Aquaman ★★★★★

100

OCEAN MAN
TAKE ME BY THE HAND

James Wan specializes in making Movies with a capital-M. There is no real rhyme or reason to his structuring or his sincerity - it's all painted in the broadest of strokes, as if the canvas is imploding, itching to share itself with the world. It's why he was such a great manipulator of horror, and now, a great orchestrator of visual fantasia. From lovecraftian scares and Notebook romance to Authurian legend and schlock-sci-fi oddities, each scene is disparate; a maximum onto itself. Therefore, when each moment resembles some kind of pinnacle for these awful superhero products, via the sheer dexterity and nimbleness of Wan's brand of fun, the film as a whole, theoretically, cannot be improved upon. Wan broke the formula.

Its brilliance lies in not caring about the big picture (I think Justice League was mentioned once?), but in the vitality of it being itself second to second. It lingers in sunsets, kisses, embraces, and hard masculine stares (usually accompanied by a 'duh duh DUN' on the Extra Extra Extra! soundtrack). The conversations are info-packed and plodding, always interrupted by explosions and mind-boggling spectacle. Aquaman is a symphony of self-awareness, yes, but not of irony or subversion. The celebration will happen whether you're on board or not (is "permission to come aboard?" the best intro line to a spandex hero? The answer is yes.), as it rushes from fragment to fragment like a young child eager to show off their cool new toys. The cast is tremendous, each embodying an Action Figure personality to reenact. Patrick Wilson (as...get this...King Orm) offers a performance of terrifying commitment and integrity. Ditto to Willem Dafoe, who floats across the screen like a moralistic angel, and Amber Heard and Nicole Kidman, who conjure dreams of ferocity and beauty. And of course, Jason Momoa is here and he's majestic. Almost to the point of being frightening. But that's the fun, right? Throw in Dolph Lundgren being stern and a side villain named Black Manta (who rocks a costume right out of an Ultraman episode) and you got yourself an all-star ensemble that would fit right into a 1999 Stephen Sommers movie. The only other universe timeline such a cast would fit into is in a 2018 James Wan superhero fantasy, so we're super lucky here, ya'll. This is big news, but instead of Wan attempting to "emulate a comic splash page" or whatever the fuck these for-hires in Atlanta, Georgia backlots want to dig up, Wan thinks through cinema. And not just cinema as a concept, and what it can provide, but what cinema history transcribes to memory in addition to sensibility. It's obvious that so many ideas in Aquaman are from nothing other than Wan's visual sense - that rollicking, swashbuckling, hellbent drive towards spiritual and familial reconciliation. The film is a joy that is undoubtedly rooted in the nostalgia of cartoons, soaps, anime and 80s action. But not just through those prisms, it crystalizes how Wan perceived them, and what his response meant to the work. Aquaman is one of those fake movies shown in glimpses on a TV in a movie that you're watching. In some films, you hardly notice them, but in others you think: "huh, that looks pretty good." The only difference is that it isn't merely pretty good, instead being a masterpiece of the bonkers and the delirious, so full to the brim with entertainment and heart and detail that it'll dizzy the sternest of the stern. Oh, and that it's also entirely real, and screening across the country, seemingly under the guise of a 'DC Cinematic Universe' entry. Huh. Guess I was too busy cackling and crying and gasping to notice.

I can't think of a Superhero movie I adore more.