REVIEW: Aquaman (2018)

Directed by: James Wan
Starring: Jason Mamoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Dolph Lundgren

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

The DCEU badly needs a win. To say the DCEU has had peaks and troughs is something of an understatement. Despite, for my part, ‘Man of Steel’ being far stronger than the wider consensus says, and ‘Wonder Woman’ being as universally acclaimed as it is, the DCEU is badly trying to course correct after the mixed reception received on ‘Batman v Superman,’ and the genuinely shambolic efforts of ‘Justice League’ and ‘Suicide Squad.’ It needs a film to reunite DC fans everywhere that convinces them the DCEU could be a success. I think ‘Aquaman’ could well be that film.

Game of Thrones’ Jason Momoa stars as Arthur “Aquaman” Curry, a human-Atlantean hybrid with super strength and a swimming ability not too far behind that of Michael Phelps. Living his life as a metahuman living amongst us, Arthur forgoes the secret identity schtick, openly embraces being Aquaman, and spends his time saving people from various nautical disasters. When Orm (Patrick Wilson), Arthur’s half-brother, stakes claim to the throne and threatens an Atlantean takeover of the world, Arthur must return to his true home and claim the throne that is rightfully his.

I’m going to cut to the chase. ‘Aquaman’ is the most fun I’ve had at the cinema in months. I’ve seen some terrific films in the last year, even some genuinely all-time great superhero films like ‘Infinity War’ and ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,’ but nothing compared to ‘Aquaman.’ As the film escalates towards its inevitable, CGI-tastic battle scene, I found myself actively cheering the action on screen. It forced various exclamations that basically said, in umpteen different ways, “this is so cool.” Because that’s what James Wan, the stellar filmmaker behind films like ‘Saw’, ‘The Conjuring,’ and ‘Furious 7,’ managed to do. He made Aquaman cool. He made the guy who has been the joke of DC for years and known as “the one who can speak to fish” cool.

What really works for ‘Aquaman’ is its cast. It boasts a terrific ensemble, and no matter how ridiculous it all is if you really look at it, everyone is all in on their characters, embracing the ridiculousness of it all, and just having a great time with it. There’s a chemistry amongst every major player, from Arthur and Orm, to Arthur and Mera (Amber Heard), to Arthur and Vulko (Willem Dafoe), to Mera and Vulko, and to Orm and Nereus (Dolph Lundgren), that makes the film work. All the different relationships between the characters are, admittedly pretty blatantly, clear and their motivations are presented well so that everyone knows where they stand as the tensions mount into the third act. The ‘will-they-won’t-they’ dynamics, the rivalries, the father-and-son relationships, it’s all well thought-out and executed extremely well, thanks largely to the great cast.

Where the film does have flaws – and believe me, it has its flaws – is largely down to its dialogue. Despite the well-fleshed out relationships I mentioned above, the conversations are about as on-the-nose as it comes. Characters explicitly describe their emotions and plans in every line of dialogue, shoving in corny, superhero focused one-liners to raise an obvious moral question for Arthur to ponder for 20 minutes. It’s blunt, but it’s serviceable; there’s no room for subtext. But then again, this is fucking Aquaman. At one point, sharks are used as surfboards. Subtext left the writer’s room 27-minutes into Day One. And that’s okay.

The average cinema-goer goes to a superhero film for the action. You can claim all you want that people live for the interpersonal drama you find in the MCU, but a superhero film lives and dies by its action sequences. ‘Aquaman’ raises the bar for what a superhero film’s action scenes should look like. They’re the cleanest, best choreographed, and best shot action scenes since probably ‘Mad Max: Fury Road.’ In the first 10 minutes, there’s a very cool fight scene involving Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) in a living room that’s a long-take, one smooth shot in which all 3 enemies are vanquished in expert fashion as the camera swirls around the room. At that moment I knew we were in good hands, but that was just a taster.

There are a lot of nice little action sequences throughout the film, all of which are well done, but there are two stand-outs: Sicily and The Battle of the Trench. Sicily, for starters, includes a glorious long-take following a Atlantean battering ram crashing through 15 apartment walls as it’s the fastest way to Mera who is running along the rooftops, while simultaneously Arthur is being chased by Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the film’s sadly underused but encouraging secondary villain, with various moments for combat thrown in, an exploding church bell, and Arthur using a literal ball and chain as a weapon. At one point, the camera shows Arthur’s fight and zooms across the rooftops to catch up with Mera, mere minutes before she creatively uses red motherfucking wine as a weapon. Just thinking about this scene again brings a smile to my face. It’s chaos in its most glorious form.

