Jordan Peele doubles the horror and doubles the fun in the expertly crafted Us

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You know you’re in the hands of a natural born filmmaker when you can feel yourself being tugged, as if by invisible forces, from one shot to the next, into a movie’s diabolical design. That’s the sensation provoked by Jordan Peele’s Us, which begins w…

There are few signs of life in the curiously dour alien-occupation drama Captive State

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It’s really rather impressive, the extent to which Captive State sucks everything even potentially fun out of the alien-invasion genre. That includes, for the most part, the aliens themselves, who are spoken of much more often than they’re seen, words …

With Ash Is Purest White, one of the world’s greatest filmmakers cuts together his greatest hits

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Just shy of an hour into his new movie, Ash Is Purest White, the great Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke offers up a truly ingenious, discombobulating callback. The setting, momentarily, is 2006. On the deck of a ferry approaching the banks of the Yangtze …

A mystery is solved and a late master eulogized in the playful and humanistic 3 Faces

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“What if it’s a prank?” So asks Behnaz Jafari, the famous Iranian actress, in the opening minutes of 3 Faces. Jafari, who’s playing herself, is in the passenger seat of a car, hunched over a cell phone, her face illuminated by its glow. She’s watching …

If the Step Up series took a drug trip to hell, it’d look a lot like the superb lunacy of Climax

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How does one classify a film as brilliantly deranged as Climax, Gaspar Noé’s latest all-out assault on the senses? It’s a shaggy, funny hangout movie that morphs, with scary speed, into a claustrophobic freak-out, a better Suspiria than the Suspiria re…

We’ll never see Steven Soderbergh’s Moneyball, but his High Flying Bird is in the same ballpark

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It takes guts, making a basketball movie with no basketball. Is there irony, too, in keeping players on the sideline of a story about returning power to the players? Steven Soderbergh has done both with his new low-fi Netflix drama High Flying Bird, wh…

Lords Of Chaos paints metal’s most infamous band as the poseurs they really were

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Jonas Åkerlund, who began his career as the drummer for influential proto-black metal act Bathory, is the perfect director for Vice Films’ long-gestating Mayhem biopic Lords Of Chaos. Åkerlund may not have been present at the drunken rager where corpse…

Jake Gyllenhaal reunites with his Nightcrawler director for toothless horror satire Velvet Buzzsaw

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Watch a random few minutes from any of his movies and it becomes obvious that Dan Gilroy loves the cinema of the 1970s. It’s an obsession baked into the rhythm and downbeat trajectory of his work. Increasingly, though, one has to wonder: Have all of hi…

Jean-Luc Godard writes his own elegy in The Image Book

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Deemed so unclassifiable by Cate Blanchett’s 2018 Cannes jury as to merit an entirely new award, the “Special Palme,” Jean-Luc Godard’s The Image Book is as dense and alienating as anything the iconoclastic director has made this century. No longer the…

You don’t have to be a detective to get ahead of the nutty Matthew McConaughey thriller Serenity

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Nothing is ever as it seems in film noir, a genre built on hidden motives and delayed revelations. Serenity, a preposterous tropical-island thriller from writer-director Steven Knight, takes that principle to an absurd new extreme. To even describe the…

King Of Thieves is an embarrassing misstep for its stars, its director, and its writer 

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Calling King Of Thieves the British answer to Gotti is harsh, obviously. But honestly? It’s not much of a stretch. Both films are ostensibly based on true events, but lack the specificity and focus to convey those events in anything resembling an infor…

M. Night Shyamalan mashes up two past hits into the wacky superhero sequel Glass

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The first time Samuel L. Jackson appears in Unbreakable, M. Night Shyamalan’s majestically moody turn-of-the-century spin on the superhero origin story, he’s waxing rhapsodic about comic books, with all the command Jules Winnfield reserved for imaginar…

The Standoff At Sparrow Creek is a lean, efficient, and disturbingly timely crime thriller

