If the super-heroic genre continues to be successful (sorry for those who have predicted its end for a decade), in terms of quality, 2018 will have done everything on this side with the phenomenal, the passable, the original, the disastrous , unforgettable … Coincidence or not, to end the year, we are entitled to an Aquaman who could be classified in each of these categories. Impossible ? And yet …
The last vestige of an Extended Universe that has now disappeared (or it’s just like) pre-Justice League, Aquaman was part of DC Entertainment / Warner’s initial planning before it was reviewed and changed under the name Worlds of DC. With the difference that unlike the friends who suffered the change of direction head-on and got lost in limbo (The Batman, Flashpoint, Cyborg, Man of Steel 2 …), the king of the oceans seems to have fallen through the cracks fishing net and never encountered an iceberg on the way to the halls.
No directors’ waltz, no re-re-re-rewriting the script, no damage control from the producers… such a lack of problems would become almost shady. Did the studio just give up and let the movie come out while squeezing their asses to make it go quickly? The answer now seems obvious: James Wan. The director / screenwriter has never ceased to sell HIS film to us, far from any consideration for the other encapés and we have to believe that Warner has given him carte blanche by avoiding too much interference as in the past (by capitulation? trust? Who knows…).
Moreover, the footage will include only one reference to Justice League, a necessary step, while assuming the inconsistencies with the latter – we think in particular in the eyes of the man-fish -. Why ? Because the director doesn’t care.
The Wan behind Aquaman
Without much spoiler, there came a point in the story where Arthur (Jason Momoa) slipped in a “if you’re not happy, fuck you”. It is impossible not to see in it James Wan’s own “fuck you” against anyone who touches his work, whether producers or critics. Because this is what is felt throughout the duration of the footage, nearly 150 minutes: an absolute jeering that ignores everything, even its own flaws.
Because the filmmaker seeks above all to have fun. If he gives us a linear scenario, predictable and filled with holes, it is to better thread the action scenes like pearls. If it gives us to see slobbery digital inlays, behind it offers us epic sequences in spades and none are alike. If he often lets the actors play anyhow, it’s for… oh no, there is no excuse. Visually, the guy picks up everywhere: Avatar, Star Wars, Dragon Ball… we have the impression of seeing a kid opening his toy box and piling up references with a mischievous look. He shows such generosity in his delirium that one almost feels obliged to forgive him for all his deviations. Because that’s what Wan offers us: something totally assumed that doesn’t care what we think, even in the liberties he takes with the myth of Aquaman. We have to admit that we haven’t seen so much honesty in a Warner / DC product for… a long time.
Guilty pleasure or big turnip?
Sometimes very first degree, sometimes completely second, sometimes frankly ugly, sometimes superb, the whole feature film thus plays on this faculty to flirt with the nanar without ever hiding it. We almost touch a delirium a la The Asylum where Sharknado would have become a superheroic blockbuster. Even the music seems to have been edited to support every heaviness like the little guitar riff at every badass moment from Momoa or the famous cover of Africa by Pitbull which spills a lot of ink (rightly so). It’s absolutely silly and you never get to see the intent behind it: Is Aquaman a big nerd or does he have a lot of self-deprecation?
So here we are, not really knowing what to think of a film that constantly presents us with two faces, but nothing suggests that there is a duality in Wan. It aligns us the masterful and the mediocre, often separated by a few seconds without feeling any other constraint than that of putting everything. For who ? For the viewer? For the studio? We want to say for him so much we do not perceive the sick footage as could be Venom. No, we are just in excess, overbidding, the profound moron, the brilliant, the anecdotal, the cult, the cool, the ridiculous, the embarrassing, the orgasmic …