The climactic Battle of the Trench is, thankfully, a worthy capper on a terrifically fun time. I can’t go into too much detail for fear of spoilers, but this scene is the main cause of my exclamations of disbelief I mentioned earlier. Some of the moments on screen are wildly creative, they’re moments that will stick with you for months, because it’s a battle on the same scale as that of Helm’s Deep in ‘Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’ only this time it involves sharks with freakin’ laser beams attached to their heads, giant crocodiles, giant crabs and lobsters, and there’s even the closest thing to an actual kaiju. It’s not a case of Wan throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks here; everything sticks. The final 30 minutes of ‘Aquaman’ is the best climax to a 2018 film this side of ‘Hereditary.’

Aquaman’ is fantastic. I can forgive the flaws of its screenplay when the action is this satisfying and this impressive. It has charismatic performances, a fantastic soundtrack (‘Aquaman’’s theme is the best superhero theme since ‘Wonder Woman’, for everything the DCEU is doing wrong, it’s nailing the music), and stellar direction and cinematography. It’s one of the most bombastic, energetic, insane films of the year, and it deserves your attention.

Give me more ‘Aquaman.’ I want so much more ‘Aquaman.’

 

RHYS’ VERDICT:

5

The DCEU Movies Ranked

Written by Nick Staniforth

Braving the waters of the comic book universe once again this week, Warner Bros have supposedly turned back the tide and managed to deliver a superhero story that is getting unanimous praise for embracing its bonkers premise and surfing it to the shore of success. If you haven’t twigged yet, what with all the water puns, I am of course referring to Aquaman, the latest chapter of the DC universe starring Jason Momoa, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Ludi Lin, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison, Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman and Randall Park.

As of today, the man born of land and sea has made his way into cinemas, but following his release, where does the half-Atlantean sit among  Warner Bros. other highly debated efforts? Here be the rankin’ of the entire DCEU films so far that’ll no doubt cause some waves.


 

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Suicide Squad

It’s almost fitting that James Gunn has been tasked with a sequel to the film Warner Bros were keen to make their own Guardians of the Galaxy. Rough around the edges and filled with its own team of misfits, Suicide Squad had all the potential to be the outside contender that could straighten up the impending array of entries that were in the pipeline – instead, it almost ran the damn thing off the road.

A slung-together script, reshoots aiming to lighten the mood following the near-fatal feedback of Dawn of Justice (more on that later), and one of the shortest performances of The Joker ever caught on film, Suicide Squad was a slog of a viewing experience if it wasn’t for some key players that saved the day.

Margot Robbie and Will Smith as Harley Quinn and Deadshot reignite the chemistry they had in Focus, with the likes of Jay Hernandez’s El Diablo, Karen Fukuhara’s Katana and Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang conjuring some compelling performances, but the outcome is still a visually murky slog that even with an impending sequel, is an instalment that rarely gets revisited.

 

 

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Justice League

Die-hard DC fans can hashtag the crap out of a campaign to release the Snyder Cut until the Parademons come home, but there’s no denying that the finished product of the Justice League was far from complete. The second that light touches the synthetic upper lip of Henry Cavill, things roll off to an uneven start for the film that should’ve been a team-up for the ages. Instead, we’re treated to a CGI-tastic tone tornado that was another close call for the end of the DCEU.

Snyder’s eyegasmic vision and Whedon’s wit colliding should’ve made for the perfect comic book film, but like Suicide Squad before it, Justice League ends up a drab and forgetful outing. There are glimmers of hope, with Jason Momoa’s Aquaman making his debut, Gal Gadot Gadoing what she’s great at, and that hair-raising moment Superman returns for real, but it’s just not enough.

That chase scene on Themyiscara still holds up but besides that, the rest of the film, for the most part, is a union of DC’s finest stuck together with PVA glue in front of an undeniably bland CGI backdrop. They should’ve entered a league of their own, but instead served as a grave injustice.

 

 

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Aquaman

A well-known horror director and a former horse lord are easily one of Warner Bros. bravest bargaining chips when it came to Aquaman and his solo film. Appearing as an undeniable redirection from the dark and sombre scope the DCEU has been focussed on for some time, Jason Mamoa’s standalone entry as the king beneath the ocean is one of the most refreshing instalments thus far, though not without its own issues.