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It’s impossible to make a movie about a militia without at least a faint aroma of the political. It’s not even an “…in the age of Trump” issue; heavily armed right-wing paramilitary organizations of the type depicted in The Standoff At Sparrow Creek …

The disastrous Welcome To Marwen strands a fascinating true story in the uncanny valley

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Robert Zemeckis, the Hollywood fabulist who made Forrest Gump and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, remains a wizard of state-of-the-start spectacle—a filmmaker still perched, after three decades in the blockbuster trenches, on the cutting edge of motion-pictu…

Nicole Kidman gets her hands dirty in the gritty L.A. crime thriller Destroyer

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Destroyer, the latest from The Invitation director Karyn Kusama, is very much in the mold of antiestablishment ’70s cop movies like Serpico and Dirty Harry, but with a gender-swapped twist: Nicole Kidman stars as Erin Bell, an LAPD detective who’s stil…

Lars von Trier argues with himself in unpleasant serial-killer drama The House That Jack Built

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On paper, it sounds like the stuff of nightmares: Lars von Trier, the Danish maestro of suffering who made Breaking The Waves, Dancer In The Dark, and Antichrist, takes on the most grimly fascinating of real-life bogeymen, the serial killer. But The Ho…

Lord Of The Rings vets bring the steampunk world of Mortal Engines to sputtering life

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There are exactly two good jokes in Mortal Engines, and they involve Minions and a Twinkie. These tiny scraps of humor jump out like Pop Rocks in a bowl of oatmeal, not only because everything that surrounds them is so dingy, but also because they remi…

‘Aquaman’ Film Review: James Wan’s Outrageous Underwater Epic Rewrites the Superhero Rules

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After decades of getting treated like a pop culture punchline, thanks almost entirely to “Super Friends” (with a little help from “Entourage”), Aquaman finally has his own feature film. It’s a weird and wonderful superhero adventure that strives — and almost succeeds — to be the most epic superhero movie ever made.

Directed by James Wan (“Furious 7”), “Aquaman” ventures from a neon, “Tron”-inspired Atlantis to ancient ruins straight out of “Indiana Jones,” and then into a nightmare realm of evil swarming fish monsters. It features gigantic battles between innocent crab people and bad guys riding armored sharks. At one point, a DayGlo rave octopus plays the drums while Aquaman fights for the throne of Atlantis in an underwater gladiator arena called “The Ring of Fire.”

To call this movie “big” is an understatement. “Aquaman” has damn near everything: Amber Heard wears a dress made out of domesticated jellyfish, Julie Andrews voices a Lovecraftian aquatic leviathan, Nicole Kidman eats a live goldfish (presumably fake), Willem Dafoe spins a trident so fast it creates an impenetrable saltwater shield.

Watch Video: ‘Aquaman’ Dons His Classic Outfit in Final Trailer

At the center of it all is Jason Momoa, who plays Aquaman (a.k.a. Arthur Curry) like a shirtless, beer-swilling underachiever. Ever since his mom, Princess Atlanna (Kidman), was executed for falling in love with a human and having a hybrid child, Arthur has deemed himself unworthy of just about anything. It took a whole “Justice League” movie to get him to start acting like a superhero, and it’ll take a whole “Aquaman” movie to make him finally accept his mantle as the King of Atlantis.

Until then, Arthur’s half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) has the throne, and he’s using that power to assemble all of the undersea armies and to prepare a massive war against the surface-dwellers. In order to stop him, Arthur will have to team up with Mera (Heard), a princess from another kingdom, and find a fabled trident which, like Excalibur, can be wielded only by the one true king.

Also Read: ‘Aquaman’ Makes Huge Splash at Chinese Box Office With $93 Million Opening

Easier said than done. Their globe-trotting journey will take them from the depths of the ocean to the Saharan desert and beyond. It’s a simple plot, but it’s sturdy enough, and Wan hangs a heck of a lot of action and opulence on it. We’ve come a long way from the slow scuba-diving “thrills” of “Thunderball.” The underwater fights in “Aquaman” are fast, furious, and take advantage of unusual surroundings for gyroscopic choreography where warriors can twist in any direction on the fly and zoom at their opponents like a rocket.

