Now streaming–DC’s Aquaman a spectacular visual treat for home viewing

Review by C.J. Bunce

These days most movies translate just fine from the big screen to a home high definition television.  Late December’s release from Warner Brothers, DC’s Aquaman, is a surprisingly good transfer, showcasing the film’s epic fantasy seascapes and truly unique otherworld sea creatures without the sound contrast and lighting issues that plague recent action film releases.  Aquaman is available now on 4D, Blu-ray, DVD, and in digital formats, and it’s available both on Vudu and Amazon Prime.  A single word to describe this rare, solid entry in the DC franchise?  Epic.  Throughout the film viewers will see concepts from the history of fantasy films absorbed into its plot, from the likes of Raiders of the Lost Ark to Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth, to Ray Harryhausen fantasy classics, King Solomon’s Mines and Tomb Raider, and even Harry Potter and Tolkien’s Middle-earth stories.

It all begins with the cast, and in particular the chemistry between the always cool and confident actor who looks born to play superheroes, Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry, and Amber Heard as a beautiful grown-up Ariel turned badass named Mera, who may be the best realized heroine from the comics in the DC universe.  Aquaman director James Wan (Furious 7) does something rare for the superhero genre and forms his film around a romance between the two as they embark on a quest across the planet for the legendary trident of King Atlan, first king of the earliest water-breathers living under the sea.  Wan makes that happen more successfully than other DC romances of the past, including even Clark Kent and Lois Lane.  What is not lost on the small screen is the CGI-heavy undersea universe, but this time a film is CGI-heavy in a good, exciting way (Aquaman knocks the much lauded CGI film Avatar out of the water in every way).  Atlanteans riding sea horses, sharks, whales, and turtles.  Aquaman and Mera hiding out inside a whale, Pinocchio-style.  The film hits its visual zenith with a giant Kraken-like beast with an appearance as awesome as seeing Godzilla for the first time.  The visuals have all the imagination and colorful execution that makes for a rewatchable film, and the score has a pounding synth feel, with a mixed vibe of Daft Punk from Tron: Legacy and Queen from Flash Gordon.

The home release is accompanied by 15 behind-the-scenes features.  The best has Dolph Lundgren explaining the connections between key characters and concepts in the comic books with the portrayal in the film, in Going Deep Into the World of Aquaman.  You get a feel for how energetic and how fun Jason Momoa is in real life in Becoming Aquaman and A Match Made in Atlantis.  Details of how the director expanded on the comics and where he mixed Kaiju and historical sea stories can be found in James Wan: World Builder.  Heroines of Atlantis will leave viewers convinced future films in the series need more women characters, with only two to speak of in this film.  Other features include Aqua Tech, Atlantis Warfare, Black Manta, Villainous Training, Kingdoms of the Seven Seas, Creating Undersea Creatures, three Scene Study Breakdowns (the Sicily battle, the early submarine attack, and the underwater trench climax), and a sneak preview of Shazam.

Aquaman is also a first of sorts for DC, providing an all-star ensemble cast where each actor seems born for their roles.  Willem Dafoe portrays one of his strangely cool characters just like we like him to as Arthur’s training mentor, Vulko.  King Nereus is Dolph Lundgren′s biggest (and best) role since Rocky IV.  Patrick Wilson excels at leading man parts like his misguided King Orm.  Temuera Morrison will likely never have a more awesome character to play than Jango Fett in Star Wars:  Attack of the Clones, but he makes a believable and engaging father for Arthur.  Yahya Abdul-Mateen II makes for a great Manta, despite the character’s arc being the one factor that seems to distract from the main storyline of the film.  And last but not least Nicole Kidman may have given her own best badass performance as Arthur’s mother Atlanna, the kind of role we’ve seen of late from Michelle Pfeiffer and Annette Bening in the Marvel movies.  Plus the studio spared no expense for its voice performers, enlisting Julie Andrews, John Rhys-Davies, and Djimon Hounsou in surprise roles.  And with Aquaman costume designer Kym Barrett (The Matrix, The Amazing Spider-Man) has created DC’s best costumes and armor to date, from Kidman’s and Momoa’s armor to all the undersea nation character designs.

The film suffers a bit from a slow beginning, the aforementioned subplot with Manta–a suitable comic book villain who would have been better positioned for a debut in Aquaman 2and some of the early combat scenes appear unreal even for a comic book adaptation and too Matrix-esque, influenced by earlier Zack Snyder films from the franchise.  But the story, the acting, and battle scenes with newly conceived beasts and beings that could have been created for Tolkien movies by Peter Jackson make up for anything it lacks.  This is a fun, new supernatural world worth seeing more of.

If you love classic fantasy films like Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Lovecraft’s sea creatures, you’ll love the fantasy in Aquaman If you didn’t get to it on the big screen, now is your chance.  It’s now available on 4K, Blu-ray, DVD, 3D, digital, and streaming via FandangoNow, iTunes, PlayStation, Vudu, Xbox, and here at Amazon.

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