*ing: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Nicole Kidman
Directed by James Wan
Tagline: Home is calling
After wallowing in darkness for far too long, DC embraces some relatively lighter fun in its latest superhero adventure, Aquaman. Rooted in fantasy and sprinkled with (attempted) levity, the first outing of the titular character finds its half-Atlantean/half-human protagonist reluctant to become king of Atlantis.
Jason Momoa portrays the superhero who is forced to embrace his role as the heir to the undersea kingdom when his half-brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson), tries to start a war between the underwater world and the surface world. It may not be the most intuitive casting choice but it works nonetheless. The actor is striking in the main role and makes his character feel like the Thor of the DC universe.
Momoa is supported by an impressive cast. Most notably, Amber Heard plays his love interest and sidekick, a fierce warrior who refreshingly holds her own in the midst of conflict. And the terrific Nichole Kidman portrays his mother, the Queen of Atlantis, who is shunned for falling in love with a human.
Unfortunately though, the script and storyline of the film don’t do these fine actors any justice. The movie’s problems partly stem from the fact that under its overambitious visage lies a very run-of-the-mill origin story that keeps the proceedings from being truly exciting. Aquaman very desperately wants to be epic but doesn’t quite have the right ingredients to achieve its desired magnitude. The script is in severe need of polishing and a thorough edit. The story is downright predictable; you can anticipate any attempted twist about an hour before it happens. Some of the attempts at humour work; many don’t. Even its visuals aren’t as impressive as they should be; in the underwater scenes, the actors mostly look like they are suspended from wires instead of actually swimming in water.
Perhaps the project was just too big in scope for horror movie maestro James Wan to handle. The director seems a little out of his depth here. He does imbue his work with flavours of action, fantasy, and horror which, at times, come together in an entertaining way, but his effort also ends up being more scattershot than riveting. The film lacks the imagination that would have made the first outing of Aquaman truly special. Parts of it may be fun, but overall the movie is tonally uneven and too long for its own good.
*ing: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, and Pamela Adlon
Directed by Travis Knight
Tagline: Every hero has a beginning.
For their sixth big screen outing, the Transformers take a step back from Michael Bay’s bombast and embrace a more emotional arc in Bumblebee, a prequel that frames the franchise in a noticeably different light. The film explains how the Transformers ended up on Earth by telling the story of B-127 (voiced by Dylan O’Brien), a young Autobot who, amidst a war with the Decepticons, is sent to Earth by Optimus Prime to establish a base on the planet. After getting injured in a skirmish with Sector 7 agents – including Jack Burns (John Cena) – and Decepticon Blitzwing upon his arrival, B-127 disguises himself as a yellow Volkswagen Beetle. The seemingly dilapidated car is eventually acquired by Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), a teenager (with convenient mechanic skills) who is struggling with the death of her father (Tim Martin Gleason) and resentful of her mother (Pamela Adlon) for moving on and remarrying.
Charlie soon discovers the vehicle’s true form and starts to bond with the damaged, amnesiac Autobot, giving him the nickname ‘Bumblebee’. But when danger arrives on the planet in B-127’s wake, the duo find themselves on a perilous quest on which the fate of the world relies.
Revelling in ‘80s nostalgia (mostly by way of pop music), Bumblebee is built around the bond between its main characters and adds heart to its adventure. The reins this time have been handed to director Travis Knight (who is best known for his animation work), which is a suitable choice since this instalment feels more like a Disney movie than a high-adrenaline blockbuster. The film’s action is accompanied by warmth; the performances by its cast are decent enough, if not altogether remarkable; the action sequences are enjoyable; and the titular character is easily lovable.
And it would all have been a whole lot of fun if the film wasn’t so distractingly, disappointingly derivative. Bumblebee feels like The Iron Giant meets Herbie by way of E.T. Not an ounce of originality appears to have been expended in the creation of Bumblebee’s storyline. Clichés abound and the reliance on familiar story arcs serves as a let-down.
It could have been a good movie if it wasn’t so heavily and obviously inspired by better films. It’s hard to enjoy a tale when it is downright unoriginal and predictable, which is why this chapter might be better suited for younger viewers who aren’t as jaded and who will find the cheesy, calculated teenage drama less corny.
Still, while it may not get all its elements right, Bumblebee is a definite improvement over its recent predecessors, and nudges the series in the right direction. If the filmmakers can come up with a more original story for its successor, then we might finally have the film that long-term fans of the franchise have been eagerly waiting for.
Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection