Aquaman review

AQUAMAN

Director : James Wan
Cast : Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison, Randall Park, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Beach
Genre : Comics/Action/Adventure
Run Time : 143 mins
Opens : 13 December 2018
Rating : PG13

The DC Extended Universe goes full fathom five and beyond then some with Aquaman, telling the story of the man who would be king of Atlantis.

Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is a child of two worlds: his mother is Atlantean Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), and his father is human lighthouse keeper Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison). Taking on the superhero mantle of Aquaman, Arthur was instrumental in defeating Steppenwolf during the events of Justice League. Now, Princess Mera (Amber Heard) of the Xebel Kingdom has come calling, bringing news that Arthur’s Atlantean half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) is threatening war against the surface world.

While Arthur is initially reluctant to travel to Atlantis, circumstances force him to follow Mera to the undersea kingdom. There, he confronts Orm, challenging him for the throne. Arthur is sent by Vulko (Willem Dafoe), the Atlantean vizier who has secretly trained Arthur to eventually take on Orm, on a quest to recover the Trident of King Atlan (Graham McTavish), the legendary first ruler of Atlantis. In addition to Orm, treacherous pirate David Kane/Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) stands in Arthur’s way, employing cutting-edge weaponry against Arthur. Arthur must prove himself the one true king of Atlantis, embarking on an extraordinary adventure.

Let’s talk about the concept of “silliness”. Movies based on comic books sometimes exhibit a fear of coming off as silly. After all, the worst comic book movies, films like Batman and Robin and Catwoman, are often decried as silly. As a result, some comic book movies overcompensate, becoming dour and self-serious in the process. Aquaman is silly, but through sheer willpower, the movie transcends silliness and achieves awesomeness. It’s a superhuman feat, but with director James Wan steering the ship, Aquaman accomplishes this.

This is a rip-roaring, old-fashioned adventure, filled with spectacular visual effects, fluidly-choreographed fight sequences and awe-inspiring locales. The movie draws heavily on myth, and is about a man named Arthur who, in reaching his destiny as king, overcomes insurmountable odds and faces a series of tests. By its nature, there are similarities to Thor and Black Panther, but Aquaman complements its familiar story beats with sheer visual imagination.

From the get-go, this was going to be a mind-boggling logistical challenge. How does one make a movie that takes place largely underwater, and have actors float about delivering dialogue without it looking – there’s that word again – silly? Aquaman works overtime to earn audience’s suspension of disbelief, and from the production design by Bill Brzeski to the visual effects furnished by pretty much every major VFX vendor, there’s a lot to take in. The movie acknowledges that there still might be some audiences who will be unconvinced and greet certain scenes with laughter, so it’s a good thing that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s a giant octopus that plays the drums. There’s just the right sprinkle of self-awareness that complements the grandiosity and scale of the adventure. While on the surface, the film doesn’t quite have the emotional gravity of some other comic movies, its world-building and characters inspire investment.

While some viewers might complain about the extent of CGI used, Aquaman somehow avoids the feeling that its set-pieces have been vomited onscreen by a render farm. The design of many of the creatures is very Ray Harryhausen-esque, and even in the most synthetic sequences, Wan retains a sense of tactility and is an expert at drawing the eye.

Jason Momoa delivers a stellar turn, expanding upon the glimpses into Arthur’s character we saw in Justice League. This is a hero who can be a bit of a boorish lout, but for all his life, he’s been fighting an identity crisis, feeling like he belongs neither to the sea or the land. It’s something that children of mixed heritage can readily relate to – everyone’s calling him “half-breed” or epithets of the like, but this perceived weakness is what sets Arthur apart. The character has moments when he’s child-like and joyous, moments when he’s a mighty hero, and moments when he’s a bit of an idiot, and it comes together to form a compelling lead character.

Aquaman-Jason-Momoa-Amber-Heard-3-bigAmber Heard has the tendency to come off as stiff in some films, but as Mera, she is a lively presence. Not letting a patently obvious wig stand in her way, Heard’s defiant princess character is integral to the story. There a is a bit of a Romancing the Stone-esque vibe to the bickering romance set against an adventure movie backdrop, but the relationship develops satisfyingly. When the pair gets to stop and smell the roses in Sicily, it’s cheesy as all get-out, but also a delight.

This reviewer was afraid that two major villains would clutter the movie, but Aquaman allocates the villainy appropriately. Orm is by nature a generic tyrant king character, but Patrick Wilson has as much fun as he can with the role.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II makes for an intense Black Manta – the character was what this reviewer was most looking forward to in this movie, and Abdul-Mateen’s portrayal doesn’t disappoint.

The romance between Atlanna and Tom Curry is cheesy, but like everything else in this movie that’s cheesy, it works. The forbidden romance is given a mythic, poetic quality, with Kidman and Morrison being the ideal casting for the characters. Lundgren and Dafoe both put in satisfying supporting turns. Dolph Lundgren sporting a red beard astride a seahorse monster is not something that should work, but it does. There’s also a vocal cameo from a distinguished English actress, as a Lovecraftian mega-monster.

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gave this film a negative review. The comments section for that review are filled with commenters immensely pleased with themselves that they dislike comic book movies and are therefore so very grown up. A fear of appearing childish is, in its own way, a childish thing. Aquaman’s embrace of the inherent silliness in its source material and its irrepressible sense of wonderment and adventure propel it into becoming perhaps the best comic book movie of the year, and one of this reviewer’s favourite films he’s seen all year.

RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Danish Girl

For F*** Magazine

THE DANISH GIRL

Director : Tom Hooper
Cast : Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw, Amber Heard, Sebastian Koch
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 120 mins
Opens : 7 January 2016
Rating : R21 (Mature Theme)

An adaptation of David Ebershoff’s 2000 novel of the same name, The Danish Girl tells the story of Lili Elbe, one of the first known people to undergo gender reassignment surgery. It is 1926 and Lili, born Einar Wegener (Redmayne), is a landscape painter married to portrait artist Gerda (Vikander). When a model is late, Gerda has Einar stand in for her, wearing the model’s stockings and shoes. This unlocks Einar’s lifelong identification as female, and he begins to cultivate the persona of “Lili”. Gerda’s portraits of Lili attract the attention of the art world and she is invited to stage an exhibition in Paris, and Gerda tracks down art dealer Hans Axgil (Schoenaerts), a childhood friend of Einar’s. Hans’ attraction to Gerda establishes a complicated love triangle as Gerda struggles in supporting Einar’s transition into a woman. Eventually, Lili and Gerda seek the help of Dr. Wanerkos (Koch), who performs a two-part sexual reassignment surgery that is unprecedented and risky but is Lili’s only hope.

            Playwright Lucinda Coxon adapted The Danish Girl and the screenplay made the rounds for a decade before the film finally got made. The subject matter made it something of a hard sell, with Charlize Theron, then Gwyneth Paltrow attached to the role of Gerda opposite Nicole Kidman as Einar/Lili. Tomas Alfredson was initially set to direct, then was replaced with Lasse Hallström before that incarnation fell through. Director Tom Hooper of The King’s Speech and Les Misérablesbrings an awards contender pedigree to the project – it’s a bonus that star Redmayne is fresh off his Oscar win for The Theory of Everything. The film may be called “The Danish Girl”, but just as there was nary a French accent in earshot in Les Misérables, everyone in this movie sounds very English indeed. It can be seen as pandering to Academy voters, who seem to equate Englishness with prestige.



            While first stepping out in public as Lili, Einar worriedly asks his wife “am I pretty enough?” The Danish Girl is a film that does seem to be worried it isn’t pretty enough in a self-conscious manner, but cinematographer Danny Cohen, costume designer Paco Delgado and production designer Eve Stewart, all Hooper’s collaborators from Les Mis, ensure it is quite the pretty movie to look at. Any way one slices it, there was always going to be controversy surrounding the film, and it is incredibly difficult to appease everyone where the hot-button issue of gender identity is concerned. In a way, the period setting is a costume that lends a non-traditional story a more familiar guise, all of this prestige picture classiness a way in for audiences who might otherwise be clutching their pearls at the thought of a movie about a transgender woman.


            This brings us to the elephant in the room: the casting of a cisgender man to play a transgender woman. Transgendered actors are slowly gaining more visibility via projects like Orange is the New Black, but it seems we’re still some ways off from having a trans woman headline a mainstream awards contender film. There’s also the matter of drawing attention and scrutiny, plus the danger of typecasting. More cynically, the Academy loves physical transformations, and Redmayne has already bagged one Oscar after undergoing a physical transformation to play a real person. It’s difficult to talk about but it’s a conversation worth having and we’re trying to take a balanced view. Redmayne put a great deal of thought into the portrayal and spent time with trans women including activist Paris Lees, who gave Redmayne her blessing. “As a trans woman, I don’t think that if and when they make a biopic of my life I would want a cisgender man playing me,” Lees told Out Magazine. “Politically, it makes me groan. But if anybody’s going to do this justice, then I’m happy it’s Eddie. We had a good chat about everything.”

            The hype surrounding Redmayne’s portrayal is worth buying into, because this is an excellent, soul-baring performance. Lili’s emotional journey in coming to terms with her gender identity is eloquently conveyed by Redmayne. When the film is in danger of getting swallowed up by the larger issues at play, his portrayal pulls it back to a remarkably humane sensitivity. Vikander is just as worthy of praise and there is a good deal for her to sink her teeth into with the role of Gerda. This is a woman who sees the man she fell in love with slowly vanish, but her selfless love for him makes her want to see her husband arrive at a place where he is happy and comfortable with himself. Vikander’s performance is at once raw and measured, and if there was any doubt that she is 2015’s biggest breakout star, The Danish Girl erases said doubt once and for all.



            The Danish Girlis based on a fictionalised account of Lili’s life, with most of the characters besides Lili and Gerda created from whole cloth by Ebershoff. As such, both Whishaw and Schoenaerts can sometimes feel like hangers-on in the proceedings, but in addition to Gerda, their characters reinforce just how vital the support of a loved one is in undergoing a transition.

            The Danish Girldoes over-romanticise and simplify Lili’s story a fair bit, side-stepping Gerda’s possible bisexuality and the eventual dissolution of Lili and Gerda’s relationship. The final scene also contains a visual metaphor that is heavy-handed in quite the cringe-worthy manner. However, Lili’s story is an important one to tell and there is considerable talent behind this biopic. The more jaded might dismiss this out of hand as shameless awards bait and it does possess those elements, but above and beyond all that, the genuine emotional resonance of the story rings true.

Summary: While not as challenging and in-depth an exploration of Lili Elbe’s life and times as it could have been, powerful performances and technical polish make this a worthwhile telling of a moving story.

RATING: 3.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong