DC becomes a superpower with “Aquaman”
Updated: Aug 14, 2019
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2018; PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some profanity; streaming via Amazon Prime/Video, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: “Going Deep into the World of ‘Aquaman’” is a very basic making-of, but all entertain.
THE DC Extended Universe now has five hit feature films in a row: “Batman V Superman,” “Wonder Woman,” “Justice League,” “Aquaman,” and – this past weekend – “Shazam.” According to IMDb, with “Aquaman,” DC superhero films crossed the $4 billion mark in worldwide box office, “making it the first franchise to cross the milestone with fewer movies.”
Yikes! Although with Jason Momoa in the lead as Arthur Curry/Aquaman, the film directed by James Wan (“Saw,” the “Insidious” and “Conjuring Universe” films, “Furious 7”), we couldn’t expect any less. Momoa’s fan base has steadily increased from his first TV series “Baywatch” through “Stargate: Atlantis.” Then came his role as Dothraki leader Khal Drogo in HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Of Hawaiian/German descent, his charm is unmistakable. He’s a movie superhero waiting to happen.
That charisma exploded onscreen during 2017’s “Justice League,” as Momoa held his own alongside Gal Godot (Wonder Woman/Diana Prince) and Ben Affleck (Batman/Bruce Wayne). Viewers couldn’t wait for his standalone film.
But Momoa doesn’t “standalone.” First, there’s legendary director Wan – also a producer and writer – and actors Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Amber Heard and Dolph Lundgren as fellow Atlanteans; Temuera Morrison as Arthur/Aquaman’s human father; and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as arch enemy Black Manta. “Aquaman” is the requisite superhero origin film. He’s half human/half prince of the sea, long known for helping his human brethren by balancing power with good ol’ boy humor and antics. What begins as a bar brawl with bikers in an early scene turns into a fun free-for-all captured via cell phone. That humorous edge continues as he meets Mera (Heard), an Atlantean princess who tries to convince him to take the throne over his younger half-brother, Orm (Wilson) who’s about to wage war on humanity for polluting the oceans. (Hard to fault him on that.) Then there’s pesky villain Black Manta, looking for revenge because Arthur killed his pirate father.
Inspired by “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Romancing the Stone,” Wan, who also helped develop the story, keeps the action moving. Several effects companies worked on “Aquaman” including Industrial Light & Magic, Digital Domain, Rodeo FX, Scanline VFS, and Weta Digital. They are amazing, roaring throughout with giant armored seahorses and sharks, trench dwelling sea monsters, amazing underwater battles, and land-anchored combat. There’s enough running, swimming, jumping, fighting stunts and explosions to satisfy any adventure junkie. And the story’s good, too.
Just one question. Sharks need armor?
This is the first DCEU film shot completely with digital cameras; previous films were captured on 35mm film and occasionally 70mm IMAX. It was mastered at 2K, so detail isn’t quite the big difference going from Blu-ray to Ultra 4K Blu-ray. They both look very good, with a shade better detail, dimension and blended visual effects in 4K. The aspect ratio jumps between 2.39:1, with most of the underwater scenes in 1.78:1 widescreen.
Color via HDR toning is terrific in the various landscapes and facial complexions of the multi-national cast. There’s remarkable contrast between sunny landscapes and underwater depths, whose lighting changes in intensity the deeper it goes from surface to trench. The underwater city of Atlantis is an amazing array of vibrant blues, gold, greens and purple fading to softer hues. Mera’s ceremonial gown with its jellyfish collar is breathtaking. So is Atlanna’s (Kidman) mother-of-pearl mermaid armor. Comic book Aquaman’s costume never had the shimmer of Momoa’s dazzling chainmail-like garment. Black levels are velvet plush, with nice detail appearing in wideshots. Mera’s brilliant red hair always shines no matter the lighting.
A 3D disc is available, but we did not receive one for review.
Warner Brothers delivers sound via impressive Dolby Atmos and default TrueHD 7.1 soundtracks. There are plenty of height and lower effects for speakers, putting viewers fully into underwater scenes. Bass frequencies rumble around the room, especially in battle scenes and musical cues. Storm scenes thunder and ongoing wave effects place us in the ocean’s depths. Meanwhile, dialogue always comes through clearly.
The original score is by Rupert Gregson-Williams who also composed music for “Wonder Woman,” “Hacksaw Ridge” and “The Crown.” Additional music includes Skylar Grey’s “Everything I Need,” Joseph Bishara’s “Trench Engaged,” and Pitbull’s “Ocean to Ocean.”
There are 12 bonus features ranging from 3 to 20 minutes plus a “Sneak Peek” at the recently released “Shazam.” Each one has interviews with Wan, the cast and other filmmakers in various combinations.
“Going Deep into the World of ‘Aquaman’” is a general look at making the film with behind-scenes footage. “Becoming Aquaman” features Momoa talking about getting and preparing for the role. “James Wan: World Builder” concentrates on his efforts to turn the DC underdog into an amazing superhero. The character has been the joke of the DC universe for too long.
“The Dark Depths of Black Manta” showcases Abdul-Mateen II; “Aqua Tech” highlights some of the CGI design and execution; “Heroines of Atlantis” has interviews with Heard and Kidman, who discuss their characters and the roles they play in Aquaman’s origin story; “Villainous Training” returns to Abdul-Mateen and brings in Patrick Wilson, who talk about how they tried to keep up with Momoa in prepping for the film; “Kingdoms of the Seven Seas” is hosted by Dolph Lundgren (there’s more than Atlantis down there); “Creating Undersea Creatures” goes into specific underwater beings; “Atlantis Warfare” has a bit more on merging VFX and CGI effects with real-life footage; “A Match Made in Atlantis” focuses on the love story between Arthur and Mera; and “Scene Study Breakdown” details the “Submarine Attack,” “Showdown in Sicily” and “The Trench” sequences.
Staying true to his previous films, Wan considered Aquaman’s underwater world a possible horror setting; we see that in the Trench and storm and shark attacks. “The idea that there could be a massive civilization living right underneath [us] that we don’t know about is kind of scary and exciting,” he says. No more; in this modern hero’s quest (substitute sword for trident), Arthur Curry becomes a champion, not to mention the King of Atlantis.
This is a film to watch more than once.
— Kay Reynolds
Orm is reunited with his mother, Atlanna, whom he believed was dead. Aquaman and Mera ascend the throne of Atlantis.