The big winner at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con was without a doubt Warner Bros, dishing out a ton of amazing trailers and news, including a sneak peek at Wonder Woman 1984, a surprise trailer for Shazam!, a look ahead at their TV programs including a look at the DC streaming service, and killer trailer for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald; a contender for best trailer of the show in my opinion. But the clear audience winner was the trailer for Aquaman. At the time of the start of this writing, a day after the trailer debuted, it’s still the number one trending video on youtube. The film is due this December and has only just started its marketing campaign, causing a lot of hype and anticipation around the film. Now that the trailer has surfaced (sorry), let’s talk about it and why it was actually a bit of a letdown.
Leading up to the release of the trailer, acclaimed Aquaman director James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring) promised fans that the film was unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. In a time where there are around four to five superhero films out in any given year, Aquaman has to standout-especially after the lukewarm receptions to Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, both which had Jason Momoa’s character in it in some capacity. So Wan had to find a way to break out of the old DC mould. The film has been said to be more of a “sci-fi/fantasy” film as opposed to a traditional superhero film and I definitely got that vibe from this trailer. It looks really fun and colourful. Even more interesting was that Wan and Momoa compared their film to 80s quest films of old, specifically Indiana Jones, Romancing the Stone and Star Wars. So this naturally piqued my interest. So by the time the trailer finished, I was left with a feeling of “eh, that was fine”.
Again, it’s not bad. But it’s not quite what I had in mind. But I credit this with the iffy editing of the trailer itself, and not of the final cut of the film. I think the trailer focused too heavily on style over substance, showcasing the amazing underwater vistas and not much on Momoa’s Arthur Curry himself. We see shots of him as a child and as a teenager but half the trailer was Momoa spewing one-liners (“Permission to come aboard”, This is badass!”, “I call it an ass whoppin’,” Redheads! Gotta love ’em” just to name a few) instead of focusing on his internal struggle, which is only hinted at with his one serious voice-over line,stating his desire to protect the ones he loves and his home, but who are those people and which home is he talking about? The trailer goes from Arthur saying he’s no King to him wanting to protect everything in a matter of seconds.
Nowhere in the trailer did I get a sense of 80s adventure, nor was there any resemble to “Indiana Jones” styled treasure hunting or adventuring. I was picturing a swashbuckling kind of adventure, but that doesn’t quite seem to be the case here. Instead, it looks like a campy action movie set underwater. The main holdback oddly enough seems to be Momoa-or how the trailer presents Momoa. The surfer-bro thing can work every now and again, but that’s the biggest thing I took away from the trailer and that’s not exactly something to sell an entire film around. Right now, it doesn’t feel like Arthur Curry is a relatable character nor a sympathetic one.
The trailer is also very on the nose. This is how Arthur’s parents met, this is how Arthur trained, his first encounter with marine life etc. Speaking of marine life, they don’t look so great. Sure, it’s early days and we have some time for those effects to get polished, but I remember reading an article back a few weeks ago where producer Peter Sharan said that the sharks were “so photo-real it blows you away”. I didn’t get that feeling with that trailer, at least not with the sea life. Atlantis itself is gorgeous. Amber Heard’s Meera comes in after the logos flash and delivers an incredible amount of clunky exposition: “your half-brother, King Orm, is about to declare war on the surface world”. I hope that that’s just edited trailer speak and the final film doesn’t have dialogue like that. Even more baffling is that while the trailer was exposition heavy on Arthur’s origins and the general set up, but so light on personal motivations and the gist of the whole movie. What brings Arthur to the desert and sun-soaked cities when a war is about to happen? Sure, it’s a trailer and we want these answers in the film but this trailer felt so unbalanced to me that I’m left feeling kind of unsure about everything. But due to the nature of the story and the archetypes, the movie also looks very familiar. I have a rough idea of what will play out here and I’m worried that it’s going to be something we’ve all seen before with a new coat of paint on it.
Most painful at all, is that this trailer made Aquaman feel 100% NOT like a James Wan movie. That’s a huge part of the initial excitement for me as I think Wan is an incredibly talented director, who not only understands camera work and editing but how to make us care for the characters in unique situations. So far, the trailer lacks any sort of Wan style and feels like it could have been done from any average Joe director on the payroll. Again, I hope that this is just the trailer being cut in such a way and the final product differs greatly from the trailer.
All is not lost though. I did enjoy quite a few things in the trailer, from the art direction and how Atlantis looks to the implied story with the brothers in conflict. The film could very well end up being one heck of a fun ride, complete with a Hamlet-like feud between two brothers and the throne, a reluctant hero of two worlds and his mission to stop a war. It looks like it can be incredibly fun, with exotic locations and fun characters. On paper it sounds great, I just think the trailer showed not only too much of the origins of Aquaman and the conflict, but glossed over it so quickly. The film has potential and already looks way more fun and appealing than most of the DCEU films out there (yeah, I know it’s not DCEU anymore but here we are). I know it sounds like I was ragging on the trailer hard, but that’s cause I want this movie to be good and I feel a bit let down by the promise of this trailer. I just hope the film goes a little deeper than what we’ve seen already, that it’s not just action and one-liners. I want the adventure of Indiana Jones, which was promised to us, with the character and depth of Black Panther and the magic of James Wan. Trailer 2, convince me.