Demonstrating that same flair he had with high-octane sequences in Fast & Furious 7, director James Wan gets his feet wet again in an at times visually impressive affair and tackles them to a degree, with Nicole Kidman as an ass-kicking Queen Atlanna being a standout moment. Sadly, these aren’t enough to wash over what is a fairly dull story that feels worn down. Plucking plot points from Thor, Black Panther and Wonder Woman, it avoids being a complete wipeout thanks to Momoa who is once again not giving a fork and having an absolute ball, which pushes the film along. Ultimately, it’s a good effort for DC to steady the ship but still not a patch on the best entry so far.

 

 

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Tearing friendships apart as much as The Last Jedi, or when Ross and Rachel went on a break, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was the film we never thought we’d see, and ultimately the film fans will never, ever agree on. Considered to be the stuff of dreams and I Am Legend Easter eggs, the sought-after showdown between The Dark Knight and The Man of Steel is a battle on so many levels. For every hit it lands, there’s another counter swing that puts it on the backfoot, which is why its slap bang in the middle of this list.

Forming a bond in the opening act to the previous film amid the rubble and chaos left behind in Man of Steel, Snyder does a great job at building up the motivations for both fighters in this epic bout. Cavill once again slips into the super suit with ease as the still tortured Superman trying to find his place in the world, while Ben Affleck delivers one of the best iterations of Bruce Wayne and Batman ever captured on screen. Fearful of this stranger beyond the stars and being a figure worth dreading himself, it helps a great deal for when these two finally do go toe to toe. It’s the time spent getting to and following from the final fight that is the films biggest issue.

The Martha motive is still frustrating to even recall, as is Jesse Eisenberg’s weedy, tick-induced Lex Luthor. It’s a lengthy lost opportunity that we may never get back but thankfully gave the world Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, the films most undeniable redeeming factor. If your chest doesn’t swell the second she flies in on Hans Zimmer’s score, then you really need to seek medical attention.

 

 

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Man of Steel

Ah yes, back when it all looked so promising. Snyder’s debut venture into the world of DC’s greatest heroes may have had its issues, but Henry Cavill’s first turn as the man with the big red cape is undoubtedly one of the strongest of the bunch.  Retelling the origin story of the most iconic superheroes ever for the modern era is a tough task but even more so when that beloved tale is tweaked to significant levels.

It all works, for the most part, aided by a strong cast that solidifies this world, and provides realism in a way that even Marvel still hasn’t done. From Amy Adams’ sharp Lois Lane to Michael Shannon’s tyrannical iteration of General Zod, every box is checked for the players involved in this effort to get Superman soaring to new heights. Most notably are the parents that mould Clark into the hero he becomes. Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner bring varied but vital fatherly roles as Jor-El and Jonathan Kent, respectively, while Diane Lane as keeps her son grounded as widowed mother MARTHA (sorry, old habit).

There are flecks of kryptonite littered through the film of course, most notably in that films final building breaking scuffle between Cavill’s Superman and Shannon’s Zod. Turning the shining Metropolis into an abandoned car park by the film’s end may well have been Snyder’s plan, but he once again spends too much time on something that should’ve zipped by faster than a speeding bullet. Not a bad first try – if only they’d been this good, though.

 

 

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Wonder Woman

There was only one place for Gal Gadot’s solo gig as the Amazonian princess to go and that’s right at the very front. Putting aside all the convoluted, reconstructed world-building that has been tried and tested, Diana’s first adventure is the closest to perfect Warner Bros. has been. Patty Jenkin’s take on the most well-known female superhero is an absolute treat from beginning to end, distancing itself from all the other entries by decades and finally giving audiences a film they could all agree on as being an absolute belter.

A fish out of water tale with added oomph, braving the era of World War I to bring Diana’s story to life is a refreshing chapter in an uneven series of instalments. Already demonstrating she could wield the headgear and lasso in Dawn of Justice, Gal Gadot gets time to really fit into the role of Wonder Woman and make it her own. Strong, graceful and an undeniable presence of good, she elevates every frame she’s in and makes the walk through No Man’s Land as iconic as Christopher Reeve circling the earth.

Taking the lead behind an equally charismatic Chris Pine who is in awe of his co-star as much as we are, she’s a breath of fresh air in a world that up until then was lost in its own self-manufactured smog. So the familiar final act may suffer some crash, bang and CGI wallop, but it’s redeemed by Diana’s heartwrenching goodbye to Steve Trevor that conjures the more emotion than any of the films that came before it. It’s a wonder we even got this, far but thank the gods we did.

New UK Trailer For Karyn Kusama’s ‘Destroyer’ Released

“Destroyer follows the moral and existential odyssey of LAPD detective Erin Bell who, as a young cop, was placed undercover with a gang in the California desert with tragic results. When the leader of that gang re-emerges many years later, she must work her way back through the remaining members and into her own history with them to finally reckon with the demons that destroyed her past.”

