Director: James Wan
Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman
Have I Seen it Before: It’s hard to see an action movie these days—with their wall-to-wall CGI, bombastic film scores, and framing of shots like their in a gyroscope—and not feel like you’ve been watching the movie many times. Does that begin to answer the question? Probably not. No, I haven’t seen it. At this writing it is a brand new movie. There. Now I’ve answered it.
Did I Like It: I didn’t hate it, which, as it turns out, still manages to bring up the average of post-Nolan DC movies.
I’m not entirely sure why Jason Momoa has spent most of his acting career up until this point being the strong, silent type. I mean, I guess I get the strong part. The man is built like a Joel Schumacher fever dream, but here he gets to let his leading man flag fly, and acquits himself well. He’s often funny, usually charming, and never seems lost in the course of starring in his own movie. That’s not an easy task, especially for someone who has been largely taciturn for much of his acting career.
The movie surrounding him has an odd tone, though. With it’s synthesizer-heavy score, reverse-engineered pseudo-Indiana Jones plot, and the mere presence of Dolph Lundgren* makes this film so thoroughly entrenched in an aesthetic pulled from the 1980s*. With no further context, there’s very little outside of the CGI to indicate that this film was truly made in the second decade fo the 21st century. It’s kind of a refreshing choice, at times. It actually sends my imagination into overdrive about what the film would be like had it been made thirty-plus years earlier. Lundgren would still be in it, although in either the role of Arthur Curry (Momoa) or Orm/Ocean Master (Patrick Wilson, showing up once again to cash some DC money and hopefully not be noticed in the process), while somebody like Sylvester Stallone would be the other role. The imaginary film might have been directed by Stallone as well. The increase in montages for this film would be negligible, if any.
And that might have made it a better movie. The ultimately slapdash fashion in which the film is put together makes me question whether this retro sensibility was either intentional, accidental, or the ongoing trend of studios insisting that all tentpole films be as much like the Guardians of the Galaxy films as possible. Also, the film is an absolute exposition fest. You know it’s going to be a doozy when the film injects a voice over in the first few minutes, but it only gets worse from there. While someone may have decided that this much world building is necessary for a first film set in a world of which audiences likely have little-to-no knowledge, the proceedings are far too weighted down. While this isn’t the annoyingly self-serious Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) or the muddled Justice League (2017), it doesn’t quite reach the magnificence of Wonder Woman (2017) or any of the largely superior Marvel films. Keep trying DC, you might yet get it down one of these days.
*Who, by the way, between this and Creed II, is having a renaissance the likes of which we haven’t seen since the one two punch of Masters of the Universe (1987) and The Punisher (1989).