I once listened to an interview with Loren Bouchard, creator of “Bob’s Burgers” and like half a dozen other cartoons that feature H. Jon Benjamin. Loren told a story about working with Jon and how he’ll hold the writers to a high standard. Jon will question and argue with the writers if he feels there is a line the character wouldn’t say. If he felt it didn’t fit the character or if the line was just completely unnecessary to the scene. Even going so far as adding, “Why would I say that,” to the recording if he was still forced to record a line he didn’t fully agree with. I bring this up because I found myself using the phrase, “Why would I say that,” often while watching the new DCEU movie “Aquaman.”
I try not say negative things about someone else’s creation, especially movies. Making a movie is hard work and there are many people involved and the fact that anything is turned out is impressive. However, I hated “Aquaman” so very much. I wanted to like it, I went in with hopes it would be good, at least better than most of the DCEU offerings. I was let down. It was visually stunning and quite fun to look at but that is about all it had going for it.
It suffered greatly from poor dialogue and terrible story telling. The DCEU has this problem of exposition dumping. They want to tell you everything you need to know, and in the least interesting way possible. If you have ever taken a writing or literature class you have probably heard the phrase, “show, don’t tell.” The people involved in making DCEU movies clearly have not heard this. In “Justice League” they talk about the exact way their plan will happen and exactly who will do what and the outcome. “Suicide Squad” starts the film with a massive dump about each character. This is not an interesting way to learn about fun characters. There were several different moments of this happening in “Aquaman.”
The MCU is not free from doing this exposition dump either, but they have generally found a way to make it more interesting and even disguise the dump better. There’s even a moment in “Aquaman” as we are given the history of Atlantis that is very similar to the history of Wakanda in “Black Panther.” Yet, the “Black Panther” version encapsulates better visuals and story-telling techniques that it makes for a better film.
But let’s go back to that opening paragraph and look more at some the dialogue. There were a particular few moments and lines that really stood out. One involves an explanation about underwater air pockets where only royalty who possess the power to breathe both underwater and on land can go into, again an exposition dump. That is followed up by Willem Dafoe’s character saying, “Plus it keeps the animals out. They get messy.” He says this while picking up a fish and throwing it back into the ocean. If it keeps the animals out how did that fish get in there? Why did I have the bowl, Bart? Why did I have the bowl? This line was put in only as a joke and to help make the visual of the fish being thrown back into the sea.
Then there was nearly every line Amber Heard had. Her performance annoyed me so much and she was given terrible lines. At one point they’re entering Atlantis and Aquaman asks about some guards. She explains their customs and border patrol, but not to worry she has diplomatic immunity. This was a direct moment I Jon Benjamined and said, “Why would she say that?” Then she talks about hydro cannons. They’re underwater, why is the prefix, “hydro” used. Wouldn’t they just be cannons? Which feels like the joke about Chinese food in China just being called food.
The movie just kept going like this and I couldn’t help myself from getting angrier and angrier.
And I haven’t even touched on Black Manta. What a cool looking character. I know nothing about his comic counterpart so I have no idea how accurate they were with this character other than the costume. But we get this awkward moment between him and his dad, who are both ex-navy seals but are now pirates. In the middle of a siege of a submarine, Manta’s dad pulls him aside and tells him about his grandfather and how this is his knife and he’s passing it on. A middle of a violent takeover seems like the least opportune time for this. If we can get flashbacks of Aquaman training with Dafoe, surely this could have been done better. Which may have enhanced Manta’s motivation as well.
The other part that really irked me about Manta was later in the film he is given Atlantis weaponry, and beforehand we were told Atlantis was years advanced in technology, and Manta immediately takes it apart and can re-work it into this different totally functional bad ass tech suit. The one part of exposition we don’t get is how this dude has the know how to do this. Maybe more of this and less about hydro cannons and customs dudes.
This movie was so frustrating and disappointing. Super hero movies are one of the most prominent genres here in 2018, yet DC seems to be making ones that feel left back in the 90’s. The general movie going population is savvier than DC gives them credit for. We don’t need everything spelled out for us. I really hated this movie, but at least Aquamom’s name wasn’t Martha.