to uncover these geographical areas that hold no measure.

Then there is the cast of characters. We got Dolph Lungren with a red beard, Willem Dafoe with a slicked back ponytail, Amber Heard beautiful as the love interest Mera, Nicole Kidman with her alabaster skin looking angelic as a queen and mother to Arthur Curry (the Aquaman title character) and Patrick Wilson, blond, white and curiously looking like the Hanna Barbera Aquaman during the days of Super Friends. Wilson is the big bad here and he’s kind of boring, kind of not intimidating, kind of the guy who looks too innocent to ever be cast as a villain in any film.

Let’s go off subject for a moment, shall we? Jason Momoa is the best thing about Aquaman and he makes a great Aquaman. I knew that when I saw him in the role in last year’s Justice League (a much better film; yes the Joss Whedon cut). Momoa is ripped, muscled and tattooed perfectly with long flowing charcoal hair, a perfect beard and sparkling blue eyes. This guy looks great on land while downing full pints of beer with his dad, or under CGI water. As I became less and less interested as the movie went on, I found it curious that the image of Momoa’s Aquaman is destined to defeat the image of Patrick Wilson’s (supposedly) ruthless King Orm, also known as Ocean Master. It’s as if the gorgeous motorcycle dude is meant to erase the much maligned (see countless GIFs and a couple of Big Bang Theory episodes) Hanna Barbera blond boy image.

The CGI does its best. After all, how else do you film a movie that primarily takes place under the ocean? It’s colorful. The effort is there. What I took issue with was the great battles between all these kingdoms. I couldn’t tell who was fighting who, who was with who, and who lived and who died, not to mention how they fight. Was it with spears? Laser guns? Swords? Hammers? Pies? What?????? I know these are underwater battles, but why can’t any of these great kingdom of kingdoms movies learn from the best like Peter Jackson’s Tolkien films or Ridley Scott’s Gladiator? There is something more literal in those grand battles. You could always recognize who was charging at whom. In Aquaman, it’s mass hysteria, riots in the ocean streets.

The villain Black Manta is next best thing after Momoa. Played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Unfortunately, he’s not given much to do. He’s out for revenge against Aquaman. That’s been done before. What saves the character is the costume and helmet. Now this is a villain!!!!! He looks badass with red sonic blasts shooting out of his eyes and he’s agile; the filmmakers at least got the image and movements of this guy right. The best scene of the film takes place on land in what looks to be the Greek Isles. Lots of rooftop jumping, statue shattering, and wall breaking with good fisticuffs are in play here between Momoa and Abdul-Mateen. It’s a good long scene. Then, oh yeah, we gotta go back to Wilson and Dafoe talking about something somewhere that’s labeled with some “legendary” location amid some coral.

James Wan and the writers of Aquaman try too hard. There’s too much going on here that doesn’t belong. I don’t know how a pre teen kid nor an adult could sit through these boring conversations of fiction that is unfamiliar to many. Again, none of this is the stuff of legend like Lord Of The Rings, or Krypton, or Gotham City, or even Star Wars or Star Trek. If only Wan and crew didn’t elevate the importance of things that even they show are just not that important. Stick with the simplicity guys. At least, you got the Atlanteans riding Sea Horses. Nice touch, there!


By Marc S. Sanders

Creed II is fortunate to have a stellar cast that includes an exceptional Michael B Jordan as the title character, Sylvester Stallone (again as Rocky Balboa), Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad and even Dolph Lundgren back as Russian boxer Ivan Drago. It’s a cast with great chemistry, especially between Jordan and Thompson, rekindling what made their relationship so authentic in the first “Creed” film. I appreciate how all the characters genuinely care for one another without getting too schmaltzy. Nevertheless, that’s about all that works for this installment.

The problem with Creed II is that it is blatantly formulaic, almost to the point that I was getting drowsy. If not for the gentleman sitting next to me who could not get into a comfortable position, I might have slept through the whole film. The first hour is really a slog. Maybe this next door viewer was getting bored like me, and couldn’t fight his restlessness.

In the 2nd hour, after Creed gets beaten to a pulp mentally and physically by Drago’s gigantor of a son (am I really spoiling anything here?) does it pick up, because we are about to enter BEAST MODE where the staple training montages (this time in a desert where i guess sunburn and dehydration lead to exceptional athleticism) are about to begin, and Creed is gonna kick the Russian guy’s ass once and for all.

Hey! I didn’t give away the ending here. You’ve seen this movie before in Rocky III, Rocky IV and Rocky 99 1/2. So quit your cryin’.

That’s the thing with Creed II. It’s an exact replica blueprint of the Rocky franchise films before it. Stallone pulled up his saved script on Word, and simply changed a couple of names and pop culture references. Example: scratch out music by Survivor and insert modern age hip hop.

There’s nothing new here, except for maybe giving a little dimension to Ivan Drago as a one time heroic celebrity of a country that no longer exists and a people who no longer celebrate him. Now, he lives through the stamina and strength of his son, Viktor. Not bad writing for Drago. Just not enough material for him. Otherwise, again there’s nothing special here that you haven’t seen before.

Wait…scratch that…I gotta say I couldn’t keep my eyes off Michael B Jordan. This guy is a good actor, but man is he ripped. I mean not an ounce of fat on this guy. He’s practically an eighth wonder of the world. It’s great to see, but even that is not enough to see Creed II in theatres. Wait for Netflix and save 12 bucks.