Directed by: Karyn Kusama

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Toby Kebell, Tatiana Maslany, Sebastian Stan

Release Date: 25th January 2019

A Hero Is Born In The Final ‘Aquaman’ Trailer

“Following the events of Justice League, Arthur Curry, the reluctant ruler of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, is caught in a battle between surface dwellers that threaten his oceans and his own people, who are ready to lash out and invade the surface.”

Directed by: James Wan

Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren, Randall Park

Release Date: December 13th, 2018

The Killing Of A Sacred Deer: A Twisted Contemporary Greek Tragedy

Written by Emily Jones

Known as one of 2017’s strangest movies, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is a psychological thriller directed by famed director Yorgos Lanthimos. Known for his stilted characters featuring robotic deliveries, Lanthomo’s latest movie, in fact, features a series of transactional relationships and conversations between characters which emphasize its peculiarity. Starring Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone and Bill Camp, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is a surreal movie experience that effortlessly defies any rational explanations right from its beginning. Recently released, the movie is currently available for viewing on the Chili website.

The movie is based on the Greek story of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae who paid the terrible price his family must pay once it is discovered that he killed a deer, precious to the goddess Artemis. As payment for his killing, Artemis demands that Agamemnon sacrifice one of his children, either his daughter Iphigenia or son Orestes, in her honor. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer portrays this Greek tragedy in Cincinnati, where heart surgeon Steven (Colin Farrell) is confronted by Martin (Barry Keoghan) who lost his father during one of Steven’s surgeries. A few years after his father’s passing and now a teenager, Martin seeks revenge and issues a chilling ultimatum. He threatens that Steven must choose one of his family members to die so that he can amend Martin’s father’s death. If Steven refuses to do so, each of his family members will suddenly diefrom a mysterious illness. Steven must, therefore, make a decision as his family members are already falling in, and in doing so his family’s craven, self-centered and brutal cores are revealed.

While this movie features little blood, very few scenes of violence and a courteous and gentle villain, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer still manages to be completely and viscerally terrifying. The movie greatly focuses on a person’s sense of responsibility and the great lengths they may go about to try not being held accountable for their mistakes. It focuses on how a person’s actions and decisions contribute to where they find themselves in life and the cowardly sense of protecting their self and their self-image. While Steven refuses to accept Martin’s ultimatum and while his family falls ill, he continues to search for an alternate solution, denying what is happening around him. What makes the movie particularly strange and disturbing is also the interactions between Stevens family members. The Murphy family dynamics are mostly a series of transactions and exchanges. Bob and Kim have assigned chores, and almost all of their interactions with their parents have to do with whether or not they’ve done them and Kim (Nicole Kidman) learns her brother is in the hospital when she told she’ll have to now water his plants. Transactions are in fact what dominate the entire storyline, for the death of one of his family members, Martin demands the death of one of Steven’s.

With its peculiar characters, an interesting and somewhat historic storyline The Killing Of A Sacred Deer should certainly be among the list of must-see movies of the year. This psychological thriller explores the depths of family interactions and the toll the burden of responsibility can take on a person.

Nicole Kidman Is Taking No Prisoners In A Brand New Trailer For Karyn Kusama’s ‘Destroyer’

“As a young cop, Erin Bell went under cover to infiltrate a gang in the California desert — with tragic results. When the leader of that gang re-emerges, Bell must work her way back through the remaining members while confronting her own demons.”

Directed by: Karyn Kusama

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany, Sebastian Stan

Release Date: January 25th, 2019

Brand New 5 Minute ‘Aquaman’ Extended Look Released

“Following the events of Justice League, Arthur Curry, the reluctant ruler of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, is caught in a battle between surface dwellers that threaten his oceans and his own people, who are ready to lash out and invade the surface.”

Directed by: James Wan

Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren, Randall Park

Release Date: December 13th, 2018

SDCC: Dive Into Atlantis In The First Trailer For James Wan’s ‘Aquaman’

Following the events of Justice League, Arthur Curry, the reluctant ruler of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, is caught in a battle between surface dwellers that threaten his oceans and his own people, who are ready to lash out and invade the surface.

Directed by: James Wan

Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren, Randall Park

Release Date: December 13th, 2018

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Year: 2017
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Alicia Silverstone, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic

Written by Jessica Peña

It’s not often enough a film will come around that will leave you in awe, laughing, cringing, and downright terrified. Yorgos Lanthimos’ ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ will find you in these states and will claw at your psyche well after its ending credits. It carries very dark comedic tones and chilling subjects. The film examines the absence of any virtue and becomes one of the most unsettling and gratifying cinematic experiences of the year.

