The Corner

Film & TV

Standing in the Gap for Aquaman

Actor Jason Momoa attends the world premiere of Aquaman in London, England, November 26, 2018. (Simon Dawson/REUTERS)

There is an intolerable level of hate on this website for Aquaman. Armond White panned it, Jonah Goldberg — a man of normally impeccable pop-culture taste — tweeted his disapproval, and Kyle Smith absolutely eviscerated the movie in one of the most scathing reviews I’ve ever read. Here’s just a taste of Kyle’s hate:

A major plot point in Aquaman is the tidal wave of garbage with which the undersea folk attack us surface dwellers. These two groups are spoiling for a fight, but I always thought Warner Bros. and I got along pretty well. What did I do to deserve the tidal wave of garbage that is Aquaman itself? I refuse to believe DC Comics can ever come up with a worse movie than this. Aquaman is such an eyeball-scald and an eardrum-shiv it makes me long for the relative excellence of Justice League.

Picture the worst Pirates of the Caribbean mashed up with the demented psychedelia of Green Lantern and you’ll have some idea of the feel of Aquaman, which even throws in some Sahara scenes straight out of a regrettable Mummy picture. Whether it’s Nicole Kidman’s kickboxing, Willem Dafoe’s man-bun, or the cheesy Bill-and-Ted-style guitar riff that introduces Aquaman on the soundtrack, every choice is crazy bad.

Ouch. And yet it remains the box-office champ here in the U.S., and it’s on the glide path to a billion dollars in worldwide receipts. I’m no populist, but this time the people are right, and my colleagues are wrong, wrong, and wrong.

But to understand why, let’s go back to a different time — a time before the superhero movie ruled the world. Back in the late eighties and running through the nineties, the action movie was king. The format was similar to the superhero movie, but the protagonists were mortal men blessed with extraordinary strength, skill, and marksmanship. Then, just as Nirvana and Pearl Jam killed the hair band, so did Batman Begins and Iron Man kill the action-movie era. Now — according to my latest calculations — approximately 87.1 percent of all movies made feature superheroes. Heck, there’s even been a superhero romantic comedy.

But before the rise of the meta-humans, a movie was made that took all of the elements of the action genre, added big stars and Serious Actors, and turned it all up to eleven. That movie was Con Air. The cast was amazing — featuring peak Nicolas Cage, peak John Cusack, John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, Dave Chapelle, and Danny Trejo. The premise was ludicrous, the action was over-the-top — climaxing with a crash-landing on the Las Vegas strip — and the music was bombastic (the guitars, always wailing). As for the dialogue? Always remember, put the bunny back in the box (warning, violent):

There was a moment when I was watching (and thoroughly enjoying) Aquaman that it hit me. This is the Con Air of superhero movies. Don’t go to the film expecting the darkness of previous DC films. Nolan’s Batman series and Snyder’s Man of Steel are in the rear-view mirror. There will be time for think pieces on what this means for the great contest between DC and Marvel, but for now let’s just glory in the insanity. The Con Air formula lives.

Does Aquaman have an amazing cast showcasing action stars and Serious Actors? In addition to Jason Mamoa and Amber Heard, the movie features Nicole Kidman, Willem Defoe, Dolph Lundgren, and Julie Andrews (as a Kraken-like monster, no less.)

Is there a ludicrous premise? Yep. Imagine that the world’s oceans are inhabited by multiple advanced civilizations and enormous sea creatures, and they’ve been entirely undetected by the surface. Then they go to war, and still nobody really knows what’s happening.

Is the action over the top? You betcha. The last battle features essentially an undersea Armageddon interrupted by Mary Poppins-Kraken. And the music? Well, Pitbull raps while sampling Toto’s “Africa.” Glorious.

Look, there are two types of people in this world — those who want to see a mass cavalry-charge of laser-shooting sharks and those who don’t. I proudly count myself in the former camp. Go see Aquaman. And when you do, take a quick look around. If you see a bald, bespectacled nerd sitting nearby, that’s me enjoying the movie again. Ignore the haters. They don’t want you to have fun.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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