Aquaman (2018)

Aquaman

“Permission to come aboard?”

For the most part, the casting choices in the DCU films have been good (even Ben Affleck as Batman was not a total loss). That is still the case for Jason Mamoa as Aquaman, which is really the only true positive thing to say about the movie. He does make a splash, but the script is down right soggy.

The film does open with an origin story (which is fair, since it is not as well-known as those of Batman or Superman). We see how Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison), a lighthouse worker, finds a wounded woman named Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) on the shores. He heals her, they fall in love, and have Arthur. Eventually, Atlanna must return to Atlantis to stop the onslaught on Tom and Arthur after having run away from her marriage to King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren).

Fast forward to present day, and we see a grown up Arthur being visited by Mera (Amber Heard). Turns out that the new heir is Arthur’s half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), who wants to rage war on humans above (you know, for all the stuff we have done to the ocean in the past). One of the kingdom’s long time subjects (and Arthur’s former teacher) Vulko (a nicely cast Willem Dafoe) works behind Orm’s back to prevent such a war from occurring. For Arthur to succeed, he must find the long-lost trident that would prove his worth. There is also the subplot of Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), out for revenge on Aquaman after an event at the start of the film.

There are some rather wonderful underground imagery here, but it would be even better if the script had not been so ridiculously predictable. The movie is basically if Thor (or even Black Panther) had lived underwater (claiming a birthright, evil family member villain, etc) . All the fights were nice to look at, but no points in knowing the outcome: you can see it the moment they announce it. By the end, we do get another CGI battle that seems almost off the shelf.

It should also come as no surprise that superhero flicks need a good villain, and the DCU has not been the best at that (though Michael Shannon was good as General Zod and Margot Robbie was really effective as Harley Quinn). Sadly, Patrick Wilson does not measure up, and his villain is nothing short of forgettable.

Parents, the movie should be fine for kids (some swearing and action/violence, but nothing they have not seen in superhero flick before). Middle School and up.

In a year that gave us Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the best was clearly not saved for last (despite some moments I liked, especially where Arthur got his idea of how to use a whale for escape). Still, rather than giving us a breath of fresh air, Aquaman leaves us gasping for it.

 

Overall: Two Stars **

Moana (2016)

moana

To tell Moana no when she asks for help is not a good idea…

The main thing that makes Moana work is the title character. She is the evolved form of Disney princesses back from the days of Snow White and Cinderella. This princess gets the job done with or without a prince, and that is that. As the character Maui tells Moana, “If you have a dress and a sidekick, you are a princess.” (That chicken sidekick of hers is great because it actually acts like a chicken.)

Credit definitely should be given to the break out performance by first timer Auli’i Cravalho. Certainly, she is a new star for the cinema world to behold. Her Moana is the daughter of Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), whose main rule is to never leave the island for any reason. No going past the reef”, he says, even when there is a shortage of fish nearby.

Eventually, Moana is moved to leave the island in search of the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson, who, as a nineties kid, will forever be “The Rock” to me.) He has stolen a stone that he wished to use and help the humans, but the idea back fired, and he lost his magic hook in the process which gave him the ability to morph into any animal he wishes (his main choice was that of a hawk.)

While Cravalho shows she is a star that is here to stay, it is Johnson’s performance of Maui that reminds us what makes him so gosh darn charming in the first place. Basically, he plays a Disney version of “The Rock” (no threats or swearing). Who else could brag about himself, and actually have conversations with his tattoos (there is even glimpse of him raising the eyebrow that made me smile, ear to ear).

Now we come to the music. Lin-Manuel Miranda is the main mind behind it all, and this was just before his stage musical “Hamilton” (of which I am a fan, and still hope to see someday on stage) became the monster hit it is today. I confess, I think Moana has good songs, but a few too many songs. Most are good, but I did not find the urge I had after seeing a movie like Frozen to go and download the songs from Itunes. There is one song with a crazy crab character that is gorgeous to look at, but drags on too long.

Let there be no doubt: stunning is a gross understatement to the visuals of this movie. While movies like The Little Mermaid and Finding Nemo (and its sequel) proved the wonders beneath the ocean, Moana proves things above the ocean can be visually appealing as well.

Parents, it is a Disney film, so basically anyone can sit through it (there are not too many heavy dark moments in the film).

At the moment, I don’t feel Moana will be in the pantheon of Disney masterpieces such as Fantasia, Pinocchio, The Lion King, Bambi, or Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Still, Moana is, in every sense of the cliché phrase, fun for the whole family.

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2