Dr. Stephen Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a renowned cardiovascular surgeon who lives a comfortable and pristine suburban life with his wife (Nicole Kidman), son (Sunny Suljic), and teenage daughter (Raffey Cassidy). It becomes known that he’s struggled with an alcohol problem in the past, leading to the death of a man on his operating table. Here’s where things get a little interesting. Held with a guilt, Stephen meets Martin (Barry Keoghan), the deceased patient’s 16 year old son. Martin begins to spend time with Stephen over the course of a few months. They get to know each other a little through meeting each other’s families, dinner visits, and ‘too close for comfort’ conversations. Martin tries endlessly to have Stephen in his life. There comes a point where Martin begins to cross the line on what he says to Stephen, making his family uncomfortable, and so Stephen ends all forms of communication with Martin. The youngest child, Bob, suddenly loses all feeling and mobility in his legs, causing Stephen and his wife to rush him to the hospital.

With no scientific or realistic explanation, the family is stumped. Martin shows up and asks Stephen for ten minutes of his time. Reluctantly, Stephen agrees. This is where Martin abruptly continues his ominous front. He tells Stephen to choose which of his loved ones to kill. If no decision is made within a timely manner, they will die one by one. First, they will lose function of their legs. Then, they will lose their appetite. Finally, they will begin to bleed from the eyes before their eventual death. Martin delivers this line so simply and so poised that we begin to wonder if he is the Devil incarnate. Martin’s vendetta becomes clear and Stephen’s world gets turned upside down. This is where ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ shoots its cold hearted madness through our soul.

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We watch misfortune strike this family and Stephen almost doesn’t know what to make of it all. Something that Lanthimos nods to is his recent film ‘The Lobster,’ where dialogue and normal human reaction is made to appear desolate. His characters are so very modern but there is a certain way of speech that will transport us deeper into the film, but will also bother us. In many instances, people would not react the way that these characters act. It throws a person off. Farrell and Kidman give exceptional performances that aren’t over the top, but succeed in helping such an eerie script. Beside Lanthimos’ excellent direction, Keoghan as Martin is what terrifies us the most. The young Dublin-born actor makes it seem so effortless in presenting this dead-eyed character. It’s not explained where Martin gains this supernatural power to bestow onto Stephen’s life. Another thing Lanthimos enjoys is presenting an automatic acceptance that this is just how things are. We do not question it and we do not argue. The notion of sacrificial trial, justice, and human nature is all challenged through Martin’s menacing proclamation. ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ looks to rattle us and it does a fine job at it. The first shot we see is a close up of an open heart surgery to the sound of jarring classical opera music. Be careful in choosing to see a film so unconventional and Earth-altering.

The gratification comes to us through its visual nightmare-like world. From slow pans to long wide shots, the minimalist cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis captures the rarity of the film entirely. Lanthimos completely throws us into this very dark and ethereal atmosphere. It can’t be measured just how much discomfort this film will make you feel. The soundtrack itself thickens tension and raises heart rates. Even the melody of the Christmas tune, “Carol of the Bells,” becomes something haunting when we remember what we’re sitting through. Accordionist Janne Rattya lends her horrifying “De Profundis” to the film, which sets the tone of no hope for Stephen’s family. With its devastating Greek tragedy theme, all the components of sound and visuals will meet in the middle where it pains us the most.

Sincerely noted, this film won’t pan too nicely to a lot of people. If you are a fan of psychological thrillers that stop at nothing to wreak havoc, this may be for you. Dark comedy makes a bigger occurrence in the film than one would think. We find ourselves laughing at something (that was probably meant to be taken very seriously in context) and then immediately feeling uneasy again. It’s quite a refreshment, honestly. It makes the film so distinct, just how we like it. If you’re alright with welcoming bizarre behavior, insane metaphors, and uneasy scripts, be my guest. We need more films that aren’t afraid to terrify us in such a way. Yorgos Lanthimos continues to prove himself as an uncanny heavyweight among directors and this film, as strange as it was, serves to break barriers.

‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ does not know forgiveness. It squeezes your senses until you can longer withstand the agony. It surprises you with its antics and decisions. It is heart-wrenching and will not stray away from you. It is certainly a sinister experience that won’t leave your thoughts even days after its viewing. You find yourself leaving the theater puzzled, disgusted, stunned, and most of all, unsettled to the core. Lanthimos gives us one of the most unnerving and masterful pieces of art in recent cinematic times.

Jessica’s Rating: 8.5 out of 10