“Aquaman” isn’t like most other superhero movies. Our hero doesn’t spend much time in a recognizable world. Instead, he explores fantastical domains that seem straight out of the imagination of Robert E. Howard, which sets the film firmly in a related, but separate literary tradition. Wan’s “Aquaman” is pulp, through and through, and it’s as broad and outlandish as you could possibly hope for.

The cast, mostly, seems to be on board with that aesthetic. Momoa knows he’s playing a dashing megahunk. His first scene features an introductory hair whip straight out of “Gilda.” Heard is playing the Dejah Thoris role, even more heroic and capable than our protagonist. Wilson seems to have stepped straight out of John Boorman’s “Excalibur,” and Dafoe… actually, Willem Dafoe looks like he got lost on his way to a “Life Aquatic” reunion. He might be a little too weird an actor to play the straightforward role he’s got, as the king’s vizier and Aquaman’s swimming instructor.

Watch Video: ‘Aquaman’ Jason Momoa Killed a Guy With a Trident on ‘The Tonight Show’

There are other moments in which “Aquaman,” for all the slack we’re willing to cut it, strains credulity. At one point, when our heroes arrive in Africa, the soundtrack plays a remix of Toto’s “Africa,” which might make your eyes might roll all the way into the next theater. Also, Mera is pretty talented with a woodwind instrument for a character who’s hardly ever left the ocean. And one of the villains, Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, “The Get Down”) receives a perfectly functional superweapon from King Orm and then gets his own montage as he transforms it into something infinitely more likely to make his own head explode, as if that somehow makes him look smarter or cooler.

Wan’s film pushes too far sometimes, but that’s because it’s pushing as hard as it can. “Aquaman” does nothing by halves, ultimately reaping the rewards and occasionally suffering some consequences. Those aren’t bugs, they’re features. Wan seems to be operating under the philosophy that sci-fi/fantasy should stretch the limits of the imagination, even at the cost of possibly looking ludicrous. How much you personally agree with that philosophy will probably have a lot to do with whether or not you like “Aquaman.”

But either way, you’re in for a spectacle. “Aquaman” has been designed with the IMAX aspect ratio in mind, and Wan knows how to fill that frame. The fantastical set designs are brimming with detail, and the scenes where Arthur and Mera are frantically swimming away from a horde of killer ichthyoid monstrosities play with negative space, creating a sense of overwhelming, beautiful hopelessness. It’s a world where anything can happen, and it always looks amazing when it does.

“Aquaman” is a sword-and-sorcery sci-fi archaeology horror war superhero epic without shame. But why would it have shame? James Wan dives into the strangest caverns of DC’s vast mythologies and brings it all to the big screen, challenging you to accept just how unusual superhero stories can be.



Related stories from TheWrap:

‘Aquaman’ Wins Rave Early Reactions: ‘Most Ambitious DC Film to Date’

‘Aquaman,’ ‘Mary Poppins’ Set to Lead Most Crowded Christmas Box Office in Years

Julie Andrews Has a Surprise Cameo in Warner Bros’ ‘Aquaman’

‘Aquaman’ Villain Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Joins HBO’s ‘Watchmen’

Natalie Portman plays a cynical pop star for an overstimulated age in the glib Vox Lux

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We’re limping toward the end of 2018, and everyone is exhausted. In a culture where truth is malleable, spite and greed are celebrated, and unimaginable atrocities are reduced to just another fleeting set of stimuli, how could you not be? A similar sen…

Hey, at least this dopey new Robin Hood is a little more fun than the last one

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Say this and little else for the new Robin Hood movie: It’s less of a self-serious slog than the last Robin Hood movie. Ridley Scott’s 2010 take on the legendary bandit leeched all the spritely appeal from its centuries-old material, fashioning a dour …