This Is a Movie Review: ‘Aquaman’ is Overstuffed, But It’s Got Some Fun, Wet Weirdness

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CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Comics

This review was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

Starring: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison

Director: James Wan

Running Time: 143 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Combat Taking Place Undersea and the Sea Being Turned Into Weapons

Release Date: December 21, 2018

Everybody loves Aquaman. (Unless you have an opposing claim to the throne of Atlantis, that is.) This wasn’t always the case. In fact, it used to be that in all corners of the pop culturesphere, he was the biggest punch line among all well-known superheroes. But now Arthur Curry is everyone’s buddy. Although, in terms of how much he’s keeping his identity a secret and the level of hero worship, this movie does not make it entirely clear what the world thinks of him. It seems like the audience is expected to come in with some familiarity of last year’s Justice League. But that team-up picture was not completely comprehensive about how the terrestrial world felt about him. Suffice it to say, Jason Momoa is pretty much able to play him like the jolly giant that he is, and one scene that tells us all we need to know features a gang of bikers who look like they are about to beat him up but instead excitedly request a selfie.

The meat of the story, in a movie that has about a half-dozen active plot threads, is the half-Atlantean/half-human Curry attempting to ascend to the throne of Atlantis. As the eldest son of Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), it should be his birthright. He does not really want to be king, though, but the throne’s current occupant, his younger half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), is planning a war against land dwellers. But that storyline gets interrupted while Arthur and his love interest/personal conscience Mera (Amber Heard) ascend back to the surface and go on a scavenger hunt to track down a MacGuffin. So for about a half hour, the two globehop and track down clues, turning Aquaman into Indiana Jones for a stretch. Then all the other Atlanteans re-appear, and just about every plotline finds time to be resolved, because this sucker is nearly two and a half hours long.

But there is still some time to leave a few threads dangling, as the sequel must always be set up, which means that a few key issues are left unelaborated amidst all the bloat. The ostensible reason that Orm wants to start a war is because of all the pollution that ends up in the oceans. But that explanation feels so throwaway and never really plays into the conflict between Orm and Arthur. And there is no sense of whether terrestrial humans are or are not going to take responsibility for all their wastefulness. Ultimately, this movie jumps all over the place and does not know where to focus, but there are thrills to be had in odd details, like an octopus playing the drums, an Atlantean fighter sticking his head into a toilet for wet relief, and Randall Park’s all-too-brief appearance as a scientist sounding a call of alarm. And it bears repeating: everyone loves Aquaman (even though he is occasionally called an imbecile).

Aquaman is Recommended If You Like: Jason Momoa’s bonhomie, Water-based weaponry, Superhero movies that stretch past two hours

Grade: 3 out of 5 Water Spears

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Creed II’ Draws From the ‘Rocky’ Franchise’s Past With Both Predictable and Resonant Results

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CREDIT: Barry Wetcher/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2018.

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu, Wood Harris, Russell Hornsby

Director: Steven Caple, Jr.

Running Time: 129 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Swollen Shut Bruised Eyes and Other Boxing Injuries

Release Date: November 21, 2018

The first Creed was just about as crowd-pleasing a blast of a fighter and young man coming into his own as the original Rocky was. And now with Creed II … Adonis Creed’s story continues. If you agree that Michael B. Jordan delivered some much-needed energy as the new lead character in this franchise, you may very well be invested in seeing where it goes from here. But it is hard not to prevent it from all being episodic in a way that sequels like these can so easily be. And naturally enough, just as Rocky II featured Rocky and Adrian marrying and having a son, Creed II features Adonis and Bianca (Tessa Thompson) marrying and having a daughter. If you have a heart and any appreciation for family whatsoever, it’s certainly affecting, but also strikingly predictable.

But ultimately Creed II is more of a direct follow-up to Rocky IV, as Adonis squares off against Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), son of Ivan (Dolph Lundgren), who beat Adonis’ dad Apollo in the ring so badly that he died from the fight. Rocky’s bout against Ivan was a symbolic Cold War-era standoff, and an American-Russian rivalry is the most culturally relevant it has been since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. While that subtext can easily be found if you want to examine it, the more prominent theme is the difference in coaching styles. The family and friends in Adonis’ corner offer him no-strings love and support, whereas Ivan constantly reminds his son that he will be a disappointment to his whole country if he does not win. By the end, there is a pivot that demonstrates that the Dragos have a more loving relationship than we are initially privy to, and I would have loved to have seen more of that. We get plenty of scenes with the Munteanu and Lundgren, but if they had been even more the mirror image of what Jordan and Sylvester Stallone do together, Creed II could have been a whole lot more magical.

Creed II is Recommended If You Like: Rocky completism

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Title Belts