I Don’t Understand Why Everyone Loves Aquaman
Aquaman is…okay, I guess. Wonder Woman was far superior, and not without its own issues (a bland, over-powered villain, and that special effects orgasm of a climax, for a start). Aquaman is also emblematic of many things wrong with blockbuster film making today, or just modern storytelling in general.
As a science fiction and fantasy writer myself, I have been taught, damn near commanded, to avoid info-dumping. Show don’t tell, avoid long exposition, keep dialogue natural, only say what needs to be said…these are some of the rules speculative fiction writers are taught from the beginning of their careers. Filmmakers don’t seem to take the same courses. The first 30 minutes or so of Aquaman is almost one long info-dump, only interrupted by a few brief scenes of action. You would think that would be enough, but the dumping continues on and off throughout the entire film!
Worse, it is done in the laziest of ways, almost always one character telling another some long, and half-unnecessary, bit of history of context. Natural dialogue this is not.
The pacing of the film is also horrible. When did the target audience for blockbuster action films become only those with severe ADD? I know Aquaman is not the first to suffer from this problem, not by far, but it is very representative of the issue. It is stuffed with way too much story, to the point where every individual plot point is rushed through so fast it is difficult to understand what is even going on. Worse than rushing the audience, the film also rushes its characters. Arthur (aka Aquaman) is not given any time to emotionally process what is happening to him. He just stumbles on from action set-piece to action set-piece without any clear emotional reaction or motivation. He is a loyal dog, trudging along where ever the plot tells him to go.
There are scenes, such as when he finally recovers the sacred trident, which should be charged with emotion, should be points where the character, and the audience, have a moment to stop and react to what is happening. But we do not get a chance to be emotional. Instead, we are dragged along to the next battle before any tears have the chance to form.
The fundamental problem is that the film tries to do too much with too little space (I know that’s saying a lot for a 2 1/2 hour film). Inside Aquaman are packed two or three different films all fighting for space and attention. There is a typical fantasy coming of age story. There is a revenge story and imperial conspiracy. There is a Indiana Jones-esque global treasure hunt. Each of these deserves its own film, deserves the full attention of the audience.
For me, the treasure hunt sub-plot is the most interesting and where the film shines. If the director and editor had any sense, they would have focused on this story and trimmed down the rest significantly. Who sent the memo to all these comic book film makers, instructing them they are required to show the hero growing up as a child for an origin story? That was never a requirement. In fact, some of the best narratives jump right into main, adult plot. The first 20-30 minutes of Aquaman, showing his father and mother and boyhood, could have been cut completely. In fact, it would have been much better to first ever see Arthur’s mother when he encounters her later in the story. That would have enhanced the emotiveness of the moment.
While the pacing and over-stuffed nature of the film is its biggest weakness, there are other problems. Like the complete lack of logic with regard to Atlantis. If you want to make a space opera, make it in space, where it makes sense. You know what doesn’t make sense? Lasers underwater. Explosions underwater. Lava splashing underwater. Electric machines underwater. Characters who can fly around underwater like Superman through the sky…and they ride mounts? And space ships? Why? Superman doesn’t ride in helicopters and planes; he doesn’t need to. Yeah, an army of warriors riding great white sharks is a cool image, but it is completely illogical for the world. And if they have ships with lasers and torpedos, who the hell would want to be stuck riding a shark anyway? And if the water people have eyes which have evolved for them to see in the dark under the sea, why do the ships have headlights?
Everything about Atlantis is nonsense. Pretty, yes. Cool, yes. But nonsense nonetheless. There is a lot of room for the unbelievable in fantasy and superhero stories. But not to the point where you are contradicting yourself. Or to the point of violating very basic common sense.
Aquaman is a good looking film, but the quality is only skin deep. There is no emotional depth to the story or the character; the time needed to create such depth is never offered. The writing is also terribly dry. The jokes almost all fall flat. That’s not a problem with the delivery; I’ve seen Jason Momoa on SNL and he can be funny, given the right script.
The writing in Aquaman is also so terribly cliche. Lines like “What could be greater than a king? A hero. A king fights for his nation. A hero fights for everyone.” Groan. Go tell that to Aragorn. Every time an actual character (not the narrator) in a fantasy story unsarcastically calls someone a hero, Tolkien turns over in his grave. What ever happened to subtlety? Are audiences today so stupid they need everything explain to them in such blatant terms?
Aquaman is far better than most of the new DC Universe films, but that’s not saying much. I would even mark it better than many of the worse Marvel films (cough, Avengers 2, cough). But I don’t understand the unfettered praise that regular viewers seem to give it (critics have not been so kind, with the film’s current metacritic rating at only 55).
Maybe the next one will be better. The film makers won’t be compelled to over-stuff a sequel and can instead focus on a single, well-defined plot. Aquaman deserves a film that takes the time to examine the character and allows us to sympathize with him.
Or maybe I just don’t get it.
Thanks for reading!